Growing up, I went to Hebrew school for one year. Third Grade. My mother went back to school to begin her studies for nursing, and Heather Stein’s mom picked me up from school on Wednesdays. Her carpool went to Temple Sinai in Cedarhurst, so I did, too, and I was enrolled in Hebrew School. I remember spending the year sitting in the back of the class with Heather and this cute boy LJ, and feeling really proud that I had 100% average in our Hebrew tests. The next year, my mom didn’t need the carpool, and I wanted to take more tap dance classes. I never was a bat mitzvah (http://www.rebarproject.org/radical-reinventionb/2015/6/1/un-bat-mitzvah-by-rabbi-lori-shapiro).
Years later, I wonder what belonging might have meant had my parents joined. I know that my life outside of ritual was a lonely one. Looking back, I vividly recall singing with the cantor, the Purim carnival, the lithe and bushy-haired rabbi introducing us to the prayer space, learning stories from the book of Genesis and a seedling of curiosity taking root for something I had no idea existed. I had ancestors? Something came before me? What did this mean?
Since then, I learned that my parents did not renew my Hebrew school because they didn’t want to pay membership. In creating Open Temple, our model is to be Open and Inclusive – no one will ever be turned away because of lack of funds. However, what we are providing for people needs to be supported in order to be sustainable.
What we are calling “Co-Creator”ship is akin to membership in that we are, in the words of Mordecai Kaplan, are creating a sacred space of “Belonging.” However, in general, synagogue membership has gone out of fashion. In fact, this eJewish Philanthropy article is a reminder of what works and what doesn’t: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/scrapping-synagogue-dues-a-case-study/
Following this model of voluntary membership and transparent need, Open Temple will NEVER turn anyone away. We are just asking that our Co-Creators (that is you, the participant), become a part of supporting our future. And in that, we hope that you will offer your annual tax-deductible donation, as what we are building – in its unique, spirited, inclusive, fun and relevant re-enchanting way – is a part not only Venice’s future, but Judaism’s.
The dollar bill is the most actively used ritual object in the US, imbued with hidden messages from founding US institutions (https://www.philadelphiafed.org/education/teachers/publications/symbols-on-american-money), and even its controversial “In God We Trust” statement, the dollar bill is the way that we, as individuals, record and quantify our values. On the Shabbat following Rosh HaShanah, dollar bills were distributed at Open Temple. The community was invited to write a statement of intention for what they want to manifest in the year ahead on them, and then were given a link to track that dollar bill’s journey in the world.
Open Temple’s core values of Love, Creativity and Truth lay a foundation for the fundamental tenants we build upon. As we continue to “build out” our vision for a lasting institution in Venice, we hold fast to the core values of not only our own community, but timeless Torah values as well. Membership originates in the Torah (see Exodus 30 and 35, Leviticus 19, and Deuteronomy 14, 24 and 26 on tithing), and continued as a part of the rabbinic conversation for millennia. As we enter the early mid-21st Century, membership is on the wan; yet, the need to commune with one another in real time has never been more desperate.
We will be inviting you, our community, to join Open Temple in a way that is sustainable for you, your family and your adopted community. By tithing to our community, you elevate your awareness of what “belonging” means and enter into an ancient and sacred covenant. Like your grandparents, or your great-great-great-great-great grandparents, you are saying “Judaism is a core value that needs a place in my life today as well as in the collective future of our people.” Open Temple is building a legacy institution for the 21st Century. With you. Our goal is to build a self-sustaining community that will be here for your children’s future.
This year Open Temple collaborated again with Reboot to bring our community (and beyond) a magical night of Unplugging. The lineup in the theatre was amazing, featuring improv, music and spoken word, and there was also zine making, letter writing, typing (old school manual), face painting and more.
And (of course) we couldn’t have done it without our stellar volunteers–Brandon Barney, Sarah Bonner, Rina Cohen, Dalia Golchan, Danielle Rose Kanizo, Natalia Pollock, Julia Thompson, Eric Well, and Brianna Ziegler.
