by Barbara Sherf
“This is my message: Let us not be strangers. God loves us all,” Chestnut Hill resident, Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, told us while discussing her recently published second book, “God Loves the Stranger,” in which she shares inspiring stories, poems, teachings and meditations that show how in a world full of strangers, one can find peace and harmony.
Weinberg chose “God loves the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:18) as a title because of the power those four words embody for her. “Whether we or the strangers around us are suffering, filled with joy, seeking truth or searching for grace, my goal with this collection is to offer hope, reassurance and a reminder that none of us is ever alone,” Weinberg said, adding that she was pleased with the grid design of the book’s cover, which features 21 photos of human eyes depicting a variety of eye colors and skin tones.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Weinberg was interested in Judaism but did not consider becoming a rabbi until later in life when it became a viable option for women. While living in Mt. Airy for 12 years as a single parent raising two children, Weinberg enrolled in rabbinical school at a time when females in the profession were still rare.
Weinberg served as a congregational rabbi for 17 years and has also worked in the fields of Jewish community relations and Jewish education and as spiritual director to a variety of Jewish clergy, including students and faculty at Hebrew Union College in New York City. Weinberg is creator and co-leader of the Jewish Mindfulness Teacher Training Program.
She also created a CD, “Preparing the Heart: Meditations for Jewish Spiritual Practice” and is the author of “Surprisingly Happy: An Atypical Religious Memoir,” published in 2010 by White River Press. Weinberg brings a sense of optimism and humor to her latest book. One passage describes what she thought was the purchase and consumption of decaffeinated tea at a time when she was told not to drink anything caffeinated.
“I love black tea, especially strong tea like Irish breakfast, so I bought a few boxes of decaffeinated Irish breakfast tea and had happily gone through one box already, thinking how great this tea was. Then I noted it didn’t say ‘decaffeinated’ on the box. It was only in my mind. In my desire. In my sweet delusion.”
Weinberg uses the story as an example of how the mind fills in and creates a universe that makes sense. She also touches on people’s propensity to “stuff things in.”
“It’s something I am familiar with personally, and a lot of it comes out of the speed of our lives,” she said. “We can hop on a plane, talk on our cell phone, and the internet is everywhere. We can do things quicker, but should we? My experience has been that it takes a toll. Meditation and yoga sustain me and nurture me. In our culture it’s about doing, having or knowing, but just being isn’t validated enough.” She adds that, at 71, she is slowing down and practicing yoga at Blue Banyan studio in Mt. Airy.
Weinberg also discusses living — and aging — well. “I tell my students, ‘We are not in charge here, folks; put it in the hands of a higher power.’ As for aging, I think some of us do it well, and some of us have luck. If you are surrounded by the right people and have practices that deepen our sense of well-being and strengthen our values, then that’s good because otherwise we can easily feel lost and feel like a stranger.”
As for her next chapter, Rabbi Weinberg is promoting the book and conducting online courses and retreats by “offering of myself to others, whether they be students, colleagues, longtime friends or strangers.” She balances her work with travel and being with her husband, two grown children, a stepson and six grandchildren.
More information about ‘Stranger’ at www.sheilapeltzweinberg.com. Barbara Sherf, a resident of Flourtown, is a personal historian and laughter yoga leader. She can be reached at Capture-LifeStories@gmail.com. Reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, the monthly publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.