Our Founder — Dr. Joseph Gelberman

Rabbi Joseph Haim Gelberman, Chaim ben Dovid v'Esther, (April 27, 1912-September 9, 2010) was a modern Hassidic rabbi, scholar, and mystical Kabbalist in the tradition of Martin Buber, a trailblazer for interfaith relations since 1944. He was a pioneer in bridging understanding between people of different religions, cultures, and spiritual paths, and an advocate for all humankind, who saw everyone as brothers and sisters, emphasizing that we have more in common than we have differences. He was known as "the listening rabbi", a student of Yoga philosophy, a psychotherapist, and the author of fourteen books plus the Kabbalah Cards, who collaborated and exchanged ideas with other religious leaders: rabbis, priests, ministers, imams, and swamis.

Haim, as he was known in his family, grew up in a nine-room brick house in Nageyched, Hungary, the ninth child of seventeen, to Rabbi Dovid and Esther Gelberman. His father ran the general store, thanks to his mother's wealthy father, and he was also a Hassid, from a long line of Satmar Hassidim. The family was known as Szepseg Chalad, the beautiful family, as his mother was both beautiful and industrious, and his father was known for his learning, and erect posture. Joseph entered Hebrew school at age 4, walking with his siblings three miles to study from six to eight AM, returning home for breakfast, then attending public school until 2 PM, after which he studied Hebrew for several more hours. He studied Kabbalah with masters of the mystical tradition at home and at a yeshiva (a Hebrew parochial school). Each Thursday the children had written examinations, and on Saturday afternoon, they were quizzed orally by the Hebrew Board of Education members, each a professor who selected the teachers. At the age of five, the children knew all their prayers.

Joseph, as he became known, was sent away to school at 12 years old, to Zemplenriche. He then attended a higher school in Salgotarjan, later another school in Debrecen, and for a short while a Yeshiva in Frankfurt, Germany. The boys had one vacation of four weeks each year in which they went to nearby towns and solicited funds for their school. At age 14 his father's store went bankrupt and he experienced poverty. At 20 years old he received three rabbinical degrees and was ordained in Budapest as a Rabbi. He became the district Rabbi of Tass-Domsod, four towns in Pest County, Hungary. His studies qualified him in law, teaching, psychology, veterinary medicine, and human medicine, as well as patience, sympathy, and discipline. As Rabbi, he answered any kind of question in the lives of his parishioners; he was also a rabbinical judge. His congregants went to the synagogue to meditate and pray at 4 AM, before the day's work. On Saturdays, the Sabbath, they attended morning worship, went home for a noon meal and brief rest, and then returned to the synagogue in the afternoon for discourse. Joseph's father arranged a marriage for him, and because he was progressive minded, Joseph managed to correspond with his prospective bride and see her twice before the wedding. He married Yolan and they had one child, a daughter, Judith, in 1932.

The Protestant minister and the Catholic priest were Joseph's friends in the town, and they took walks together; however the cloud of Nazism alienated all those around him, even his friends; and when his daughter Judith was two years old, he left for the United States where he had distant relatives. The United States had a quota of 200 people for Hungarians and thousands of people had already filled the waiting list, so his wife and daughter could not accompany him.

He immigrated alone to New York in 1939 to earn enough money to bring them to the U.S. A synagogue which had engaged him prior to his arrival reneged on the agreement, but he got a job at Congregation Zichron Ephraim (later Park East Synagogue in NYC), being paid $5 per week. In 1941 he enlisted for basic training in the US Army infantry. He became a chaplain at Camp Robinson in Arkansas, later camp Claiborne in Louisiana, then he returned to Arkansas. He started a newspaper, The Jewish Soldier. When he had earned enough money to bring Yolan and Judith to the United States, he learned they had already been killed in Auschwitz sometime in 1944. His parents and twelve brothers and sisters also perished. Only he, a sister, and two brothers escaped.

