Shaul helps Jews find a way to religious observance

Doreen Wachmann chats to a rabbi extraordinaire who at first reluctantly embraced Judaism but now helps countless others to find the right path

RABBI Shaul Rosenblatt, who founded British Aish HaTorah - which has brought many Jews back to their Jewish observance - now believes that Judaism alone "will never solve problems".

The founder of London-based Tikun, which integrates the American psycho-spiritual system of Innate Health into a Jewish education and volunteering setting, suspects that sometimes Jews come to Jewish observance for the wrong reasons.

The Liverpool-born rabbi himself was reluctantly persuaded to embrace Jewish observance by a Jewish studies teacher at Liverpool's King David High School.

Rabbi Rosenblatt recalled: "I was doing outreach and trying to get people involved Jewishly.

"But I felt that a lot of the people coming to us were struggling because they didn't have a sense of their own wellbeing.

"I found we had people coming without peace of mind, with a lot of anxiety.

"I felt that sometimes people were getting involved in Judaism not necessarily for the right reasons, that they were looking to solve their problems."

He stressed: "Judaism will never solve problems. It will enhance your life.

"In addition to teaching people about Judaism I want to give them a sense of wellbeing, to be able to handle things."

Rabbi Rosenblatt has certainly had a lot to handle after losing his first wife Elana to cancer at the young age of 30.

At the time of Elana's illness, both Rabbi Rosenblatt and his wife rose to the religious challenge of coping with terminal cancer with a superhuman positivity.

This spilled over into the rabbi's book, Finding Light in the Darkness, which he published after her death in 2001 and in which he religiously counsels his readers to look for the good in even the worst situations.

But seemingly this immensely inspiring book, published in 2006, failed to make everything psychologically OK for Rabbi Rosenblatt.

He found that he had to travel to an Innate centre in the USA to sort out a dispute, which the psycho-spiritual system led him to understand resulted from his own "ego and arrogance".

Innate changed the rabbi's life to such an extent that he was determined to share his new awareness with others in a Jewish setting.

He said: "Innate gave me religious insights I hadn't had before. I calmed down. My head wasn't spinning.

"I was very confident with all my answers in the book, but they were just intellectual to me. During the shiva I had signs around my house to remind myself of the ideas.

"I tried very hard and I found I succeeded, but now I find I try a lot less. Nowadays these feelings are much more natural. I don't struggle with them any more."

The grandson of Liverpool's Allerton Hebrew Congregation founder Shaul Rosenblatt, after whom he is named, Rabbi Rosenblatt - then called Stevie - moved with his parents Sonia and Max Rosenblatt to Los Angeles for a year when he was 14.

He returned to Liverpool for two years at KD, which changed his life - but not immediately.

With his parents abroad, Stevie shared a flat with his cousin and his two alcoholic friends, which was hardly a conducive environment for spiritual growth.

But Aish-inspired Rabbi Yitzchak Sliw had just been appointed to teach Jewish studies at KD. On his first day at the school the rabbi asked Stevie's class who believed in God.

Rabbi Rosenblatt, who then considered that the question had "nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism" and who as a "rational scientist" was planning on being an astronaut, replied: "C'mon, rabbi, these are modern times!

"Big bang, evolution, existentialism - get with it, mate."

But, says Rabbi Rosenblatt, "this rabbi was built of different stuff - he was undaunted by our atheism and not

ready to be bullied by the intellectual arrogance we represented".

Once Rabbi Sliw's arguments became too persuasive, Stevie backed off and refused to attend his classes.

He became the envy of his classmates when he was granted exemption from Jewish studies.

But Rabbi Rosenblatt said: "God had other plans."

Stevie's classmates were beginning to be influenced by Rabbi Sliw and were becoming more religious. Stevie felt a responsibility to save them from becoming so indoctrinated, to which effect he held regular discussions with them, but to no avail.

It was April, 1984, with Stevie happy with his season ticket to watch his favourite Liverpool football team every Shabbat afternoon and eagerly awaiting studying aeronautical engineering in California, for which he had been awarded a scholarship, when Rabbi Sliw invited him for a seder night.

His fate was sealed. Having neglected to cry off at the last minute, as he had intended, Stevie became enthralled when Rabbi Sliw explained to him that the seder was less about what happened thousands of years ago and more about what was happening in one's own life. For the first time he felt that Judaism actually spoke to him. He loved every minute of the seder which went on till 4am, after which the rabbi asked him to stay the night.

Suddenly, Stevie's bubble burst. He realised that if he stayed the night he would be trapped into shul the next morning, etc, until he became the rabbi's "convert of the month".

He risked a five-mile early morning walk through the less-than-salubrious Sefton Park rather than give in to the rabbi's invitation.

But having survived the walk, the realisation hit Stevie that he was running away from the truth.

The summer before Stevie was due to take a year off to learn to be a ski instructor in Austria before studying in California, he went to Jerusalem's Aish HaTorah Yeshiva for six weeks.

The six weeks became seven years, during which Shaul became a rabbi and met his first wife Elana.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Sliw had had to leave Liverpool KD after the community became alarmed at the number of boys going off to yeshiva.

Shortly after completing his inspiring book Finding Light in the Darkness, Rabbi Rosenblatt found himself in the midst of a conflict situation with a certain individual.

They were recommended to go for conflict resolution to an Innate Health centre in Washington.

Rabbi Rosenblatt said: "It was very different from what I expected.

"I expected them to talk about what the problems and the issues were and to look at them from different perspectives.

"They didn't do any of that. They were talking to us about personal wellbeing. They didn't talk about our problems at all.

"We asked whether we were going to talk about the issues we had come for.

"We were only there for a few days. We needed to get down to business.

"They said that it was very clear that there was genuine conflict, but that it came from the way we were seeing our experience.

"They taught us to calm down and get into a more peaceful and relaxed place where we would see the relationship differently."

When Rabbi Rosenblatt went back to his hotel room he had a religious experience in which what he had always known as a rabbi - that there was

only one God - came to him "incredibly deeply".

He said: "I felt that the table in front of me was just the manifestation of God. I had never felt that deeply before."

After this experience the rabbi realised that the conflict had been his fault.

He said: "It was the way I was seeing it. My ego and arrogance were getting in the way. I just let go of all that."

Back in London, Rabbi Rosenblatt said: "I saw the potential this had to generally help people. I decided I wanted to bring these ideas into a Jewish setting.

"Over the past few years I have seen really incredible results."

Golders Green-based Tikun - accessible on - concentrates on three areas.

The first is wellbeing with Innate Health conferences which, Rabbi Rosenblatt says: "introduce people to their soul".

The second is adult Jewish education, teaching Torah to show how to become a better person, not as ritual, not just how to, but what's behind it, how the Torah is meant to bring you closer to God".

The third area is tikun olam (repairing the world). Rabbi Rosenblatt said: "We have a lot of volunteering programmes within and outside the Jewish community.

"Jews can be a little insular. We owe this country a lot.

"We were taken in as refugees. We need to give back."

Organisations which benefit from Tikun include not only Jewish Care but also charities for the homeless and for asylum seekers.

Tikun programmes attract adults of all age groups and of all religious affiliations from non-Jews and totally non-practising Jews to chassidim from Stamford Hill.

Rabbi Rosenblatt said: "I get 10 people a day coming to me who can't cope with the simplest things.

"I get rabbis, too. They're still human beings."

© 2012 Jewish Telegraph