With gratitude for (and from) the Jewish Journal. Thank You David Suissa!
With gratitude for (and from) the Jewish Journal. Thank You David Suissa!
Thanksgiving with your Bubbe. Not happening this year? We found our own! A group from Open Temple paired up with NuRoots and Jewish Federation at Israel Levin Center to make sure that all Bubbes got their Turkey love. We were smoking in our hairnets and plastic aprons, a call back to the hairnet that so many of these Bubbes remembered fondly, as we dished out pumpkin pie, turkey and cranberry sauce. Nom Nom, Eat, Eat!
On election night, it became clear to Rabbi Lori that Open Temple would provide a safe space for those confused or lost by results to let it out and express themselves. The word was quickly spread over email and social media, and the next evening, 25 souls sat in a circle in the darkness of the Electric Lodge theater.
The evening opened with a healing song and drum circle led by Music Director Brock Pollock, and was followed with words from anyone who wanted to contribute in the circle. Rabbi Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel Rabbi Emerita and adviser to Open Temple, shared some of her own words: “My hope and expectation was that we would be celebrating a different kind of broken glass, the breaking of a glass ceiling, and instead it evoked Kristallnacht.” Rabbi Lori noted connections to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.
Many people spoke in the darkness over the next two hours, and stayed after to embrace. “Express Yourself” was profiled in The Jewish Journal alongside other reactions to the election from Los Angeles Jews.
Venice Pier, October 10th, 2016
The night before Kol Nidre, fifteen Open Templers met at the Venice Pier for “The Dunk,” the 5th event in our sequence of the “High Holiday Venice Experience” this 5777. Participants of all ages followed Rabbi Lori down to the beach, circling up for their directions to disrobe (clothing optional) and immerse themselves into the Pacific Ocean as an alternative form of mikveh before Yom Kippur began.
Ryan Torok profiled the event in The Jewish Journal’s Moving and Shaking column:
“This is the original mikveh,” Open Temple Rabbi Lori Shapiro said while still wrapped in a towel after emerging from the ocean on Oct. 10. “The bathhouse is something that is an innovation of society. The mikveh, in its essence, is mayim hayim — living waters.”
After dunking for several minutes, the sound of the Shofar called everyone back to shore, rejuvenated, and cleansed from the icy waters.
Abbot Kinney Festival, September 25, 2016
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 Open Temple, 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.
Are you ready to Awaken?
Open Temple Soul Journey 5777:
Inspired by “Sleep No More” – the immersive theatre production loosely based on Macbeth by Punchdrunk Theatre, Open Temple’s Slaves No More began with a walk through Egypt. With pyramid and parting of the Red Sea decorations by our very own Leonard Atlas (Shmei Drei-er in Residence), the experience deepened with each entrance to a room.
The experience continued through the pyramids into a bare room where we were instructed to “take a hold of a rope.” From there, a tale was woven, in between the introduction of the Passover Haggadah. Our seder wove a tale that told us “let go of another’s rope” and as we chose to continue our Freedom Journey, we entered the theatre where Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” was re-envisioned as a seder for our personal modern day heroes. With Zach Puchtel and Julia Prince as Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter, the seder began as an interactive invitation to “bring it to life” together. The seder continued, led by “Rabbi Bowie and Rabbi Prince” two “matzoh and puppet theatre” inspired puppets.
Rina Cohen and the arc of our seder asked us consider personal agency in liberation. With the question “Why did God send the Angel of Death and not enact the 10th plague Goddself?”, we considered that, perhaps, the Israelites possessed the ability to leave Egypt themselves all along. Maybe, just maybe, the act of painting the doorposts of our homes with blood from the pascal lamb, was a reminder of the creativity that we possess to manifest our own path to liberation? We were all then invited to paint the doorposts of our exit with images of our own heroic dreams. And as we passed through the doorway, we imagined our footsteps as the beginning of our own path towards a newly embodied freedom.
Meanwhile, downstairs in the Speakeasy….
Yes, parallel to our seder was a hidden room with an experience into the psyche. Sariyah Idan and her musicians hid out in a room at the end of a Golden Passage for participants to discover on their own for deepened participation in our Freedom Seder. Reflection journals and paints were scattered amongst the cushions and bar tables for creation as Sariyah led the group through a musical psychological journey into the mind and soul of Seder. Her songs touched upon the love we must cultivate to attain freedom and the freedom that finding one’s inner truth opens.
With all of the artistic expansiveness, there was one part of seder that did not go well. Our seder was to end with “table making” – a technique employed in community building where everyone creates the alter of the dining table together. When we journeyed from the theatre back into the dance studio to complete our seder, people were so hungry that they immediately took food. Admittedly, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to have the food placed at the entrance of the room! Our best intention was to have everyone understand that a primary building block of Freedom is Community; and, in creating our seder tables, we were building Open Temple together. Although we have yet to achieve this aspect of our seder, we surely did succeed in the next steps in building Open Temple. With 160 souls participating in our Freedom Seder experiment, we can consider that Open Temple is a source for Freedom of Expression through Jewish Ritual in Venice!
David Suissa featured a very special Bar Mitzvah officiated by Rabbi Lori at the LA Museum of the Holocaust in the Journal this week. He writes:
I rarely pay attention to walls when I’m in a synagogue. I’m usually more focused on the people, the prayers and the rabbi’s sermon.
On a recent Shabbat, though, I couldn’t stop looking at the walls. I was at a bar mitzvah service for my friend Steve Kessler’s son, Benny, with about 80 other guests. The service, led by Rabbi Lori Shapiro of the Open Temple in Venice Beach, featured some beautiful rituals I had never seen before, because I usually pray in more traditional synagogues.
And yet, as meaningful and poetic as the service was, what really blew me away was what I saw on the walls: 1.2 million little holes, each one representing a Jewish child who perished in the Holocaust.
You can read the rest of David’s article here.