Daily Briefing TV gives an exclusive glimpse into the world of the leading New York City rabbi.
Why does David Saperstein spend his Sundays in a historic New York City cemetery? As the associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, he serves the Jewish community on issues that touch the heart, mind and soul of all Americans. He routinely organizes Jewish organizations, other religious groups and others for bipartisan congressional offices in Washington, D.C. But he has found time to spend much of the rest of the time in this cemetery, an informal mecca for dedicated spiritual healers.
The highlights of Saperstein’s Sundays include spiritual and metaphysical tours of the 120-acre Sunset Hill Cemetery with spiritualist and New York Sun columnist Katharine Hepburn — who is listed as a “person of interest” on Sunset Hill’s website — and her daughter, Emily. The tour includes visits to the Holy Tree, a healing tree that sits in the center of the cemetery, and a tapestry in which he and Hepburn portray other imagined characters from poetry and tales of modern day spiritual healing, ranging from both ancient Hebrew and current day spiritual lines.
Following the tapestry is a lecture by Marshalle Erlenmeyer, a former librarian at Yale, who offers a series of services titled “Peoples, Saints, Prophets” for private or public events.
“Cemetery tours are in a sense at their absolute most profound,” Saperstein says. “It was in Sunset Hill that I went to the early meetings of the all-women suffrage party,” he says, as well as the first union convention held there in the 1980s. “These were revolutionary gatherings for women of many different generations, and while they might just have been about jobs, I can’t help thinking they had more important purposes.”
As a person of faith, it made sense to Saperstein to devote part of his Sundays to spiritual healing and to bringing people closer to the Jewish traditions and people of his own faith.
“It’s important that other people have a sense of community and that one can be of service to others,” he says. “For me, it’s not about spirituality, but also about morality and peace. I get my ideas for prayers from reading prayers and thinking about them, and I think it’s very important that people experience the prayers as meaningful to them and to share them as effectively as possible.”
A man of history, Saperstein often points to the cemetery’s role in raising American artists and poets.
“For three of the last five presidents, Sunset Hill was the church to which they attended on Sundays,” he says. “Not a religious one, but a religious community. We are very excited to see the renaissance of the cemetery as a cultural institution. Sunset Hill is now home to two mega-churches, a Baha’i temple, a Hindu temple, an equestrian center, bookstores, a bookstore of Women’s Voices and Twice a Year Collected Poems, a music school and the Momentary Wonder Repair Center, which reuses old copperware to make colorful bric-a-brac that sell for $10 and more.”
Learn more about Saperstein in the video below.
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