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The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life's Greatest Mystery Paperback – April 7, 2015
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“Thoroughly engaging, this book about the winter season of life glitters with insight and wisdom—for all our years.” (Andrew Weil, MD, author of Healthy Aging and Spontaneous Happiness)
“Anyone embarking on The December Project is in for a surprise: there is as much laughter, healing, and deep peace in these pages as sober reflection on being human. Above all, this book is a testament to the rich rewards of conversation between fearless friends.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Learning to Walk in the Dark)
“Revelatory… the best rendering of Reb Zalman’s wisdom that I’ve come across… (Davidson’s) transformation seems to have come simply from being in the elder sage’s presence - and seeing that there’s a real person behind the “sage.” Thanks to “The December Project,” we can taste some of that presence ourselves.” (Jay Michaelson, The Forward)
“A gem of a book for anyone of any faith tradition. Reb Zalman is wise, funny and irresistible. You will want to read this book cover to cover.” (Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness and a founder of Insight Meditation Society)
“An exuberant piece of writing I found both moving and instructive. What makes it so rich is that Davidson owns ‘a seeker’s heart and a skeptic’s mind.’” (Will Blythe, former literary editor of Esquire and author of To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever)
“Anyone who has had the opportunity to spend private time with Reb Zalman, to be in spiritual intimacy with him, knows it is a life-changing experience. Sara Davidson has had that experience, and now through her writing, you can too.” (Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and The History of Last Night's Dream)
“As baby boomers begin to approach the end of their lives, the time is right for books about the spirituality of dying.... This is a book they’ll want to read.” (Anna Jedrziewski, Retailing Insight)
“For boomers who wish to devote serious attention to questions of meaning as they experience ineluctable aging, this book of intense, personal conversations leavened with profound insights is an excellent place to begin.” (Publishers Weekly (framed review))
“A biography of a spiritual genius preparing for his last day by helping us prepare for our next day. If you don’t know Reb Zalman, please let Sara introduce you to him. If you do know him, please let Sara introduce you to him more intimately.” (Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent)
“This is not a morbid book about the end of life, but a bright, spirited discussion between a great teacher and a sincere seeker.” (Larry Dossey, MD, author of One Mind and Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine)
From the Back Cover
In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Sara Davidson was surprised by a call from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, asking her to engage with him in what he called "The December Project." At eighty-five, Reb Zalman wanted to teach people how to navigate the December of life and to help them "not freak out about dying."
Davidson jumped at the chance. She feared that death would be a complete annihilation, while Reb Zalman felt certain that "something continues." For two years, they met every Friday to discuss this and how getting "up close with mortality" quickens our ability to relish every day.
Woven through their talks are sketches from Reb Zalman's life: escaping the Nazis; becoming an orthodox rabbi in the U.S.; landing in San Francisco during the sexual revolution; taking L.S.D. with Timothy Leary; befriending other faith leaders, including Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama; and founding the Jewish Renewal movement.
During their time together, Davidson was nearly killed by a suicide bomb and Reb Zalman faced a steep decline in health. They created strategies to deal with pain and memory loss and found tools to cultivate fearlessness and joy—at any age. Davidson includes twelve exercises so readers can experience what she did, a sea change in facing what we all must face: mortality.
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Reb Zalman's prime motive for writing the book, apart from raising his own consciousness about his life experience as he approaches 90, was to help people resist the "freak-out" about death that permeates our culture. With help from Sara Davidson, Reb Zalman succeeded marvelously, at least for this reader. I have looked death in the face a couple of times, and I resonated strongly with the context Reb Zalman creates to enable us to not fear death. When I look at my own history on this subject, I realize that until I accepted the reality of death, learned to look at it as a natural process, and began to see it as filled with meaning, I was unable to grow and evolve in my later life stages.
For anyone, however, who is beginning to think about life's ending, The December Project is a valuable introduction worthy of a place in one's e-library or book shelf.
In some ways, this book is an update on Reb Zalman's earlier classic, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older written when he was in his 60's. Now, at nearly 90, he concentrates on the "December" period of life by exploring what psychological, spiritual, and other work needs to be done before one dies. In the earlier book, Reb Zalman gathered a lot of related material and presented it along with his own ideas and experience. In this new book, Reb Zalman shares his own wisdom directly, often in the form of stories and in the spiritual counseling he offers the author.
Reb Zalman's wisdom is extraordinary and it is a pleasure to read this account. The conversations with Davidson took place once a week for two years and I wish that the book was twice as long and had more of their conversations included! Davidson ends with a dozen short exercises to help the reader work through end-of-life issues.
Fortunately there are other books by Reb Zalman that offer additional chances to read his stories and thoughts. Three of my favorites are Spiritual Intimacy: A Study of Counseling in Hasidism,Wrapped in a Holy Flame: Teachings and Tales of The Hasidic Masters, and My Life in Jewish Renewal: A Memoir. There is also a wonderful book about a meeting between Reb Zalman and others with the Dalai Lama (The Jew in the Lotus, 1st, First Edition).