All electronic devices were checked at the door, but we took some stealth photos for you to enjoy–
We are so proud and honored for Rabbi Lori to have received the Spirit of Venice Award at the 2016 Abbot Kinney Festival for her community organizing efforts with Open Temple. She received the award alongside LAPD Senior Lead Officer for Venice Peggy Thusing, and Venice Canals residents Orson Bean and Alley Mills.
See Rabbi Lori and Councilman Mike Bonin in The Argonaut here. Councilman Bonin, who also received a surprise award himself, had beautiful words to say about our community:
“…for people who may be in an interfaith marriage, for people who are like my husband, Jew-ish, raised ethnically but not spiritually Jewish, for people who are exploring, people who are curious. It is an OpenTemple, it is an OpenPlace, for Open Minds, and for Open Hearts.”
Last week Rabbi Lori asked me to share during Shabbat what my “Soul Journey” has been. I knew immediately that it was an honor and a calling for me to be asked, so I said yes right away, and for the rest of the week tried to figure a way out, but also spent lots of time thinking about what I would say. I decided to make a video instead of speaking and said I would write an essay to share more details of my soul journey. But what kept calling to me instinctively is, “you always take the easy way out.” And luckily for me, usually the easy way out is “good enough” to get by, so I rarely step outside my comfort zone.
During the service, Lori spoke about the month of Elul and that it is the month of work for Jews. It is also the month of the discomfort zone. The high holidays begin in two weeks which is usually the only time I go to services. I go to one service for Rosh Hashanah and one service for Yom Kippur. And one year I learned about throwing the bread crumbs in the river and so I did that a year later in the ocean in Malibu, but never did it again.
I have lots of notes I’ve taken over the last week about how to organize an essay on my soul journey. I have them on post-its on my kitchen counter, and in the note section of my phone. One thing that really is calling out to me regarding this quest is that in this coming year of 5777 I turn 36 the day after Yom Kippur. I really get a double fresh start as a new age and a new year at the same time. As many of you know, 36 is a mystical number in Judaism, it is double 18, two lives. I feel that spiritually the numerology and astrological course of my life is coming to a point of transition where this last year has been a journey that had I spoken on Friday night, I would have shared.
The biggest ‘what if’ in my soul journey right now has to do with having kids and a title I came up with for this essay “to freeze, or not to freeze? That is the question.” My whole life I have planned on having kids and at the same time I love being a free soul who can sporadically jump on a plane or go on trips for weeks at a time and as the years have gone by and the majority of my friends have had kids, I’ve felt like I still have time to do so many of the things I want to do before I commit to being a parent. And yet, as I am turning 36, many people say that now is the time to freeze my eggs if I’m not sure when I want to have a child. This brings me full circle to the idea of the soul journey, and my main question on the subject: What determines a soul and when does the journey begin and end? I ask this because one thing that’s stopped me from freezing my eggs so far is the question if those eggs are each new souls, or souls waiting for a human birth that I’m now responsible for deciding what to do with? And if they are, is it right to leave those souls stuck in a freezer? And is it messing with nature and the universe’s plans? And now I somehow got stuck in between the dialogue of fundamental conservative talk and new age hippie – neither of which I am.
Another aspect of soul came up for me this week in all the talk around self-driving/autonomous cars and the launch of Uber’s pilot program in Pittsburgh. This has to do with the idea of the singularity and the proposition that in the future humans and computers will mesh into one. In the future with autonomous cars, people will be putting their lives in the brain of a computer who is making life or death decisions for them. (By the way, this is already happening in several areas of life, including flying on planes.) Does that car have a soul if it is making ethical choices when faced with a choice of running into a stable building and possibly killing the car’s passengers, or hitting a pedestrian? Do Siri and Alexa have souls? If you’ve seen the movie “Her” that question is not as obvious as one might think. Do iphones have souls?
I looked up the definition of soul and this is what it says: the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal.
