Rabbi Meir Abehsera passed away in Jerusalem on June 6. Abehsera was a pioneer of the modern-day ba’al teshuvah movement, a member of the Sefardi kabbalists and a Chasid of the late Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He lived many years in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, and is survived by his wife, Claude, and seven children. What follows is an excerpt from “The Possible Jew,” a column by David Suissa, Jewish Journal columnist and president, first published in January 2008 about his friendship with the rabbi. For the full text, visit jewishjournal.com.
Whether he was giving a lecture on macrobiotics, reading French poetry or hanging out with the new bohemians of Greenwich Village, there was one thing that was never too far from Abehsera’s mind.
Abehsera comes from that Sephardic tradition whereby no matter how far you might sway into the secular realms, you never lose touch with your Jewishness. Part of this tradition includes a reverence for holy men.
So, when a friend invited him in the early 1970s to visit this unique and powerful man who lived in Brooklyn called the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it was not a tough call to say yes — even if the rebbe wasn’t Sephardic.
Thus began a 30-year love affair that continues to this day between Abehsera and the Rebbe, who died in 1994. I was a lucky witness to this love affair when Abehsera took me to Brooklyn’s Crown Heights in 1990 during Simchat Torah. By then, Abehsera had become somewhat of a legend in Chabad circles; he was known as “The Rebbe’s Whistler,” since the rebbe would frequently call on him to whistle while his followers would sing their nigunim in a frenzy of joy.
Over the years, Abehsera’s mixture of intellect, folksiness and whimsy, as well as his deep Sephardic roots, have been embraced by Chabad emissaries around the world who regularly invite him to speak. Beyond the road shows, however, have been the countless nights where thousands of people from all walks of life have come to hang out wherever Abehsera happens to live, knowing they could always count on a little couscous or brown rice, or at least some hot tea and a good story.
Abehsera, it seems, has always loved a good story.
Eventually, he developed an urge to write these stories down. So in the mid-1990s, while living in Los Angeles with his wife and seven children, he began writing a personal meditation on his life and ideas inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, which became a book called “The Possible Man.”
Talk about a possible man: A Sephardic Jew from a famous rabbinic family journeys with the French literary crowd, immerses himself in the curative world of a Japanese mystic and ends up as the cherished prince of a Chasidic movement.
Don’t ever tell Abehsera this is not an extraordinary time to be Jewish, or he might just give you a slap in the face — before reading you a French poem or offering you a little brown rice.
He will be missed.
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