Marc Lieberman, Who Introduced Jews and Buddhists Collectively, Dies at 72

Dr. Marc Lieberman, an ophthalmologist and self-proclaimed “Jewish Buddhist” who, when he wasn’t treating glaucoma, organized a dialogue between Jewish students and the Dalai Lama, and who later introduced sight again to 1000’s of Tibetans laid low with cataracts, died on Aug. 2 at his residence in San Francisco. He was 72.

His son, Michael, mentioned the trigger was prostate most cancers.

Dr. Lieberman, who referred to as himself a “JuBu,” retained his Jewish religion however integrated elements of Buddhist teachings and practices. He stored kosher and noticed the sabbath, however he additionally meditated a number of occasions a day. He studied the Torah, however he additionally led efforts to construct a Buddhist monastery in Northern California.

If it appeared like a contradiction to some, he was OK with that, seeing in each religions a complementary pursuit of fact and path away from worldly struggling.

“I’m a wholesome mosaic of Judaism and Buddhism,” Dr. Lieberman mentioned in an interview with The Los Angeles Instances in 2006. “Is that honest to both faith? Truthful schmair! It’s what I’m.”

Within the Eighties, he grew to become a frontrunner within the lay Buddhist group within the Bay Space, holding weekly conferences in his lounge and internet hosting monks who visited from around the globe.

As such, he was an apparent level of contact when the Dalai Lama, the religious chief of the Tibetan individuals, introduced that he was planning a go to to the USA in 1989, and that he was curious to be taught extra about Judaism. A good friend within the workplace of Consultant Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, requested if Dr. Lieberman would facilitate a dialogue between the holy man and American Jewish leaders.

Dr. Lieberman jumped into motion, assembling what he referred to as a “dream crew” of rabbis and Jewish students for a one-day assembly with the Dalai Lama at a Tibetan Buddhist temple in New Jersey.

It was successful, although an all-too-brief one, it being troublesome to pack 1000’s of years of spiritual custom right into a single afternoon chat. However the Dalai Lama got here away impressed, and Dr. Lieberman determined to go larger.

The subsequent yr he accompanied eight of the unique group to Dharmsala, the city in northern India the place the Dalai Lama lives in exile. Over 4 days, Jewish and Buddhist thinkers mentioned the 2 faiths’ shared experiences with struggling, their differing ideas of God and the function that mysticism performs in every.

The e book bought properly and drove 1000’s of Individuals, Jews and non-Jews, to discover Buddhism — whereas on the similar time driving others to see the potential for a distinct, extra mystical Judaism.

“Marc actually deserves credit score for that dialogue, for opening Jews to their very own meditative and esoteric traditions,” Mr. Kamenetz mentioned in an interview.

Dr. Lieberman wasn’t performed. Throughout his conversations with the Dalai Lama and his entourage, he discovered that due to the tough ultraviolet gentle that blankets the 15,000-foot Tibetan Plateau, 15 % of Tibetans over 40 — and 50 % of these over 70 — have cataracts.

In 1995 he based the Tibet Imaginative and prescient Undertaking, a grand identify for what was largely a solo act: Twice a yr, generally with a colleague, he traveled to Tibet, the place he oversaw cataract surgical procedures and skilled Tibetan docs to carry out them. Over the following 20 years, some 5,000 individuals regained their full sight due to Dr. Lieberman.

It was, he might need mentioned, the last word mitzvah for a individuals, and a frontrunner, who had given him a lot.

“I bear in mind him saying to the Dalai Lama, ‘While you come again to Tibet I would like the Tibetan individuals to see you,’” Mr. Kamenetz recalled.

Marc Frank Lieberman was born on July 7, 1949, in Baltimore, the son of Alfred and Annette (Filzer) Lieberman. His father was a surgeon; his mom labored for a neighborhood personal college and, later, for the world chapter of Deliberate Parenthood.

Although his uncle Morris Lieberman was the rabbi at one in every of Baltimore’s main Reform synagogues, Marc grew up extra within the mental and activist sides of Judaism than within the religion itself.

He studied faith at Reed Faculty in Oregon and, after graduating, took pre-med programs on the Hebrew College of Jerusalem. Whereas in Israel he met Alicia Friedman, who grew to become his first spouse. He additionally grew to become extra spiritual, retaining kosher and observing the sabbath.

He attended medical college at Johns Hopkins College and accomplished his residency in Ann Arbor, Mich. He then settled in San Francisco, the place he opened a personal observe specializing in glaucoma remedy, which later expanded to a few places of work across the Bay Space.

Regardless of his skilled success, Dr. Lieberman — who was additionally a profitable textbook writer and a medical professor on the College of California, San Francisco — grew disenchanted with medication.

“It was a excessive worth for me to pay to endure the trials of coaching,” he mentioned in “Visioning Tibet,” a 2006 documentary about his work. “There were so few role models of people who were connecting with patients as other humans, and the very reasons that motivated me to go into medicine became more and more distant the further I got in the field.”

At a yoga class in 1982 he met Nancy Garfield, who introduced him to the Bay Area’s Buddhist community. After the two attended a retreat at a monastery near Santa Cruz, Dr. Lieberman realized that he had found the answer to his frustrations and despair, or at least an avenue to address them.

In 1986 he and Ms. Garfield married in a Buddhist ceremony. That marriage, like his first, ended in divorce. In addition to his son, Dr. Lieberman is survived by his brothers, Elias and Victor.

Soon after his second marriage, Dr. Lieberman took his first trip to northern India, at the invitation of a group of Indian doctors. He found the experience transformative.

“The great discovery for me in India was to see how spiritual the practice of medicine was,” he said in the documentary. “The medical centers in India, the ones I was fortunate enough to visit, are temples, and temples of love and service.”

He began to make regular visits to India, working with local doctors and bringing back Buddhist books, devotional items and esoterica, which filled his house.

“At the table,” Mr. Kamenetz wrote, a visitor would find “Shabbat candles; in the living room, incense; at the doorway, a mezuzah; in the meditation room, a five-foot-high Buddha. If he glanced at the bookshelf, he would have seen dharma and kabbalah competing for space, and one was as likely to find Pali as Hebrew.”

Dr. Lieberman did not coin the term “JuBu,” and he was not the first proponent of integrating aspects of Buddhism into the Jewish faith — the poet Allen Ginsberg was among those who preceded him — but he became one of the most prominent.

He struggled to keep his focus on interreligious dialogue and leave politics aside. But his many trips to Tibet left him embittered toward the Chinese government, which had annexed the region in 1959 and driven out its religious leaders, then sought to overwhelm Tibetan culture with its own.

“It’s like visiting an Indian reservation run by General Custer’s family,” he told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2006.

Beijing didn’t think much of Dr. Lieberman either; he was often harassed at the border and forced to wait weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal, for a visa. Starting in 2008, the Chinese government gradually barred all foreign nongovernmental organizations from Tibet, bringing Dr. Lieberman’s efforts to an end.

Not long before Dr. Lieberman died, Mr. Kamenetz visited him in San Francisco. One day he accompanied his friend to a chemotherapy appointment.

“We were really enjoying the flowering trees in San Francisco, just taking in each flower, each tree,” Mr. Kamenetz recalled. “Naturally we were talking about impermanence. And he said the most beautiful thing: that impermanence doesn’t just mean that everything goes away, but also that there’s always something new coming into focus.

“He said, ‘Whatever arises is the indispensable beautiful event that is arising.’”

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