Jewish healing creates new stage for injured actress

Self-described recovering drama queen Rosalee Minkin sits on a stage that is stripped down to its bare minimum: a plain mahogany table with some leftover food and tissue paper on it, and four bare walls.

She slowly raises both fists in the air and lets out an ecstatic whoop.

"Hot damn!" she says. "I can feel God's presence in this room, and it feels good!" She shakes her head with abandon, letting her auburn tresses cascade down her face.

Then she lets loose with another whoop, which seems to almost pull her out of her chair. The sound of it reverberates throughout the room.

"Hot daammnn!"

Minkin's relationship with God wasn't always cause for such delirious praise, however. There was a time, in what she calls the "hippy-dippy '70s," that the New York native moved to California and inhaled almost every spiritual and medicinal remedy available.

The aspect of her life that Minkin left relatively unexplored was her Judaism.

That changed June 10, 1995.

Walking home from a Tom Petty concert at the Hollywood Bowl, the drama therapist was struck by a drunk driver, shattering almost every bone in her body. She was also left with severe memory damage, and continues to suffer from epileptic seizures. The last one was a grand-mal seizure in November that left her in a coma for nearly a month.

So when asked why she was sitting in a room at San Francisco's Jewish Healing Center talking with Rabbi Eric Weiss, Minkin responds with a dramatic pause.

"Well, I've always had a spiritual hungering," she said, "and the Jewish people are my people, my tribe, and I wanted to have a closer connection to them."

And then she lowers her voice, and a change comes over her face. It starts with her lips, which turn slightly upward, and sweeps over her nose, which quivers. It stops with her eyes, which are stripped of any pretense. Only the fear is left.

"I'm here," she says softly, reaching for the tissue box, "because I'm scared s–tless."

"Fear can be an excellent conduit to spirituality," Weiss responded. "The question becomes, what does it take to make meaning out of suffering?"

The Jewish Healing Center has been attempting to answer that question since 1991. It was formed out of the spiritual-direction movement, an interfaith counseling and self-healing movement that had its genesis in the mid-'80s. One of the earliest West Coast progenitors of the movement was Sister Mary Ann Scofield of the Mercy Center in Burlingame.

Scofield has trained spiritual directors locally, including both Weiss of the Healing Center and East Bay community Rabbi Zari Weiss, as well as in Kenya, Thailand and Lithuania.

"I think that the spiritual-direction movement was a movement of God, in whatever language or form that takes," Scofield said, noting that the movement is rapidly growing all over the world.

Even science is taking notice. Eric Weiss referred to a recent study conducted by cardiologist Randolf Byrd of the San Francisco Medical Center. Byrd conducted a study in which random coronary patients had a controlled group of people praying for them, while a second group of patients did not. The first group of patients, the study revealed, were five times less likely to require antibiotics, and three times less likely to develop cardiopulmonary arrest.

"I think that science is become open to new ways of thinking," Weiss said. "While the advances science has made are unbelievable, there are some things it can't cure. That's where the healing process comes in."

The prayer sessions at the Healing Center have helped Minkin, who now lives in San Francisco. She said she was just "blown over the edge" by her last seizure.

"I was in a state of denial for a long time," Minkin said. "I told myself that I had a couple of seizures, and that it was no big deal. I told myself that it would all pass.

"Well, I'm ready to face the fact that I can have a seizure at any time now. Praying has taken me out of the state of denial, and has made it OK to be afraid. And, at the same time, it helps me disconnect from that fear, and gives me the tools and knowledge to deal with it."

Brushing a strand of hair away from her face, Minkin laughed at the stereotypes engendered by "spiritual healing."

"I'm sure a lot of people think this is some sort of San Francisco follow-your-bliss thing," she said. "But that's not at all what it's about. Healing Jewishly soothes me. I love the prayers. The Hebrew words have such rhythmic, lush sounds."

Because of her epilepsy, Minkin — whom Weiss called one of the foremost experts in the field of psychodrama — has been unable to teach or lecture. She also can no longer drive a car or travel extensively. When asked how someone accustomed to living life to the fullest now has to observe strict parameters, Minkin fell silent.

She swept some crumbs off the table and glanced at Weiss before answering.

"I think Judaism has really given me an answer to my survival. I've finally learned to live in silence, and it's quite an interesting place to be."

Minkin looked around the room, and commented on the circumstances that brought her to the doorsteps of the healing center.

"Why would God allow this to happen to a nice Jewish girl?" Minkin mused. "I used to ask myself that question all the time. I realize now how much I've learned about myself because of this."

"What comes to mind?" Weiss asked her.

"Well," Minkin said, "I figure I'm a 60-year-old broad and I've only got about 30 years left in this life. So I better make them count."