So this definition brings me to my personal journey, the definition of which is: an act of traveling from one place to another. And traveling, I do a lot of. So when you combine the two definitions of soul and journey, the idea that my journey began in 1980 at Cedars Sinai Hospital, or even in 1979 as an egg inside my mother, can not be the beginning of my journey since by definition the soul is immortal. Part of my quest this year has been about determining what those past lives were for me so I can understand what my purpose here in Los Angeles in 2016 is. What has been unfinished in prior lives that needs to be complete to burn off all the layers of karma I have been carrying around with me? Who are the people in my soul family that travel with me along this journey from one lifetime till the next? And what needs to be resolved in those individual relationships? I finally read the book “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Brian Weiss this year and suggest it to anyone who hasn’t read it.
Another book that I read this year along my journey of 2016 was “Women Who Run with The Wolves” by Dr. Estes, assigned to me in my yoga teacher training. This book was a tough read to get through, and as soon as I had the book in my possession, given to me by my teacher, I found I was part of the WWRWTW club/cult. It showed up everywhere in my life over a period of days. A book I had never heard of was like this inside joke that I was now a part of. Telling my friend I was reading the book led me to a workshop given by one of Dr. Estes’ students and several Saturdays I spent with groups of women discussing everything from intuition to making our own Vasalisa dolls.
Intuition has always been a huge part of my journey. Knowing what people are going to say before they say it, thinking about someone right before they call or text me, etc. On my most recent part of my journey this year I have been fortunate enough to meet people who recognize the strength of my intuition and are showing me how to receive the clearest messages possible. I know how all of this can sound like I’ve gone down the rabbit hole, but I’m also an extremely practical person who questions everything and believes very little until I have empirical evidence in front of me.
One exercise I also did this year that was amazing was my gratitude journal as part of my yoga teacher training. The assignment was to record 27 things every day that I was grateful for over 40 consecutive days, nothing could repeat, and if I missed a day I would have to start over. I recommend something like this to everyone, even if it’s just 5 things a day. Look at what you do have to be thankful for and if something negative happens during your day, see how you can turn it into a positive or be thankful that it happened to teach you something.
The most important part of my journey is my routine which includes yoga and meditation every day. I try to spend time with my family at least once a week. When I was 12, I chose to stop eating meat which is one of the first milestones I can think of in my journey, and something I believe so strongly in that I haven’t ate meat for 24 years. I am mindful of what I eat everyday and try to eat non-processed food and only consume ingredients that come from whole foods and not chemically created or modified. Of course this is a challenge every day and I give in to what is easy and accessible more than I would like to, and I think the key is to acknowledge it and move on, not to stay and dwell in any anger, doubts, fear, etc.
So this is what’s come to me over the last few days to share about what my soul journey is. As Janice my yoga teacher says every day, “Keep showing up, more will be revealed.” I’m looking forward to going to high holiday services this year for the first time ever thanks to the casual, diverse, accepting, inquisitive, and challenging vibe of Open Temple and look forward to getting to know everyone in the OT community as the temple grows and morphs into what the community needs it to be. There are no coincidences and when the universe is telling you something, leading you somewhere, or asking you to question something, don’t ignore it!
The High Holidays are the Jewish Burning Man, Bhaktifest, Yoga class, Kirtan chant, Hike in the hills, Meditation on a mountain, Ayahuasca circle and Juice fast combined. And through each of these experiences, we seek a re-connection with Self.
A Return to Self, or T’shuvah, is the objective of the High Holidays. It demands that we open ourselves to our personal foibles, short-comings and just plan uglies. The process of this personal rebuke is called Tocheichah.
It’s not a matter of sitting on a perch overlooking PCH as the sun sets. That will not clean up the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wreckage of our lives. It takes getting down and dirty. We’ve got to spend this month (Elul) cleaning up the mess we have created with others as we prepare to air out all of our dirty little secrets – in public (Viddui or Confession, prayer).
Not for the faint hearted, indeed.
The Yamim Nora’im (High Holidays) provide a prism of rarefied rituals, sounds, songs and movements that transport our mind, bodies and souls to a place of raw authenticity. They awaken us to our core. Hirhur T’shuvahdescribes this spontaneous Awakening to Authentic Self as the Shofar sounds our Spiritual Alarm Clock.