An Encounter Meant to Happen

An Encounter Meant to Happen
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Source: The Jewish Journal

There is something about New York City that drives me closer to my personal “d’mimah dakah” (still, small voice). That voice inside of me that connects my footsteps with the path ahead of me; that has a preternatural instinct of what street corner to turn at and which street light to wait for. All of this is apparent to me in New York City, where it seems that every day seems to lead me to some encounter of greater design revealed.

On a recent trip to New York City with my daughter, I walked to Central Park with the intention to treat her and my friend’s daughter to a carriage ride in the park. When we entered the park at 81st Street, the driver of an idling carriage informed me that he was waiting on a client. Ready to relinquish that activity and “find a new dream,” an Asian man on a bicycle-shaw pedaled up to us. “I know of another horseman who can take you now,” he offered, and invited us onto his bicycle carriage for a short ride to Tavern on the Green. Some still small voice in me said, “Go.”

Arriving at Tavern, I spotted a man loitering beside a horse and carriage, like a magical merkavah awaiting our arrival. As our group stepped off the bicycle-shaw, I said to the carriage driver: “Hi, I’m Lori. Are you free for a ride now?” The man introduced himself as Ariel. Recognizing that his name is a Hebrew name, I asked him in Hebrew where he was born. From this inquiry, I learned that Ariel was a veteran of the Golani Brigade when he served in the Israel Defense Forces, serving during the Yom Kippur War through the Lebanon War in the ’80s.

We rode through Central Park, singing “L’cha Dodi,” the children belting out the words and Ariel’s smile growing wider with delight. He turned for a moment, and said, “Do you know this one?”:

“HaYom Yom Shishi … HaYom Yom Shishi, Machar Shabbat … Shabbat Menucha. Hayom Kulum Ovadim Machar Shabbat … Shabbat Menucah … Shabbat Menucah. HaYom Yom Shishi … Shabbat Menucah.”

“This was a song we sang every Friday when growing up on kibbutz. Do you know it?”

Hearing the murmurs of children from swings nearby, I smiled with recognition. Ariel said that his wife teaches kindergarten at the Solomon Schechter School in White Plains, and he was a congregant of Rabbi Avi Weiss’ in Riverdale and brought goats (goats!) to the Hebrew school annually to teach children how to feel connected to the Earth and its creatures. He impishly added, “I had to keep them at my house afterward as they had nowhere else to go.”

He saw my delight. I told him that I was a “rabbah,” and creating a progressive community to make Judaism open and relevant for everyone on the periphery. I said that our community also loved inviting in goats, most recently as we sang “Chad Gadya” while doing goat yoga at the end of our Passover seder. He laughed with delight, in a way that only a kibbutznik can.

He told us, “I will remember this day. This made my year! And more! To sing these songs on Yom Shishi, in the park, on this carriage, with you all singing. I will remember this always.”

I extolled a Shehecheyanu and an “amen!” Indeed, the moment was magic. It was a bit of what I think we all seek as we navigate the streets of our lives: a connection to the wind of our souls, an affirmation from the still, small voice that we are in the right place at the right time, an experience of pure connection.

Ariel is a treasure. In our magic New York moment, a small piece of Eden was redeemed. As we near the end of the Book of Vayikra, and enter into our great narrative of our walk through the wilderness, Bamidbar, may we all keep our senses open for guideposts home along the way. Ariel was a holy malacay haSharit (ministering angel), for me; and a reminder that there are signs everywhere leading back home.

Shalom, Y’all!

My name is Faith Moore, and I’m the young woman from Texas with short, dark hair that checks you in at Shabbat. This year, I have enjoyed getting to know the Open Temple Community; sadly, my year as a Jubilee Corps Member (a collaboration between Open Temple and the Jubilee Year Los Angeles – formerly the Episcopal Urban Intern Program)  – is coming to an end. I have had the most wonderful time getting to know this beautiful community that has come together in Venice!

