The Basque have a custom of leaving a gift in someone's home when they have noticed a sign of personal growth. In that culture, "You haven't changed a bit," is the antithesis of a compliment. From that perspective, Rabbi Avraham Novick and his wife Sarah, Chassidim living in Israel, have earned a plethora of presents. Looking at them, no one would ever imagine by that their spiritual odyssey began in the sweat lodges of the American Indians and that they once signed love letters to each other as "Dancing Coyote" and "Raven."
Avraham, then Steven, pursued his spiritual source in nature while Sarah, then Allison, pined for the mystical spirituality her Chassidic brother held out to her in Jerusalem.
The two of them were on their way to Peru when destiny interceded through
a severe allergic reaction to the pre-trip vaccinations and a malfunctioning computer at the travel agent - elements, the Novicks now feel, of a Divine plan. They decided that they'd eschew South America and discover if the Promised Land held out any promise for them.
They came to Israel. Avraham slept in the crevices of the Sinai desert's mountains and danced with the Chassidim in Tzefat. Sarah heard the call of God in a rainstorm and both left the drug induced highs of their previous lives, and came to pledge their allegiance to something called Torah.
By contrast to their spiritual evolution, their commitment to each other, years earlier, was almost immediate. They ended up being married four times, once during a Grateful Dead concert and finally by an Orthodox rabbi in Monsey, New York. Together now almost twenty years, nothing obvious remains of their previous incarnations. They dress in the traditional garb of Chassidim and their home reflects the values they live by and their positions as leaders of the Biala Chassidic community in Beit Shemesh.
Their odyssey is recorded in a book by Rabbi Novick, "One Love United" ([email protected]
). Dedicated to his wife and helpmate, it records their process of transformation from young, idealistic hippies in search of truth, to a Chassidic family that embraces it.
Like their Biblical namesakes, Avraham and Sarah have drawn others closer to Judaism, helping them find their own spiritual places in the world.
"A person always has to focus on finding truth, to make it his or her ultimate goal.," says Rabbi Novick . "I'm still on the journey myself, there's always more to grow. In Jewish tradition, man is called a 'mehalech' - 'a mover'."
And how does Rabbi Novick know he's finally found the ultimate truth? "In all the other paths I explored," he explains, "I always found aspects that were appealing and others that were questionable or contradictory.
And each of them led me to a point of self-satisfaction and completion - and boredom.
"Today, though, in the world of Judaism, while I have realized more potential than I believed myself capable of, I don't feel that I've begun to tap into my potential of self growth; I don't feel that I've even begun to drink from the fountain of what the Torah has to offer me."
Rabbi Novick once ran the Jewish student information Center of Tel-Aviv University. Today he runs Yeshivat Emes Veemunah in Beit Shemesh. Reflecting on his previous sojourn with the American Indians he comments, " Nature is a wonderful place to spend with God but nature is the interface between spirituality and physicality. Though it's a high level of physicality, it's a low level of spirituality. When a person is in a place where he doesn't see God, he can sometimes end up going deeper."
"God is everywhere and our role is to reveal him everywhere." Says Rabbi Novick. "It's easier to see Hashem in a tree than in a brick building just as it's easier to elevate the sparks of energy of a carrot than of red meat." "I don't think the journey ever ends," adds Sarah. "Until we reach the gates of Heaven, we have all the chances in the world to work on ourselves until we not only heal ourselves but also the world that we live in."
She maintains that one needn't turn one's back on one's past. "I think it's ever evolving. As I live the life of Sarah, I realize I still have the essence of Raven within me and I manifest that through dance, music, and art through Torah in the work I do with different groups like Holocaust survivors. I hear songs of the Biala Chassidim and I'm sure I was singing those songs within Indian circles 20 years ago. It's not so difficult for me to mesh the two worlds. I know we have to make a separation because we're the chosen people but I can't deny that the paths that I've taken or that were given to me have very much to do with where I am now."
Does she have any regrets?
"We're supposed to have regrets for elements of our past and there are things I have come to regret. On the other hand when I met people like the Indian elder who led me to a sweat lodge and told me that he feels his people are part of the lost tribes then I can't deny the existence of God wherever I was."
Rabbi Novick encourages others to 'Pursue truth truthfully'. "Being honest with oneself is the hardest thing in the world. Always keep searching for truth."