Mainstream Mysticism

New Age Connection

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Mainstream Mysticism


Today Zohara Meyerfoff Hieronimus, know as Zoh, has begun attending an Orthodox synagogue covering her hair and wearing only long skirts. She has become the benefactor of an Israeli Kabbalist and a teacher of Kabbalistic meditation.

It wasn't always this way. Hieronimus was born 50 years ago into a Baltimore based philanthropic Jewish family. At 16, she refused to participate in her family's Reform synagogue's Confirmation. "I loved God and decided it was too private," she says.

Precociously intellectual, she was reading Martin Buber on Hasidim and mysticism, along with the German philosophers Hegel, Goethe and Rilke.

"I was experiencing metaphysical things and trying to find someone to talk to about it within a Jewish context, she says. "I was very interested in Kabbalah but found no route to it, so I started journeying away from Judaism."

For years she practiced aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism. She went to Boulder, Colo., to study with Samuel Avital, a teacher of mine and Kabbalah. She ultimately returned to Baltimore, where she settled with her husband, Bob Hieronimus, who is not Jewish, his two children from an earlier marriage, and their daughter.

They were deeply involved in a New Age approach to spirituality. In the 1980s they established The Center for Esoteric Studies, "where all the traditions commingled," she says. And in 1984, she founded a holistic health care center called Ruscombe Mansion.

Hieronimus soon became a political activist with her own radio talk show. In 2000, after a decade of involvement in politically charged issues, she needed to change course. "Whenever I thought I had found the darkest of our capacities there was something worse the next day," she says.

She was in spiritual crisis.

"For 88 days I was in a mystic sea. Every time I closed my eyes I would be in a massive wave of water with no horizon. On the 88th day it stopped, when I had the thought to call Samuel Avital."

By phone, they studied Kabbalah for over a year. Hieronimus continued the meditation she had long been doing but wove in Kabbalistic approaches. One day she found herself visualizing Rabbi Avraham Brandwein, who runs a Kabbalistic Jerusalem yeshiva and whom she had earlier met.

She offered to support his work, and in 2001 they established the A-Z Kabbalah Forum, which runs a weekly Torah Study class based on Brandwein's interpretation, and hosts guest speakers at the Ruscombe Mansion. Though open to everyone, Jewish women are the ones who most often attend, Hieronimus says.

She attributes her new commitment to observance to her study of Kabbalah. "No [religious] system is as complete, and I've read about many of them. Kabbalah gives you a way to integrate the spiritual and the material, rather than sometimes feeling that one lives a material life and has spiritual experiences. So you don't spend your life in meditative bliss, but take your meditative bliss and make it help you serve others."

She leads a Jewish women's meditation class focusing on the Hebrew letters, through them teaching "how to come into rapport with the interior essence of things." Though just now learning to read Hebrew, Hieronimus already has an intense relationship with the alef-bet, making sculptures of the 22 letters (click here for Zohara's article relating to this).

"The beautiful part about Kabbalah is that when you begin to study it, it begins to make your spiritual life more integral in your everyday life," she says. "Like setting a table-what does it mean? It shows you that you're setting the conditions for the life force to express itself, to sustain us, to nurture us."

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