As some of you may know, alongside my passion for community, is a passion for social service and working with youth (which is what I will be doing after leaving this year). For my last project with Open Temple, I am running a collection drive for donations on behalf of our neighbors – Safe Place for Youth. Safe Place for Youth is an organization located right here in Venice that provides resources to homeless youth. Last year, you might recall, we did a backpack collection for Henry’s Brooks’ bar mitzvah. This year, we will collect items that SPY is currently in short supply:

Shampoo/conditioner
Hand Sanitizer
Razors
Toothbrushes/toothpaste
Band aids
Nail Clippers
Baby Wipes
New Men’s boxer briefs (sz. small, medium & large)

Please drop your donations off at our office during work hours (10:00am-6:00pm) throughout the month of June. We invite you to stop by OT House, say hello and help make an impact!

Thank you in advance. I hope that I get a chance to say goodbye in person. See you at Open Temple campus or for Beach Shabbat on June 21.

Sincerely,

Faith Moore

Life After Hate

Life After Hate
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Source: The Jewish Journal

It wasn’t a coincidence that our live band played the song “Sympathy for the Devil” as congregants entered Yom Kippur services. There was a message to deliver. “At some point in this service,” I told them, “ we are going to be asked to offer expiation to a demonic god of the ancient near east named Azazel. Why doesn’t anyone talk about that on Yom Kippur?”

During the Torah reading, as the name “Azazel” came up, I pulled out my Chumash and read Leviticus 16:8: “and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the LORD and the other marked for Azazel.” Explaining how Azazel was an ancient near-eastern demonic god, I asked: “What in our human capacity would compel God to ask us to give expiation to the devil?”

As I read, images from Charlottesville appeared on the screen above my head. The men in white shirts. The orange flames. The chants of “Jews will not replace us….”
A man rose from the congregation. “That was me,” he said. “I used to hate just like them. I was a Neo-Nazi for 20 years.”

“Can you come down here and explain yourself?” I asked. I had met Logan through an organization called Life After Hate (LAH). I reached out to them in the wake of Charlottesville, haunted by images of young men with torches at night. As a descendant of an intermarried family of Jews, and German Lutherans who fought for Hitler’s cause, these images were a graphic and painful reminder of the evil that lurks in darkness.

So, I invited Logan, an alumnus of LAH, to speak at Open Temple for the High Holidays and share his story.

He grew up in Orange County, falling in with a “bad group of guys” and quickly finding himself selling drugs to immigrants. He was told by this gang of White Supremacists to focus sales on minorities to “mess them up.” He shared how he ended up in jail, first for drugs and later for being complicit in a murder. While in prison, he met compassionate Christians. He studied the Bible. And he discovered the power of God’s ability to forgive.

“I have come here today to ask for your forgiveness,” he said to us. “I was young and stupid and was taught to hate Jews. I did things I wasn’t proud of. You can see here my tattoos I am trying to get removed. I want to say that I am sorry for who I was and ask if you can forgive me and see me as the man I have become. I am a father now. I have two sons. Their mother and I are married and trying to make our way. It isn’t easy. But I know now that there is a better way to be and I need to raise my sons with that knowledge. Will you forgive me?”

A crowd of congregants descended upon him, and through tears and the mixed emotions of relief, fear, compassion and pure acceptance, we chanted the MiSheberach prayer for healing and forgave him.

Sunday morning, as the world woke up to the tragedy at the Chabad of Poway, I received this text: “Once again I am saddened by my past and embarrassed to have ever been involved with idiot groups. I apologize to you and your temple for the actions of the confused idiot in San Diego. I don’t know why but feel I need to apologize for idiots but I do. I hope all is well with you. Much love. Logan.”

Where can we find life after hate, I wondered?

For starters, we can find it in Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein’s call for light into darkness, and in the very word for Chabad itself.

