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Rabbi Rachel Cowan, who died last week, was a spiritual master, a practitioner and teacher of contemplative Judaism, and my friend – and I cannot imagine contemporary Jewish life without her.
Her radiant soul awakened untold holiness, goodness, and justice in this world. Her loving and transformational teachings inspired countless individuals and will live on within us always. What a blessing that she forever changed our Jewish world for the better.
Synagogue transformation began with Rachel. By introducing Ron Wolfson and Rabbi Larry Hoffman and then, as director of Jewish life at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, giving them their first funding, she helped create Synagogue 2000.
The Jewish healing movement, too, began with Rachel’s vision and strategic know-how as did the Jewish spirituality movement, which flowed forth from her yearning for all that is holy and a profound commitment to contemplative practice as a path to deepen and expand Jewish life. Even as she struggled with her own illness, when healing was no longer possible, she taught us about strength and courage and grace.
Of course, we know, as well, her trailblazing work to change the Jewish community’s attitudes and policies toward interfaith couples. Rachel spent years leading workshops for couples from different faith backgrounds and speaking out about the need for Jewish communities to be open and welcoming to non-Jewish spouses and to encourage their commitment to Judaism.
During the last few decades, so much of Jewish life has changed, and in many significant and meaningful ways, Rachel was the driving force behind those changes. Simply put, she transformed for all time the way we understand and practice Judaism.
Her memory will ever animate and bless us.