As the "Rabbi Gershom" who is covered in a chapter of MacKenzie's book, I was amazed (and dare I say flattered?) to discover that I have been promoted to the status of a "reincarnation master," a claim I myself have never made. (And which, to a traditional Jew like me, sounds a bit over-inflated, because I'm not used to the honorifics of the East!) So of course, being only human, I turned right away to the chapter on me!
I found that, in many places, MacKenzie had reconstructed (and sometimes paraphrased) the interview from a combination of material I had said in person, with material taken directly from my first book, "Beyond the Ashes: Cases of Reincarnation from the Holocaust." The result reads a bit unevenly, and there were places where her paraphrasing put some vocabulary into my mouth that I don't normally use. This can be excused in the name of making esoteric material accessible," but it was a bit disconcerting. I found myself wondering if she had done the same thing with the other interviews. How accurately do they convey the actual words of the monks and tulkus, I wondered?
Still, this criticism on my part is probably the nitpickiness of one journalist critiquing another, and I found the overall presentation to be interesting. Especially the idea that souls from highly-disciplined practices (such as Tibetan Buddhism or, in my case, Hasidic-Orthodox Judaism) seem to pick up where they left off in the last life, and that it can take multiple lifetimes in the same path in order to really master it. The Hasidic masters would agree that one cannot really know a spiritual practice, in the deepest sense, from the experiences of only one lifetime.
The cases that MacKenzie described were also very interesting to me, where the reincarnated children (tulkus) recognized people and objects from the past life. I have found many similar cases within the Jewish community, of American children born into secularized families who have a strong "feel" for the Eastern European forms of Judaism, with attraction to the music, foods, etc. as well as the religion itself. I have even argued that one of the reasons for the resurgence of Hasidism in the past two decades is because the people who were killed in the Holocaust have now reincarnated in America.
Unfortunately, in the case of the European Jews, so few survived the Holocaust that there were rarely living individuals from the previous life who could verify the children's memories in the same way that the monks in MacKenzie's book recognized the tulkus. For an entire generation, the disciplic succession of Jewish mystics was interrupted, with few, if any, elders to re-train the reincarnates. Many of the returning Jewish souls -- including myself -- felt "lost" in the West in their early years and did not find their way back to traditional communities until adulthood -- if at all. (sigh)
I was happy to read that such is not the case in Tibetan Buddhism, where the continuity of the monastic tradition was not broken by exile from Tibet. Enough of the leaders, including the Dalai Lama himself, escaped the Communists to "be there" for the tulkus when they returned in new bodies, making it much easier for such a child to simply go into a monastery at an early age and continue being a Buddhist. This gave me a lot of useful insights into my own work in the Jewish community, and the enormous amount of healing and community-building that needs to happen for helping the wounded and confused Jewish souls that are reincarnating in the West.
Unlike some of the reviewers here, I did not feel that MacKenzie was talking down to me at all. I know a good deal about Hasidism and its teachings on reincarnation, but very little about Tibetan Buddhism, so I found the intro-level explanations very helpful. Without them, I might have missed a lot of the parallels with my own traditions.
I came away from the book with a good feeling, impressed that two cultures which seem so outwardly different could have similar teachings aobut rebirth, and such devotion to multi-incarnational spiritual practices. Her book also supports my own theory that we do not come back as "the opposite" of what we were in the last life. Instead, we pick up where we left off, and continue the growth toward enlightenment from life to life, sometimes even with the same circle of students, friends, and teachers as before.
This book was a good read that I strongly recommend!
I have read both of Viki McKenzie's books and each filled me with admiration for the way in which she approaches the fascinating subject matter. I was gripped by both books and could hardly put them down till finished. As a young female journalist and "baby buddhist" I was impressed with the material presented to support reincarnation, and also admiration for this writer who has done a great service in helping westerners better understand the buddhist concept of rebirth. I urge the author to make more of her work available on the Internet as she truly possesses a very special gift - her communication skills are excellent. As a strong admirer of the woman and her work, I may be criticised for being biased - I refute this by saying I have "checked up" and recommend both books highly.