Buxbaum, Yitzhak (Robert W. Buxbaum)

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Buxbaum, Yitzhak (Robert W. Buxbaum)

PERSONAL:

Education: Cornell University, B.S., 1964; University of Michigan, M.S.; also studied at Boston University.

ADDRESSES:

E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Educator and storyteller. New School for Social Research, New York, NY, lecturer. Teaches at various synagogues, youth organizations, and Hillel sites.

WRITINGS:

Jewish Spiritual Practices, J. Aronson (Northvale, NJ), 1990.

Storytelling and Spirituality in Judaism, Jason Aronson (Northvale, NJ), 1994.

The Life and Teachings of Hillel, Jason Aronson (Northvale, NJ), 1994.

Real Davvening: Jewish Prayer as a Spiritual Practice and a Form of Meditation for Beginning and Experienced Davveners, Yitzhak Buxbaum (Flushing, NY), 1996.

An Open Heart: The Mystic Path of Loving People, Buxbaum (Flushing, NY), 1997.

A Tu BeShvat Seder: The Feast of Fruits from the Tree of Life, Jewish Spirit (New York, NY), 1998.

A Person Is Like a Tree: A Sourcebook for Tu BeShvat, Jason Aronson (Northvale, NJ), 2000.

Jewish Tales of Holy Women, Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, CA), 2002.

Jewish Tales of Mystic Joy, Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, CA), 2002.

The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, Continuum (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS:

Yitzhak Buxbaum is an educator and storyteller. After earning a bachelor of science degree in zoology from Cornell University in 1964, Buxbaum pursued a path to become a university professor. He earned a master of science degree in zoology from the University of Michigan but had his plans interrupted by the events surrounding the Vietnam War. Seeking more meaning in his life, Buxbaum decided to pursue philosophical studies at Boston University but quickly realized that he would better fill his academic needs through studying religion. He began studying Judaism through the works of Martin Buber and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, entering a Lubavitcher yeshiva for six months. At that point, Buxbaum decided to devote the rest of his life to studying Judaism. He learned Hebrew, lived in Jerusalem, and became particularly fond of Jewish mysticism and the maggid—preachers and storytellers who would travel around Jewish communities and share the highlights of the faith. Buxbaum returned to the United States and started teaching and telling his stories at synagogues, youth organizations, and Hillel sites around the country. He also teaches courses in Jewish mysticism at New York's New School for Social Research.

In an interview on the Jewish Spirit Web site, Buxbaum explained his view on the problems faced by contemporary Judaism: "The central challenge facing Judaism is assimilation; sad as it is, the majority of Jews have no living relation to Judaism. But the only way to solve this problem is by fixing the difficulty on the ‘inside of the inside,’ as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach would say. The answer is spiritual, not a matter of social workers, donations, or the Federation. The current denominations have not solved our problem. Sometimes they have even contributed to it, because there are people who use denominations to divide us. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach showed us that love transcends denominationalism."

Buxbaum published his first book, Jewish Spiritual Practices, in 1990. Buxbaum shares his interpretation of how Jews should live their lives, which includes being spiritual every day. He outlines the ways in which how Jews think, speak, and do daily activities can be turned into a spiritual event. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, jointly reviewing the book in Spirituality & Practice, noted that "Jewish Spiritual Practices is an amazingly comprehensive and thoroughly practical book. Open it to any page, and you will be inspired by the words and examples of these masters."

Buxbaum proceeded to publish several other books, writing on the Jewish traditions. He published both Storytelling and Spirituality in Judaism and The Life and Teachings of Hillel in 1994. In 1996, he published Real Davvening: Jewish Prayer as a Spiritual Practice and a Form of Meditation for Beginning and Experienced Davveners. One year later, Buxbaum followed this book with An Open Heart: The Mystic Path of Loving People. In 1998, he published A Tu BeShvat Seder: The Feast of Fruits from the Tree of Life. This was followed by A Person Is Like a Tree: A Sourcebook for Tu BeShvat in 2000. Two years later, Buxbaum published Jewish Tales of Holy Women.

Buxbaum published Jewish Tales of Mystic Joy that same year. The book compiles stories about the happiness that comes from experiencing a true spirituality. A contributor to Spirituality & Practice described the book as a "wonderful collection of Jewish tales of mystic joy."

In 2005, Buxbaum published The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov. Buxbaum explains how the Baal Shem Tov, a mystic and founder of Hasidism, lived his life following the mantra that "there is nothing by God," and sharing his stories with the Jewish community. The book collects information on the life of the Baal Shem Tov and shares the stories he told.

The Brussats, again reviewing the book in Spirituality & Practice, said that "Buxbaum is our guide, providing plenty of fresh perspectives on the Baal Shem Tov's devotional practices. Again and again, the Besht (as he was often called) surprises us with the depth of his perception of the grace and the glory of God." The Brussats concluded that "Buxbaum has done us all a wonderful moral service by revealing the depth dimensions of a warm heart. Reading this master work, one bows down in praise of the Father of Hasidism whose legacy has not diminished with time, but only grown more expansive and profound." Arthur Kurzweil, writing in the Jewish Spirit, observed that "the publisher obviously knows what it has with this book. One sign is that included is a red bookmarker ribbon, bound into the book's spine. Not many books from secular publishers come with such a fancy attachment. Of course, a ribbon marker can be put into any book, but in this case clearly the publisher knows that The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov is not just a book. It's a holy book." Tikkun contributor Estelle Frankel commented that the author "offers us an extremely comprehensive and beautifully written life in stories." Frankel reflected: "I find myself rereading these beautiful tales and being inspired by them, a sign perhaps that Buxbaum has accomplished his aim." In conclusion, Frankel suggested that "instead of reading this book with a rational, historical eye, take these stories into the heart of your inner-child or inner-tzaddik and allow them to awaken your soul and illuminate your life."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Parabola, fall, 2006, Arthur Kurzweil, review of The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, p. 116.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 1995, review of Storytelling and Spirituality in Judaism, p. 4; February, 2006, review of The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov.

Shofar, January 1, 2003, review of Jewish Tales of Holy Women, p. 200; January 1, 2003, review of Jewish Tales of Mystic Joy, p. 200.

Tikkun, May 1, 2006, Estelle Frankel, review of The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, p. 73.

ONLINE

Jewish Spirit,http://www.jewishspirit.com/ (March 10, 2008), author profile; Arthur Kurzweil, review of The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov.

Spirituality & Practice,http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ (March 10, 2008), Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, review of Jewish Spiritual Practices; review of Jewish Tales of Mystic Joy; Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, review of The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov.