Studying with shamans and Sufis. Practicing Native American rituals. Meditating with Buddhists and attending Hindu yoga retreats. Exploring Judaism.
When it comes to spirituality, Mount Airy native Rivvy Neshama, 72, has left no door unopened.
So when Neshama took a quiz titled “Find Your Highest Purpose” in a book eight years ago, she wasn’t surprised by the answer it gave her for what she was supposed to do next: live a sacred life.
Though the answer immediately made sense to her, Neshama said she was not sure how to proceed — until she experienced a moment of divine intervention during a walk to her home on a dark, wintry night.
“I heard a voice saying, ‘Rivvy, write a book,’ ” Neshama said — and that is exactly what she did.
Drawing on her wealth of spiritual knowledge and life experience, Neshama wrote Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles, which was published this past November.
Neshama, who has three children and five grandchildren between herself and second husband John Wilcockson, returned to Philadelphia on Jan. 22 to visit her mother, Irene Feldman, at Sunrise Senior Living facility in Abington, where she entertained residents by reading a few of her stories and signing copies of her book.
The collection of personal stories, published by Divine Arts, begins with an anecdote about how her mother presented her with a recipe book as a wedding gift.
The book contained only two recipes — one for chicken and one for a roast — but it served as a touchstone during Neshama’s journey toward crafting her own collection of advice on how to best live a spiritually fulfilling life.
Neshama, who now lives in Colorado, comes from a family of storytellers, as evidenced by her 93-year-old mother’s wedding gift. Recipes for a Sacred Life expands on Feldman’s advice by addressing a wide variety of issues such as love, death and laughter through her own personal experiences.
Neshama’s parents were two of the original members of Germantown Jewish Centre, and her mother starred in many musicals at the synagogue. She also often wrote plays and songs for her students while working as an assistant teacher in the Philadelphia public school system.
During a conversation at Sunrise, she happily consented to a request for a rendition of one of those songs:
“Good morning/Listen to what I say/Make each day a happy day,” she sang with gusto.
One perk about having Neshama as a daughter is Feldman’s overnight celebrity status at the Sunrise facility. A day after Neshama’s book reading event, residents were still walking over to compliment Feldman on her talented daughter and to ask for Neshama’s autograph.
Though Feldman only moved to Sunrise about a month ago, she said that now everyone seems to know her, though she added that she cannot say the same just yet.
She said that her daughter’s book reading was the liveliest she had ever seen Sunrise in the evening. She hopes that as she becomes friendlier with her neighbors that they will begin staying up together after dinner to tell each other their life stories.
Despite Neshama’s growing success — the women’s magazine Redbook selected Recipes for its January 2014 book of the month — she said the real achievement has been her ability to reach people through her book, especially those who shy away from her genre of spiritual self-help memoir.
“This is a spiritual book for people who don’t read spiritual books,” Neshama said.
As an example of how she has been able to reach those reluctant to explore their spiritual side, she brings up a book reading she did at her mother’s previous residence in honor of her 93rd birthday.
A neighbor of her mother’s somewhat reluctantly accompanied his wife to the reading; by the end, both husband and wife were in tears. They approached Neshama afterwards and told her that she had changed their lives.
This story sticks out in Neshama’s mind, and whenever she becomes frustrated with the difficult work of promoting her book, she stops and reminds herself, “The stories are helping people.”
Though Neshama has come a long way from her youth, both professionally and spiritually, she can still trace her journey back to its beginnings in Mount Airy.
“I would say that the start of my spiritual life came through the synagogue,” Neshama said. “I lived across the street from the Germantown Jewish Centre; all my friends and family were there, and it felt like an extension of my home.”
If there is one message that Neshama hopes readers take away from her stories and learn from her own path, it is her belief that there is always something good around the bend, even when times are tough.
“The good times will come back, I promise,” she said, “and you want to be ready.”