In 1999, Rabbi Alan Lew opened a Jewish meditation center in San Francisco. He named
it Makor Or, from the Hebrew meaning “Wellspring of Light.”
With the shockingly sudden death of Lew this week at the much-too-young age of 65, the Bay Area Jewish community — and the world — has lost a true wellspring of light.
Even though he retired two years ago from his pulpit position at Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco, Lew remained a fixture in the community, as an author, lecturer and social justice advocate.
It is almost impossible to imagine life without him. We profoundly mourn his loss.
In j.’s obituary this week, friends, congregants and colleagues pay tribute to Lew’s impact on the lives he touched and the many achievements to his credit.
He came to the rabbinate by a circuitous route, and somewhat later in life than the more typical career track. That was a good thing. It gave him time to explore the “real world” outside the seminary, to examine other approaches to life and other faith traditions.
One of those — Zen Buddhism, along with its attendant meditation component — was to have a tremendous influence on him throughout his life. At one point he even considered becoming a lay Buddhist priest. But the gravitational tug of Judaism proved stronger.
In his pre-rabbinate years, Lew worked “regular” jobs, such as driving a tour bus. No surprise then that he had an affinity for the common person and, beyond that, a sensitivity to the sufferings of the indigent, the poor and those sitting on death row. He worked tirelessly on their behalf. As an advocate for the homeless, he would even occasionally sleep in the park alongside the city’s poorest. That alone was a measure of his empathy.
Lew never failed to bring his solemn presence to San Quentin State Prison whenever an inmate was about to face execution. He took heat for some of his views, as when some of his own Beth Sholom congregants castigated him for speaking out against Israel’s security barrier and other issues.
Alan Lew never failed to act on his conscience.
While death must eventually come to us all, it’s hard not to feel cheated by Rabbi Lew’s early demise. He still had a lot to do. On the day he died, he had spent the morning lecturing, teaching, praying and meditating at a Conservative rabbinic training retreat in Baltimore.
We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Sherril, to his children and grandchildren. They will miss him as no one else can.
We, too, will miss him greatly. Zichrono livracha.