By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Alan Goldberg was watching Oprah 20 years ago when he was struck by her guest, spiritual author Deepak Chopra, who he learned felt a deep connection to the Jewish mystical thought of Kabbalah.
“He was talking about mind, body and medicine,” Goldberg said. “He talked about different religions having different mystical traditions and there was a Jewish tradition called Kabbalah. I had never heard of it.”
That experience prompted years of study. The scholarly endeavor led to his opening a Rogers Park storefront called Beit Yichud for the study of practices that guide Jews on their own unique spiritual journey interfaced with the Jewish community’s collective story.
Loosely translated from Hebrew as House of Unification, Beit Yichud since 2012 has welcomed hundreds of people, the unaffiliated to the religious, to classes for everything from Jewish meditation to chanting Torah to drum circles.
Of Beit Yichud, Goldberg said, “I felt there was a need to have a space for people to learn some of the things I’ve been learning.”
Goldberg, a 71-year-old real estate broker who owns the 700-square foot storefront, said his religious studies earned him smicha (ordination) as a maggid (Jewish preacher) granted by his teacher, Orthodox Rabbi Jay Hershey Worch of Chicago.
Goldberg had donated the space to arts organizations for years and decided to take it over for use as a Jewish study center located at 6932 Glenwood Ave. It’s an alternative beit midrash with hardwood floors, yoga mats and cushions for Jewish meditation.
Jewish meditation, he said, focuses the mind, body and breath with Hebrew chants often from the Psalms. Participants also use shiviti or meditative representations of a candlestick for contemplation over G-d’s name.
Many different rabbis and teachers give classes nights and weekends.
Samples of past courses at Beit Yichud include Daven and Dance, a Shabbat body movement practice; Midrash Theatre Workshop; Welcoming the Ushpizin, exploring the deeper significance of Sukkot; Prayer practices of the Baal Shem Tov; and Secrets of the Aggadah.
At Beit Yichud, participants delve into the traditional sources of commentary as well as Chasidic and contemporary sources. Its mission is to create a forum for the study of Hebrew wisdom texts, contemplative spiritual practices, body movement and learning deeper insights into holidays and Jewish rituals from a contemporary perspective. “We hope to do our part to broaden the perspective of each person whom we encounter and create a more loving and peaceful world,” said Goldberg.
Beit Yichud is not affiliated with any synagogue nor are many of the attendees. “All the studies indicate that there are a lot of people, especially younger people who are not affiliated with a synagogue, but that doesn’t mean they don’t identify as Jews and that they don’t want to learn,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg grew up in a secular Jewish family that observed the holidays and belonged to a Conservative synagogue. They became religious after a trip to Israel in the late 60s and moved to Skokie.
Goldberg came of age in the sixties and was part of the counter culture movement. He ended up becoming a real estate broker and having a family with his wife of 40 years. His youngest of two children, a daughter, is now in rabbinical school, ALEPH in Philadelphia, an arm of the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
Sara Kleinman is a participant in Beit Yichud classes. “I pride myself on having balance between work and the joy of life. Going there helps to have that balance.”
She is active in the drum circle, a spiritual practice. “It’s a wonderful Jewish outlet, a great way to express your pride or love of Judaism through Jewish music. I have gone to other events and classes. I always walk away feeling that I’ve learned something and spiritually uplifted.”
The ideas presented at Beit Yichud are mystical and sometimes hard to understand. Goldberg writes “Our spiritual path is no less than balancing the tension between our ego/self as individuals and our collective self as a Jew. Now we are blessed with the wisdom, knowledge and ability to live with world-centric consciousness (Messianic consciousness) where we can value the needs of the Olam, the entire world, along with our needs as a Jewish nation and as unique individuals.”
To learn more about Beit Yichud or donate, visit www.facebook.com/beityichud