Joseph returned to one of his prior congregations, the New Light Temple, and threw himself into his work. He broke down and was ill for many months, entering a deep depression of anger and hatred. After about six months, he realized that his own anger and hatred were making him ill and he gave them up completely to become a loving teacher, working all his life to promote interfaith harmony and understanding. He received a call from the Israel Center of Hillcrest Manor in Flushing, NY, and helped form the United Hungarian Jews of America Inc. He was elected their executive Director and worked to help tragedy-stricken fellow human beings overseas and in the United States, traveling in 1948 to the recently established State of Israel to represent the United Hungarian Jews of America's 20,000 members. He married Dora Tannenbaum, a young woman on the staff of Grand Street Settlement House. The marriage lasted 30 years until her passing in 1976 of cancer. He later married Jan, an actress and singer. That marriage ended in divorce during the last years of his life.

Joseph obtained Bachelor's and Master's degrees from City College, studied at Columbia University, and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy from Yeshiva University. He became a psychotherapist, studying under Dr. Nador Fodr, author of The Search for the Beloved and A New Approach to Dream Interpretation. He interned at the Mental Hygiene Clinic of Cumberland Medical Center, Brooklyn, remaining on staff for two years.

In 1952 he became the first spiritual leader of the Milford Jewish Center in Milford, Connecticut, and in 1959 he became the pulpit rabbi of the Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey, in Washington, NJ, near Princeton, where he remained for 31 years. During his time in New Jersey he was a member of the Rabbinical Assembly of America and served as their chapter's local Vice President. He elected not to become a member of the former board of rabbis, so that he was free to interpret the spirit as it moved through him. In 1977 he organized an interfaith temple and co-founded The New Seminary, a seminary for people of all religions, in a small basement space in New York’s Greenwich Village under the guidance of a swami, a priest, a minister, and himself, to bring east and west together. His colleagues were Rev. Jon Mundy, a former Methodist minister and college professor, Father Giles Spoonhour, a Catholic priest engaging in church reformation initiatives, and Swami Satchidananda, known as Sri Gurudev, a Yoga master of the Hindu tradition who became his close friend. He also founded the Little Synagogue in New York City, a storefront shul, where he would hold Shabbat services on alternating weeks when he wasn’t in Washington, NJ, the Kabbalah center, the Wisdom Academy, the Foundation for Spiritual Living, and was editor of Kabbalah for Today. He was a member of the Association for Humanistic Psychology and an active member of the NY Academy of Sciences. After experiencing an inner spiritual rebirth, he left his traditional pulpit, moved to New York City, and founded the New Synagogue, in which he put into practice his belief about the separation of church and minister, becoming independent of any Board of Directors. He was the director of the Mid-Way counseling Center of New York City, co-directed by Dr. Dorothy Kobak. Later, he founded the Kfar Chana Szenes nursery school in Israel in the name of his daughter Judith.

He founded the Rabbinical Seminary International in 1992 to train modern rabbis, and at the age of 87 he established All Faiths Seminary International as a school devoted to helping working professional people bring spirituality into their workplace and into the world at large. He lived for many years on the upper West side of Manhattan. Ailing with kidney failure, he died on September 9, 2010 at 98 years young on Rosh Hashanah, 1 Tishri 5771, a High Holiday, considered a time of rebirth and new beginnings for people of the Jewish faith. He left a legacy of great wisdom, love, many students, and a wonderful sense of humor.

Ideology and Core Teachings

Rabbi Gelberman’s mantra: “never ‘instead of,’ always ‘in addition'.”

God's mantra is, Ki Tov: Life is good, God and the Universe are good.

Live Joyfully. He said, I am not always happy but I am always joyous. Practice Joy. Joy is a choice and a decision.

L I F E kabbalistically means: L: to be Loving Unconditionally, I: to be Inspiring Unconditionally, F: to be Forgiving Unconditionally, E: to be Excited Unconditionally.

His 11th Commandment — “Thou Shalt Have Purpose”.

“Hakol Beseder” “Everything is unfolding in Divine Order.”

