For nearly 20 years, Rabbi David Cooper has been among the pioneers of Jewish meditation. Through his bestselling books and popular retreats, Cooper and his wife Shoshana have helped to create the hybrid of Buddhist and Jewish meditation practices that is now commonplace at synagogues across the country. Love it or hate it, the “BuJu” phenomenon continues to grow, influencing clergy and laypeople, the religious and the secular, traditionalists and innovators.
But now the Coopers are scaling back. This winter’s retreat will be their last at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. There are no more books in the pipeline. And the Coopers are passing the baton to a new generation of teachers, which includes me.
Part of the reason for this quasi-retirement is simply that the Coopers are getting older, and it’s tiring to travel across the country and teach a hundred students at a retreat. But a primary motivation is Rabbi Cooper’s recent diagnosis of Lewy body disease, a degenerative form of Parkinson’s that can cause severe dementia. The diagnosis is a serious one, and, of course, bitterly ironic for someone who has spent his career teaching others how to develop and strengthen their minds. Yet for now, Cooper insists, “I’m really fine.” While the diagnosis is clear, the prognosis — how the disease will actually unfold — is not.