Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Ram Dass, Richard Alpert, the greatness of humbleness

I was saddened to read that Ram Dass today has died. I never was a New Age man and I bought some of his books but never read them. But I met him, and that’s a whole different ballgame than reading from him.

It was decades ago in the then most progressive Orthodox Synagogue of Jerusalem, the foothold of Reb Shlomo Carlebach, Yakar. It had organized an evening where he would speak in the prayer space. It was packed, also because of the presence of people that I’m not sure, ever had visited a synagogue. Hippies. Friendly, colorfully dressed people, the best of dreamers, it seemed.

But the organizing rabbis of Yakar, Micky Rosen and David Zeller (who both passed away so tragically early already), had done more than invite him to speak. Before the lecture, they took him on a tour of Jerusalem and of Jewish life (Shabbat). He had never seen anything like that and he was much impressed.

I remember how this professor psychology, who was kicked out of the field to flourish as no one else, defined what being a therapist was all about if you took away the ego of the healer. It was the challenge and the privilege of being ‘an environment in which healing can take place.’

I never forgot this. It seemed also the attitude of my fondly remembered great counseling teacher Harvey Jackins. He insisted that great counseling is simply assisting the client but the hero of the therapy, who does almost all the work, is the client.

Ram Dass had still another way to indicate how he worked. He called it ‘Us.’ To create togetherness. It was so simple that it was brilliant.

He told us with some hesitation about his disembodied friend he would talk with. He said: ‘I probably will never return here and not see any of you again so why should I be scared what you’d think about me having such a friend.’ He once asked him what life was for. The answer he got was: ‘Now you’re in the school, why don’t you take the curriculum.’

Afterward, many people, especially women, lined up to hug him. I noticed that Ram Dass did not change at all through the hugs. He did not get enamored a bit by all the intimate embraces.

He’s a total saint, I said to one of the rabbis. His reaction surprised me. ‘Yes, that could be but we were just hoping he would not bring up his homosexuality during his presentation.’ Ah, still a normal human being then? All his fans seem to be in on this but he could still not mention this in a Jerusalem prayer hall. A subject that they were so uncomfortable about then. Is it now any better? How sad and inappropriate of these women, so eagerly embracing him, indicating: we need to be close to men who don’t see us first as sexual beings, to use a gay man for this.

As with all humble people, you had to pay close attention to see his humility. Because, of course, he didn’t parade his meekness. The greatness of the truly humble.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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