The word Chabad is an acronym for Chochmah (Wisdom), Binah (Woman’s Wisdom) and Da’at (Godly Knowledge). Rabbi Goldstein upheld the integrity of this acronym through his words encouraging us all towards the light; invoking Lori Gilbert-Kaye’s maternal love and final sacrifice; and reminding us of our potential to redeem the holy sparks through acts of loving kindness.

We can also find life after hate in the words and actions of a former neo-Nazi, a man who had the courage to redeem his own Azazel and turn it into light.

May we all emulate that courage.

What the World Needs Now…

What the World Needs Now…
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Anyone who has ever stepped into Notre Dame knows that it is like stepping into a womb. Enveloping us with a comforting presence that is a mixture of love, rapture and history, the Cathedral, the “Heart of Paris,” is a unique Christian and literary icon symbolic of human love on every level. To watch it burn yesterday was to experience a sense of loss that is best described as Exile. Watching the flames, I thought of our ancestors that believed that ultimate causality was attributed to God. As the spire toppled, collapsing upon the church in flames below during Christian and Jewish Holy Week, I allowed myself to question what the symbolism of this cauldron might be: a karmic backlash to France’s momentous yellow vests movement? A response to Europe’s underlying ethnic unrest? The darkest side of my soul contemplated whether this was a symbolic turn in the downfall of Western thought and Judeo-Christian values.

And then I saw it. Crowds gathering on the streets of Paris to not only sing, but pray, together. With rosaries in their hands, and facing the potential destruction of their symbolic spiritual center, people gathered to find new ritual spaces – in the streets.  They sang together with open hearts, tears streaming down their faces, hearts and souls aligned with the words of their liturgy. Together, they found solace, and redemption, through prayer.

This Saturday night, Open Temple gathers together through the streets of Venice in search of our own collective Freedom through Food and Faith: our Passover Seder. We invite everyone – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Buddhist, Rationalist and All – to Rise to the Call of Humanity as we raise our voices in the streets of Venice and pray. For Freedom. For Memory. For Miracles.

May the Sacred Lady of Paris Endure and Remind us that the Gateway to Redemption is simply found in the Beauty that Surrounds us Always: Love.

May All of Us Find our Freedom this Passover,
Rabbi Lori

Deep Cleansing

Deep Cleansing
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

I met someone fascinating this week – her name is Sarah Waxman, and she created an amazing organization called At the Well Project. Sarah was called. Literally. By a mikveh lady in her hometown outside of Washington DC, who thought she would make a great part of the mikveh team. (These were not the mikveh lady’s precise words). Basically, they were looking for a young person to engage other young people in mikveh education, and so, Sarah was called.

What makes Sarah exciting is that not only did she rise to the call, she dove into it and she is still submerged, coming up for air to invite us all in with her. In becoming involved in mikveh, Sarah asked herself, “why is this ritual not more celebrated?” Sarah saw the connection between the ancient rituals of cleansing and the way that most people feel out of sync, and is helping people find their internal rhythms once again through popularizing mikveh, and its corollary wisdom of women’s healing and wellness, the ritual of Rosh Hodesh – the New Moon celebration. Her efforts with At the Well are growing, having already reached four continents.

This week’s Torah portion, Tazria, concerns itself with our bodily struggles, as the P’shat (the literal translation of the text), is all about bodily emissions and fluids.  The rabbis teach us that tz’ara is a kind of leprosy or skin affliction, like the scales Miriam contracted after her wanton remarks about Moses’ wife. The rabbinic commentary carries the conversation away from the ideas of impurity of body, and connects the matter to that of the soul. This week’s Torah portion is the Torah portion that acknowledges that bodies are messy, complicated, unruly and mysterious until we turn ourselves inwards and beyond to connect the external and the internal. Our internal rhythms are impacted by how we nurture our bodies, what foods we put inside of them, our daily, weekly and monthly ablutions and more.The rabbinic commentary reveals our ancestral wisdom of mind-body connection, and turns us towards methods to regain equilibrium through rituals of purification, cleansing and detox.

