Melanie Gruenwald: 
A story of grief transformed

Having been raised in a mainstream, somewhat secular, Conservative Jewish home, living life across the religious spectrum in college, eventually becoming more observant, serving as a Jewish professional and marrying a man who would later become a Conservative rabbi… I was always in pursuit of greater ownership and depth of my Jewish learning and Jewish journey. I found that being married to a rabbi, I was very connected to Jewish community, and to religious life, but I no longer had a spiritual mentor.

When our family moved to Denver ten years ago, I had heard about the Kabbalah Experience, and met David through mutual friends. I was always interested in participating in the learning, but the timing never seemed right. I was working full-time, my kids were young— the time commitment was one more investment in myself that I didn’t feel I had the ability to make. I existed in a myriad of good excuses.

During the summer of 2017, my son, Koby, was fighting glioblastoma, and my full-time job was caring for him. He loved Jewish learning, and was no longer attending school full-time, so we decided to take a class together at the Kabbalah Experience.  David opened his door to us, and we began this journey of ‘Soul’ together. Koby looked forward to the classes- and he often became our teacher. By the end of the summer, his tumor had grown, and he no longer had the strength to attend school. For weeks, he continued to come to Kabbalah class, and when he could no longer handle sitting in the classroom, he would sit on the couch in the lobby and chime in through the doorway. And eventually, he would FaceTime to join us, when he could no longer leave the house.

I continued to take classes at the Kabbalah Experience. Even when life was too heavy for me to fully engage, I knew I could show up, and just be present.

The people I learned with were not part of my day-to-day life, and were mostly new-to-me, as Koby and I began this Kabbalah Experience. It was a nice way to connect with new people, who were not deeply engaged in our family’s journey and experience.  Kabbalah classes allowed us to dive deeper into understanding our existence, and experience, with a new lens and language- and in a safe and nurturing environment.

When Koby died, January 19, 2018- it was all I could do to muster my energy to make it to class. And it mattered to me, and, I believe to my cohort, that I showed up. I continued to learn, and to struggle, and the Kabbalah Experience gave me language and a framework to understand my experience of grief and the overall journey I am on.

In the spring of 2018, David asked if I would be interested in teaching for him. I was deeply humbled, and trusted in his belief that I could transmit his teaching and curriculum to a cohort of students. This fall, I have had the opportunity to teach two sections of ‘Soul,’ and engage with 18 students. I have had the opportunity to delve deeper into the curriculum that I studied with Koby last year, and understand it on a new level, with the shared insights of my students. I am concurrently taking the ‘Masks’ class, and am constantly amazed by the parallels, the flow of the two classes, and how they are so alive for me.

As I walk this journey of grief for my son, I find the Kabbalah Experience to be a place where my energy feels brighter overall. My interconnectedness is stronger, my relationships are less masked. It is a place of understanding, growth and compassion. It is a place where newish friends can look me in the eye, and ask deeply “How are you today?” It is a place of healing, strength and vulnerability- and finding light in darkness. We bring it all to the table.

The language and lenses I have gained through my engagement with the Kabbalah Experience, gives me language to understand and explain my journey. When I learn from David, and explore with my students, my experience of life is deepened and made more meaningful.  I am thrilled to be able to connect more people to the Kabbalah Experience through this journey, and serving in a ‘faculty’ role.

I believe this is what I call my “soul work.” The Kabbalah Experience is a place where I have found a mentor, and path where I can continue to help Koby’s light shine, and touch others in our community. For that, I am grateful.

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