Did I encounter the Shechinah or hallucinate from too many cookies

If you were to encounter God, where do you think it would happen? On Mount Sinai? In synagogue? And what would he/ she/it look like? Flowing beard? Burning flora? George Burns or maybe Jerry Stiller?

I ask because on a Monday afternoon, I’m sure I encountered an emanation of the divine on Steuart Street.

More specifically, I think I met the Shechinah at the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation building.

I say “I think” because I’m afraid it might be presumptuous to say something like that. But it feels right. It was certainly as close an encounter with a spiritual force as I’m likely to have this side of the climax of “Lord of The Rings.”

The Shechinah is loosely defined in Jewish tradition. According to some rabbinical sources, it is a manifestation of the divine on earth, famously appearing as a cloud that followed the Israelites through the Exodus. More recently, the Shechinah has become a symbolic bride to the masculine God, waiting to be reunited with the masculine divine in the renewal of the heavenly kingdom on earth. Feminist scholars interpret her as the feminine aspect of the divine, that which receives, the vessel through which all human action meets the divine.

Let’s rewind and come back down to San Francisco before we float away.

Recently, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Jewish Community Relations Council held a workshop on dreams, Judaism and female empowerment. When I read the description of it, I noticed that Rabbi Aliza Berk and her colleague from the Jewish Healing Center were leading the workshop that involved something called “dream-tending.”

This didn’t seem like your typical Jewish community event. I went out into the rainy streets to check it out.

At the JCF building, I was one of two men in a room with about 20 women, and tea and cookies.

The program started as we went around the room and read poems that honored women from the Torah and explored events from the perspectives of these biblical heroines.

That’s when I think it began, looking around at the faces of all these Jewish women, focused and open to possibility.

The possibility of what, I asked myself.

A Jewish experience that was dominated by women rather than my sometimes intolerant feelings about my own gender, nebbishy Jewish men with loud voices, neuroses and egos.

I relished the opportunity to experience myself away from my own masculinity.

One of the facilitators had us all sit back in our chairs and close our eyes — time for the dream-tending.

The facilitator led us through a guided visualization, counting our breath slowly. We were told to find a safe place in our mind to hang out and feel comfortable inside ourselves.

It must have been the collective energy of all the women in the room. My safe place was in bed, snuggling with my wife and small dog on a Saturday morning. I thought of my wife lying there, a strong presence of calm and comfort.

Then there seemed to be a glow about my wife, and the glow resonated outside of my body to the energy of all the women around me. Keep in mind my eyes were closed this whole time: the energy was maternal and sexual and strong and just female — but Jewish and female, with the particular resonance that Jewish women have that other women don’t.

When we all opened our eyes we were given drawing materials to try to capture our experience. Some people drew their “safe places” — gardens with animals, balconies in a city, many other images.

We talked about it, and it felt kind of New Agey. Judgment raged up in me.

Then I looked back around the room, and with my eyes open, I saw — or maybe just felt — that glow again. I looked around the room, and something mystical transpired: The gardens in people’s drawings were the original garden, with the first human masculine and feminine. The city was Jerusalem.

I was swooning. Too many cookies? I didn’t know. There I was, as agnostic as they come, having visions from the Torah? What would my atheist grandparents think?

The workshop was over and I walked back out into the rain. Visions of my wife, my mother and the Jewish women I have known hovered around me as I went back to work.

Jay Schwartz plays the trap drums in San Francisco, where he lives with his wife and canine. He can be reached at [email protected].