Atthewellproject.com totally gets that. Under the “learning” tab of At the Well’s website, is the quote:  Dive deeper, with comprehensive guides to cycle tracking, the history of the female orgasm, menstruation options, breastfeeding, and more. It’s like a modern day feminist commentary for Tazria (and its companion Torah Portion, Metzora); however, At the Well Project extends their learning beyond those who identify with breastfeeding or menstruation, and invite all of us to consider our upcoming Passover cleanse. Sarah’s Holisitc Passover Detox resources are a great companion piece to Open Temple’s upcoming Passover Cleanse on April 27. On that day, 25 of us will engage in a 7-hour ritual of detox, connection, mikveh, and mind-body-soul restoration.

As this week’s and next week’s Torah portions suggest, it is cleansing time. Spring Cleaning of our homes.  Of our Minds. Of our Bodies. And our Souls.

Let’s Do This. May we all regain our balance through whatever lies ahead.

With Love and Torah Light,
Lori

Become with Us

Become with Us
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

As the days grow longer, the signs of spring have sprung: oblong sliding ponds of light well into the early evening; bottlebrush and coral trees blossoming throughout Los Angeles; daylight breeding a giddy insouciance upon us; and that life-breeding tug to the beach to watch a sunset, our skin warmed by the penetrating rays.  And yet – something feels, well, off.  Where is our freedom holiday, that harbinger of springtime in the Jewish calendar?  How is it possible that it is still almost one month away?!?

The Jewish calendar is a curious one.  We already discussed how 5779 is a leap year, and the result is a mid-Spring Passover ritual. Open Temple’s Passover Seder Quest, on April 20, acknowledges and celebrates this unique later springtime holiday. As we take to the streets of Venice, weaving throughout time and space, we interplay with the history of our Hyksos descendants and those who treaded the streets of Venice before us.

Wait.  Hyksos descendants?  Huh?!?

Based on the writings of Egyptian historian Manetho, whose histories influenced the writings of Josephus, some scholars speculate the ancient Israelites are rooted in an ancient people called the Hyksos. A population of mixed Asiatics and Habirus (migrants who were most likely early Hebrews in the 16th c. BCE), they populated Egypt in the ancient world and are the closest artifactual evidence of the presence of something Israelite-y looking in ancient Egypt. The Hyksos entered into Egypt causing a great stir, and later left to dwell in Jerusalem.

If we are unsure of our true history, how might we make this ritual meaningful when we are unsure of its veracity?

Our Passover story comes to us in both the Torah and the Haggadah; neither of which reveal with absolute certainty what historically happened, but serve as more memory pieces for our “dinner theatre” Seder interplay. That’s the point of Passover – to interact with history, memory, what was, what is, and what will be. That is the power of the Haggadah; and explains why Moses’ name is not mentioned, but rather, we focus on a God concept.  Passover is the holiday where Mordecai Kaplan’s concept of “God as the force that makes for Salvation” animates us – what can I become?  And we are reminded in the very imprint of the Hebrew in our grandest metaphor for God – the Tetragrammaton (the Yud- Hey – Vov and Hey – is actually a contraction for the verb “to be” – God was, is and will be):  that on Passover, we are asked to consider how God runs through who we were, are and will become.

Hyksos, Israelite, Jew-ishly curious or otherwise, the ritual space Open Temple creates for this journey invites you to wear comfortable shoes on April 20, bring your yoga mat and prepare yourself for a Seder Quest into memory and beyond; Open Temple Seder Quest is a group Eisodus (going into) and Exodus (going out of), as we Walk through what was, Embody what is and Enter into What Will Be.

Become with us.

Making Contact

Making Contact
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

What if we already possess Proof of Intelligent Life in the Universe? If, on a moment to moment basis, we make Contact – like Carl Sagan type Contact. Regularly. Right here. Right now.

