Meet Rabbi Olivier BenHaim

What to write in a bio? Conventionally one is supposed to write something short with a lot of data as if, somehow, biographical data could capture the essence of a person. And short because, in this day and age, we’re told that people don’t have time. What does this say about us and about this day and age? So instead of a collection of impersonal data, let me share with you what has most influenced me on my journey to here and now.

First and foremost was my upbringing in a secular Jewish family, born in France of a lineage of Jews who came from Poland and Turkey (my mother side,) and Algeria (my father’s)I am secondgeneration born of Holocaust survivors, but only my paternal family continued to practice Judaism after the war. When I reached Bar Mitzvah age, I became a practicing Modern Orthodox Jew. I like to say that these were my rebellious teenage years, but the truth is that from ages 6 or 7, I started to have what I didn’t know then were mystical experiencesvisions and flashes of insight that had dropped me into a fairly stable witness-consciousnessand I needed a frame like religion to put it in. 

I was an idealist teenager turned Zionist through high school and made aliyah soon after my 18th birthday. I loved living in Israel. I studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, worked in the local restaurants and hotels (where I met Amy, the woman who would become my wife, and with whom I now have two children: Amalya and Lior) and eventually was called to serve in the Israeli army where I was assigned to the Golani Brigade. The assassination of Yitzchak Rabin—one of my heroes—was a shock that shattered my Zionist ideals. I no longer knew how to fit in in an Israeli society that quickly became more and more politically polarized. I had to leave. 

My wife-to-be had returned to the U.S. to go back to school, and I soon joined her here. My initial years in America brought me to explore Buddhism, attend meditation retreats in different traditions, practice Yoga and Tai Chi. I also voraciously studied the work of Ken Wilber and the Integral Theory he wrote about, which not only had a profound impact on me but infuses my work to this day. Had I not met my teacher, Rabbi Ted Falcon, I would probably not have returned to Judaism. 

Rabbi Ted, as we call him, helped me discover the mystical side of Judaism, opened my eyes to the deep and ancient practices of Jewish meditation and—as he was planning his retirement from the pulpit—invited me to explore the possibility of rabbi-hood. I figured that if these teachings and practices existed within Judaism, then I didn’t have to look for them in other traditions.could simply come home. And so, I did. I went back to school, received a B.A. and an M.A in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College in Newton, MA and was privately ordained in 2009.

This gift I have received, the ability to return home and uncover there the most profound spiritual practices our millennia-old tradition has to offer, is what I have dedicated my life to pay forward. What I hope to share with you. It is founded on the non-dual mystical teachings of Judaism, grounded in Jewish meditation, in ancient state-altering practices of chanting, and in the transformative power of music. It is infused with joy, song, dance and laughter.

So here is my invitation. I don’t know where you are on your spiritual journey, what questions you might have, but I’d love to meet with you in person and talk about it over coffee or tea. Drop me a line right now at rabbi.olivier@betalef.org. Tell me you are reading this online and you want to take me up on my offer. I look forward to it.

 Rabbi Olivier is available to officiate at Jewish and interfaith, opposite or same-sex marriages, funeral and memorial services or any other life-cycle event.  He also provides spiritual guidance to those in need by appointment. He can be reached via email.

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