You are right, and I may also be right.

Hineni-I Am Here and I Am Ready! It means not only, Here I am! But also, I am ready to do whatever you, God, ask of me.

I'm Alive! Live life with an awareness of God every moment of your life.

A L I V E, kabbalistically means A: to be Aware, L: to be Loving, I: to be Intuitive, V: to be Victorious over ourselves, making good choices, E: to be Excited by life.

Love with love.

We can choose our thoughts.

Every problem comes with a solution.

"Anger and Hatred are like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."

F E A R stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Most of the things we are afraid of don’t happen. We can't live our lives being afraid of everything, so we may as well not be afraid. We should live courageously.

“Listen, Oh Israel, Listen Oh Humankind, God Is Our God. God Is One!”

Shutfei Elohim: We are God's partners in continuing and perfecting the work of creation (after Gen. 2:3)

Rabbi Gelberman taught with love, intuition, intelligence, and also with a song and with humor. He loved to sing and tell jokes.

An example of his humor: Blessed are the brief, for they will be invited back to speak.

And: I would rather go to Hell than go to Heaven. At least in Hell I could go on teaching.

Influence outside Judaism

Rabbi Gelberman founded The New Synagogue, The New Seminary (For Interfaith Studies), The Rabbinical Seminary, International, All Faiths Seminary and The Rabbinical Fellowship of America, International.

Published Works

Spiritual Truths, A Guide to Rational Feeling for Every Day of the Month, with Dr. Dorothy Kobak, Institute for Personal Religion, New York, NY Jan 1, 1975 (small format paperback)

The Quest & Other Essays, Circle Press, Boulder Creek, CA ISBN 0-89248-002-5

The Quest for Love, 1985, Sabrina Graphics, New York, NY ISBN 0-87418-012-0

Kabbalah As I See it, by Rabbi Joseph H. Gelberman, 1995, Institute for Personal Religion, New York, NY

Kabbalah in Motion, Journeys in Consciousness with Rene David Alkalay, 2000, The Genesis Society, Inc., Rego Park, NY ISBN 1-930932-00-6

Physician of the Soul with Lesley Sussman, 2000, Crossing Press, Freedom, CA ISBN 1-58091-061-0

Zen Judaism: Teaching Tales by a Kabbalistic Rabbi, with Lesley Sussman, 2001, Crossing Press, Freedom, CA ISBN 1-58091-095-5

To be fully alive: A collection of essays for life enhancement on the spiritual and psychological potential of man, by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, Br David Steindl-Rast O S B, Sant Keshavadas, et al.1983

Living Yoga: The Value of Yoga in Today's Life (Routledge Library Editions: Yoga) Part of: Routledge Library Editions: Yoga (10 books) | by Swami Satchidananda, Sant Keshavadas, et al., 2018 ISBN

Self-Published Works

The Full Chair, Vols 1 & 2 - Pamphlets

I Believe - Pamphlet

Kabbalah as I See it, by Rabbi Joseph H. Gelberman | Jan 1, 1995 | Jan 1, 2000 (large format paperback)

Kabbalah in Motion - Pamphlet

Kabbalah in Motion, Journeys in Consciousness with Rene David Alkalay

The Kabbalistic "I Ching"

9 lessons in Kabbalah – Large format Paperback

Pearls and Wisdom - Pamphlet

External links (NOTE: links open in new window or tab)

A Better World with Mitchell Rabin

The Swami and the Rabbi

Rabbi Gelberman at Olema 5 29 1995

Ramakrishna Vivekenanda Rabbi Joseph H. Gelberman & Swami Adiswarananda

Beliefnet: The Wisdom of Rabbi Joseph Gelberman

Film: Time To Be (Jews in Paradise) IMbD with Rabbi Arthur Green, Jonathan Omer Man, Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, Aviva Zornberg, Directed by Pier Marton

The Grace & Wisdom of Rabbi Gelberman [DVD] SKU:29025175

Rabbi Gives Mysticism a New Deal