Torah teaches us that the Tabernacle, or Mishkan, was the dwelling place for making contact; it was where the unseen revealed itself in what has become to be known as the Divine Feminine, the Shechinah. This Mishkan was not in heaven; it was a portal to the heavens. And the agency of its creation was in its construction itself; its making by the hands of a community, without sophisticated technology; individuals who sought to create a dwelling place for the experience of an unseen holiness. Together.

Midrash Rabbah teaches a Biblical folklore of seven “righteous people” who brought the Shechinah “down from the celestial to the terrestrial regions,” and names the individuals – from Abraham to Moses – whose actions directed by their hearts revealed the unseen until the Shechinah found her final resting place in the holy space of the Mishkan. To the Biblical Creative, this dwelling place represented something larger than us; it was the place of Terrestrial Contact.

It is with this inspiration that all of us at Open Temple build a holy space in Venice today.

On May 17, we are asking that you “Bring the Offerings; or, a Piece, of Your Heart” back to our local Mishkan: Open Temple. We are offering a special Shabbat service to say “I tithe a piece of my heart to you, for you have filled it with Gratitude.” It’s a time to express “Thank You for your Service, Open Temple, month after month, year after year, without asking for anything in return.”  And please know: we are only asking, as we have identified through positive psychology and our own personal love practice that it is in the Giving as well as in the Receiving that we Make Contact.

Contact is about Caring. Contact is about Love. Contact is about Treating another as we want to be Treated. Contact is about Expressing Gratitude. Contact is about Facing our Fears. Contact is about Living Life Courageously. Contact is about Vulnerability. Contact is about Crying when we see Beauty. Contact is about Experiencing Empathy. Contact is about Feeling Less Alone in this World. Contact is about Creating a Space to Receive Revelation. Contact is about Gaining a new sense that Opens our Hearts, our Lips, our Eyes, our Ears, our Touch to Another. Contact is the Presence of an Unforeseen Force in the Universe Revealed in a New Moment, Assuring Us that There Exists Something Larger than Ourselves in our Presence. Contact is about All of Us.

Please Create with Open Temple on May 17, and Give a Little Piece of Your Heart. And in turn, we will continue to Love, to Create, and to Reach Out and Offer it Right Back to You.

Let’s Make Contact.

With Love and Light,
Rabbi Lori

Remembering Shabbat Zakhor


Remembering Shabbat Zakhor
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The older we get, the more our lives repeat. It seems, at times, as if the cycles of the year are eroded circles without tread, and that we slip and slide as we try to crawl out of them.  The Jewish technology of the holiday cycle is an effort by the ancients to hold our grip firmly as we cycle into tomorrow girded by its regenerative and restorative wisdom. The rabbis created a cosmology of Jewish law and reason to steady us amidst the storms of time, and literally asked us to go outside and look up into the heavens to discern our place in time and space.

The rains are waning in the wake of a luxuriant calendar cycle this year; the Jewish year is long, as an entire month was added in 5779’s Jewish leap year – the month of Adar.  The first month, Adar Alef, is added in a complex calendarial cycle to ensure that our calendar fixes the moon to the sun. There is reasoning attached to this addition: the rabbis wanted to ensure that Passover always fell in the northern hemisphere’s springtime and the month of Adar becomes the chosen leap month, as it is the final month of the year. Additionally, the rabbis felt an attachment to “extending the joy” of Purim, which they imagined to be the only holiday celebrated in “the World to Come,” while at the same time reminding us to “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—”

Now pull the needle from the record player.   

Amalek?  We’re supposed to “Remember Amalek”?!? For the uninitiated:  Amalek, our tradition teaches, is the nation of evil who wish to destroy the ancient Israelites and continues in each generation to breed destruction until our ultimate annihilation. Like Wonder Woman’s Ares, the descendants of Amalek are committed to the destruction of the basic human values of Love, Justice and Unity.  In the Rabbinic and modern rabbinic imagination, this is the lineage of Purim’s Haman, and also of Hitler. Why should our time of joy and “Eternal Life” attach us to our antagonist? And why should we extend our year an entire month in step with this remembrance?

