A Home of Spiritual Resistance

Rabbi Brian Walt

A Home of Spiritual Resistance

By Brian Walt

The Seagull

My high-school graduation speaker was one of the few rabbis in South Africa at that time who dared to speak out against Apartheid. He compared the Jewish people to a seagull on the sea that swims against the tide. The seagull swims over and through the waves. As the waves come, the seagull charts its own course, sometimes with the wave and sometimes riding right over it.

He likened the Jewish people and Judaism to the seagull. To be a Jew, he suggested, was to be able to swim against the tide. To be a Jew was to have the courage to resist the tides of social convention and to challenge social injustice and oppression. To an angry teenager, disillusioned by the complicity of most religious whites, including Jews, with the crimes of Apartheid, the image of a Jew as a spiritual resister was both powerful and inspiring. It has remained with me since.

I was reminded of this image of the seagull when I read a recently published book by Roger Gottlieb on what he calls the Spirituality of Resistance. The book spoke to my heart and today I want to explore this conception of spirituality, its relationship to Judaism and to much of contemporary American spirituality. It is a spirituality of resistance that lies at the core of our Mishkan community. I want to initiate a communal conversation on how this vision could inspire and guide us as we make the transition into a building of our own.

What is a Spirituality of Resistance?

Wonder and Awe

A spirituality of resistance shares common ground with all spirituality that begins with wonder and awe at the world. The Baal Shem Tov teaches: "The world is full of miracles and wonders but we take our little hands and cover our eyes and see nothing." The starting point of a spiritual attitude to life is to remove our hands and to notice the miraculous character of the universe.


Spirituality is about nurturing this sense of wonder and awe and living a life that is filled with gratitude. It is suggested that we say 100 blessings a day. One hundred times a day we nurture gratitude.

A spiritual attitude to life also offers us inner peace by inspiring us to accept who we are and embracing the world.

Gottlieb writes, "If we want, as we say we do, to be happy, to experience a little peace, to feel at one with ourselves, then we must undertake an inner journey;

toward gratitude and acceptance,

towards opening our eyes to miracles instead of closing them to everything but our own desires, attachments and resentments;

towards compassion for others instead of jealousy, contempt, competition or fear."

Death of Two year old Son

A spiritual attitude offers us peace in a life that inevitably includes distress. Gottlieb relates his own personal experience. His son died at the age of 2 months. He went through a period of shrinking from the sight of children. Understandably, every time he would see a child he would feel bitterness and envy. Yet he liked children and he didn