At a 1991 Jewish Renewal retreat in Pennsylvania, Rosalie Harris was in a Chevra Kadisha class, crying over the recent death of her sister, when Ephraim Eisen reached out to hold her hand. She had met him the day before and dismissed him as one of those nice guys who somehow fail to ignite romantic sparks. But "when he made contact with me, I looked at him as a compassionate person and thought, this is someone I should get to know," she recalls.
When Ephraim took her hand, "I was not reaching out to her as a man does to a woman but as a soul reaching out to a soul in mourning," he recalls. "I was very surprised when she wouldn't let me take my hand back. She was giving me a green light, and I was intrigued."
Five months after they met, Rosalie and Ephraim - who both lived in Oregon and marveled that no one had thought to set them up - got married. He had a 14-year-old son from a first marriage and a dog. She had a 13-year-old daughter and a cat. Together, they had another child and decided to devote their lives to helping single people find each other. For this work, they fashioned their own tool, called the Basherte Workshop, which firmly maintains that "to meet your soulmate, you must meet your soul," according to their Web site, www.basherte.com
Essentially, the Basherte Workshop combines psychology, prayer, kabbalistic teachings, song, meditation, movement and storytelling to help people pinpoint who they are and what they seek in a partner. Since 1993, Rosalie, now 50, and Ephraim, 51, have conducted 36 workshops throughout the U.S., Canada and Israel and have gradually garnered a word-of-mouth buzz among those seeking an alternative to the usual offerings on the singles scene. A workshop that took place over Memorial Day weekend last year at the Jewish Renewal retreat center Elat Chayyim in upstate New York featured yoga and a drumming workshop led by a former member of the Jimi Hendrix band.
"We do yoga along with traditional davening. We cover both worlds, the world of spirit and of action," says Ephraim, who considers himself a follower of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. "That's when you optimize your possibility of meeting your soulmate."
Max Rivers, a 49-year-old computer programmer, has attended several Basherte events and observes "the focus is on making a deeper connection with people within a spiritual context," he says. "So many singles events focus on problem solving, on what's wrong with you. A Basherte Workshop makes you feel that being single is just where you are on your spiritual path."
Speaking by phone from their home in Northhampton, Mass., the Eisens, both friendly and relaxed, talk openly of their own spiritual path and note the importance of relaying their own love story in the workshops they conduct. "I think there's something about working together as a couple that makes us seem relaxed and real to people from the get-go," says Rosalie. "We talk about our journey, how our relationship isn't perfect but that we feel like we're each other's basherts."
While promoting coupledom, the Eisens also take care not to spread myths about leaving singlehood. "Being in a long-term relationship is not the easiest thing in the world, but we also believe that isolation is the greatest disease in Western culture," says Rosalie, who quotes the late Mother Teresa. "We believe that people walk by their basherts all the time because they never took the opportunity to get to know one another. Our workshops focus on what is it that people are needing to start meaningful conversations."Ephraim believes that the Hollywood myths of perfect love and the numbers of people who move far away from their families and feel "rootless make it more difficult today in lots of ways for people to meet. What we try to do, especially in a three- or four-day workshop, is create a community where people can share stuff that women never tell men and men never tell women," he says.
Rivers recalls a workshop where he spent two to four minutes with a number of people asking a series of "deep questions like 'what's keeping you from finding your bashert?' Afterwards, you've answered such deep questions with people so you feel like you have a story with them," he says. "It's not like dancing with someone and then going back to your respective corners."
Rivers says he's dated people he met from workshops, but they turned out not to be bashert. However, "some of my best friends have come from the Basherte Workshop."This is exactly what the Eisens want to hear. "We want to help people explore what nurtures them. It's not just about finding the right partner, it's about being the right partner," says Rosalie. "We want people to be in healthy, committed relationships, but you need to be in a healthy place yourself."
Susan Josephs is staff writer for The Jewish Week of New York.