I gather myself at this moment to consider who in my life is the stand-in for Amalek, and ask you to pause to do the same.  That’s a radical notion, as Amalek is the original axis of evil. But, really, who is my (your) perceived shadow? “Not to be paranoid,” but is there someone out there revelling with schadenfreude at every misstep?  As we ascend to Passover and its Victory Dance of Freedom, why the Rabbinic imperative this week, and these two months, to “Remember Amalek”? Perhaps it is time to look around, up to the heavens and down again, down into the dirt of our eroded land beneath our feet. Let’s look in our hearts whose beats will end one day and ask ourselves: what has calcified, ossified and moved into chaos? And let’s emerge from this reflection with a plan to enter into the cycle of life again.

Spring is almost here, and we made it through another near-death experience, according to our Jewish calendar. It’s time to see the Eyes of God in every bud bursting with flower, in every songbird as our background music, and take these teachings to heart. It’s time, with the pulse of life awakening around us, to look Amalek in the eye, and shine the light within each of us upon them, as we march steadily towards our Freedom.

Take that, Memory.

With Love and Torah light,
Lori

 

Weavers, Builders and Soul Journeys

Weavers, Builders and Soul Journeys
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Yesterday at Open Temple, Stephanie (our fabulous Managing Director, come in and meet her!) wore a t-shirt parody of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” (above). It made me think about the role of Torah in our lives – both in its pithy parody of the famed Pink Floyd album cover as well as what the cover itself illustrates.

Torah (and the Tanakh in its entirety – the Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings), begins with the Book of Genesis for a reason.  If we are to go on a journey, we first must understand the path from which we came. The books that follow are similarly considered ancestral stories, histories, and thought pieces of the ancient world.  However, there is another element that becomes clear through this week’s Torah portion Vayakhel – it is upon us to untether ourselves with our past as we become builders of our destined future.

As white light refracts into a spectrum, each soul is a walking vessel of light with the potential to convert this light into a visible spectrum of inspiration – through vulnerability, truth-telling and found wisdom. At the time of the building of the Temple, Bezalel and Oholiab, the architects of the Temple, were considered “the wise-hearted into whose hearts I have instilled wisdom, and they shall make everything I have commanded you.” (Exodus 31:6).  It is upon all of us, today, to become builders of a modern Temple through radical and real acceptance of who we are, where we came from and where we are going.

In a recent NYTimes op/ed, David Brooks identified a movement without a name and named it.  The network of local connectors – creating spaces for social change through modalities ranging from community organizing to creating sacred space for small clusters of people – are the WEAVERS of our nation. Weavers are individuals who create such Temples in our society to connect others. All of us have the potential to weave and connect.  The work of creating the Temple in ancient Israel, or 39 Malachot, are ancient instructions about how to build a holy space for connection.  We draw from this well of creation, as today we build, thrash, grind, sift, knead, comb and weave our connections into a Temple for our Souls.

At Open Temple, we create a holy space at every service for this personal act of self creation and invite anyone interested in sharing their Soul Journey with us to come forward.  A Soul Journey is a unique invitation at our Third Friday Shabbat Take Me Higher services to share one’s vicissitudes and hard-earned wisdom, to illuminate the path for others through colorful and not always glorious truths. In this moment, we are invited to turn our gaze, and ourselves (as the word for turn in Hebrew is “T’shuvah” the act of returning to our true selves), from our past and focus on the creation from all of this wisdom to the Temple of our Future.

I invite you to share your Soul Journey and the Temple of your Soul with Open Temple.  I invite you to stand before the gathered community, be seen and heard with vulnerability and truth, and become a Builder of the Temple of the Soul.  Each of us has an essential piece of creation.  I would love to learn about yours.

With light and love,
Lori

If you are interested in sharing your Soul Journey please contact Open Temple at info@opentemple.org.