Ed. note: We had posted a story about an event organized by the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada back in December about the period in the life of the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter when he lived in Winnipeg. That story can be read elsewhere on this website at http://jewishpostandnews.ca/local/2224-the-late-rabbi-zalman-schachter-s-time-in-winnipeg-recalled-at-lively-evening-hosted-by-jewish-heritage-centre. That particular story elicited a response from the family of the late Rabbi Schachter:
We are the widow and children of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi zt”l. We want to recognize the initiative of the Jewish Heritage Centre in convening a public forum honouring our father and the Winnipeg origins of the Jewish Renewal Movement. While none of us live in Winnipeg any longer, we treasure the time that the family had in Winnipeg and are sorry that we were unable to be present for this Forum. Had we been present we would have contributed to this retrospective in the following ways.
1. The article “The Late Rabbi Zalman Schachter’s Time in Winnipeg Recalled at Lively Evening Hosted by Jewish Heritage Centre” mis-stated the tone of his family situation. Our father was wholehearted in his relationship with his wives and children. His marriage breakdowns were certainly not caused by lapses in moral judgment. Divorce almost always is difficult for the marital partners and children. In the case of Reb Zalman and Feigle, the decision to end their marriage was understandable as, much earlier, they recognized that their relationship was unsustainable. They had drifted apart as a result of the differences in their spiritual visions and only intentionally stayed together until their youngest child reached her Bat Mitzvah so that she would have the capacity to deal with family breakdown. None of the children harbour any resentment to children from other mothers. It is a testament to Reb Zalman’s love for his children and our love for him, that we are all in touch with one another to share each other’s joy and provide support in times of need.
2. There is an element of physical harshness in the name Schachter which has its origins in Shochet (slaughterer). Reb Zalman was someone who was deeply concerned with the increase in violent conflict in the world. He adopted a typical Jewish response to his concerns by adding a name that would bring to our consciousness the need to pursue peace, Shalomi. For many years now, he has been known and called Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.
3. The relatively limited material in the University of Colorado archives on Jewish Renewal on Reb Zalman’s time in Winnipeg is not based in any way on any deliberate action on his part or because of an alleged cloud causing him to leave the city. Reb Zalman moved to Philadelphia because it had a larger Jewish community and was closer to other large Jewish centres in North America. Reb Zalman had begun providing rabbinic training in Winnipeg but few students were willing to come to Winnipeg to study. The move to the east coast enabled many more students to access his training and become Rabbis. As for the gap in current literature concerning Reb Zalman’s time in Winnipeg, we applaud Professor Lewis’ initiative in collecting oral histories to be added to the archive at the University of Colorado. Regarding the claim that Reb Zalman ignored Winnipeg in his autobiography, it should be noted that 97 pages of the 186 page “My Life In Jewish Renewal” (aside from the Appendices) are devoted to Reb Zalman’s years living in Winnipeg. It is crucial to note however that much that happened during this period took place during his numerous travels outside Winnipeg.
We are aware that some of his views and activities were challenged by some elements of the Winnipeg Jewish community. Reb Zalman, as we all are, was human. However for those who focused their comments at the forum on his imperfections, we wonder what standard they were holding him to. On the first Shabbat of the secular year we read Parshat Va’yigash. The story of our ancestor Ya’acov is drawing to a close. Yes, Ya’acov had issues with his wives, with his children and with neighbours in the broader community. Those flaws however are not the major part of his remembrance. We remember him as the Jewish ancestor whose legacy was that all Jews now are known under Yaacov’s second name – Yisrael. We are all B’nai Yisrael.
We - his widow, his daughters and sons, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all feel that we have been blessed by being the spouse and offspring of one of the 21st century’s greatest rabbis. Each of us in our own way is seeking to continue the contribution to society that he has made. May our actions and the actions of Winnipeg Jewry give our father’s neshama an aliyah!
Blessings, The widow and all the children of Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi
Eve, Miriam, Rabbi Shalom, Josef, Yale, Chana Tina, Jonathan, Lisa, Shalvi, Rabbi Shlomo Barya, Yotam & Rosi