Time For Action

Opening our Hearts and Minds
Thoughts from Executive Director Zach Lasker

Three months ago, I was knocking on doors in LA suburbs to engage Angelinos in personal conversations around jailing. I felt a responsibility to leverage my privilege as a white male Jew to combat the injustices around criminalization that plague our country. My hope while canvassing was to open hearts and minds to the vital need that we explore alternatives to incarceration (health services, job training, etc.) as a more enduring, human-centered solution. Victory came on March 3rd when over 70% of voters passed a ballot measure to reform our county jails.

One step forward, too many steps back. COVID and recent police killings reveal deep rooted racial injustices; kids in low-income neighborhoods struggle to access education, illness afflicts communities of color at higher rates, unemployment is disproportionately afflicting minority workers, and certain police officers continue to unjustly target Black lives.

“At a time when the community is suffering, no one should say, “I will go home, eat, drink, and be at peace with myself.” -Talmud Taanit, 11a

Judaism is a religion of action more than speech. We have an obligation to be change agents in our society. In Pirkei Avot we read: Al tis-ta-kel ba-kankan e-lah be-mah she-yesh bo – Don’t look at the jug but rather look at what’s inside” (Pirkei Avot 4:20). Let’s lead with curiosity and respect.  Let’s honor the unique spark each individual embodies, recognizing that diversity of color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and ability add rich texture to the world.

I am filled with humility, hope, and joy by the invitation to join Open Temple as its first Executive Director. The opportunity to partner with Rabbi Lori, the board, our co-creators, and collaborators to look inside the jug of Judaism and humanity, to re-enchant, and to create space for diverse individuals to travel their soul journey hand-in-hand could not be more timely. I hope to get to know the faces of Open Temple by Zoom and soon over tea or on a walk.

But in the words of Hillel “Eem lo achsav, eimatai?”  Let’s confront racial injustice now. Open Temple wants you to stay safe at home and we’ve completely redesigned our June calendar to exclusively navigate the plagues of illness and injustice. Join me at offerings such as:

June 11: Racial Justice Phone Bank 
Dismantle white supremacy from your home

June 12: The Blessing of Children 
Rabbi Lori will bless future change makers, model anti-racist storytelling, and lead us in Shema

June 13: Shabbat Shal(OM) 
Meet me in our virtual yoga studio to cultivate inner light and the energy to be an outward-facing Warrior

Summer 2020: Jr. Racial Justice League
Interested in a summer program where kids ages 10 – 14 will design and implement an anti-racist community action plan?  Let me know!

Check our website for resources on how to talk with kids about racial justice
With Spirit and Peace,

Zach Lasker, Executive Director

Resources for Families to Discuss Racial Justice

The painful consequences of racial injustice have been more clearly revealed with the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.  One critical step towards justice is to communicate in an open, respectful, productive manner about this issue.  Here are some resources to empower you to enter into these conversation.

For Parents of Children All ages:
George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. What do we tell our children?
Talking to Children about the Shooting
Talking to children after racial incidents
Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
They’re Not Too Young To Talk About Race
Talking With Children About Racism, Police Brutality and Protests 

For Parents of Early Childhood & Lower School Aged Children

Anti-Racism Resources for White Parents

I Am Not OK

This is a care post. To state it plainly:  I have been reserving the right to say “I am not OK.” And I’m not. This has been going on too long, and with no end in sight, I hold space for all of my flaws, uglies and rough edges to say, “I hate this.”

It feels good to let it all out. It feels good to admit that my life isn’t “Awesome.” It feels great to acknowledge just how great this isn’t. That’s about all that’s great.

I want to hear it.  And, Friday night (tomorrow), Open Temple creates a forum to SHARE OUR TRUTHS. I am personally inviting you into our OT Zoom Room during Shabbat Take Me Higher Services. Throughout the service, one at a time, we invite you to share a public check in.  I want to hear, in real time, how you are doing. And I will ask you to do this in front of a personally chosen background image that reflects how you are doing. Our minute or two together will give you the chance to express yourself, let us know why you chose that image and really, HOW YOU ARE doing.

Quarantine Shabbat: May 15, 2020 at 7 pm
Streaming on opentemple.org/live and Facebook Live 

Add your to members of our community listed below who are stepping into the service. If you agree to participate (and I hope you do!), send us an email now so that we can facilitate this for you.

Open Temple Ajae Clearway coined a great expression that I am adopting to describe this time we are living through:  “The Infinite Pause.” As we continue to experience this prolonged presence together, let’s share our humanity with the aspiration to make space for others to feel their own feelings as well. In a time of isolation, virtual reality and too much pain, let us build a container for community as best as we can through this time. A container filled with Creativity. Love. And Truth.

Wishing you love, sending you care, and holding space alongside you,

Quarantine Shabbat: May 15, 2020 at 7 pm
Zach Puchtel
Rafaelle Cohen
Ben Carroll
Joe Green
Idan Mayer
Jordana Reim
Kent Jenkins
Rabbi Lori

Connecting in a Time of Corona

Who are we when no one is watching? That is the essence of this week’s Torah portion, Achrei Mot-Kedoshim. Its essence: Love another as Yourself (Leviticus 19:18). But, what does the Golden Rule really mean, especially in a world of Social Isolation?

Quarantine has given all of us a lot of time to think about this. How do I love others? Do I holistically love myself? For those of us in Quarantine with others, we are walking through a house of mirrors. There is no hiding from our reactions, missteps, impatiences or breaking points. For those of us alone, the interiority of the experience is palpable, its novelty has worn off, and loneliness has set in. Dwelling Amongst Others or Singular in Oneself, all of us can ask:  Who have I been behind closed doors for the past 46 days?

This time is a gift for those of us who will make it out alive: we get to reconsider how we treat ourselves, our earth and one another. And each of these questions reflects our interior calibration. Kedoshim teaches us this as well: Holiness is not something outside of us; indeed, the God character in the Torah portion demands that WE be Godly. Holiness and Godliness are intrinsic to the human experience. There is no separating it out: to be alive is to be Godly; to be alive is to be Holy. As one who struggles to understand what a Concept of God is, in this form, I consider: Godliness is the Confluence of my Internal Experience of Being in Accord with my External Behaviors.

The time is upon us to cultivate this awareness. Open Temple’s offerings engage us in opportunities to do this work: cultivating mindfulness and loving-kindness. We must do this now; and even more fiercely when we re-enter this Brave, New World. Our actions will define our Republic in ways never before seen. We are being called to “make ourselves holy” so that we can emerge ready for the work before us.

Open Temple’s Zoom Shabbat weaves a tapestry of peer-groups to connect our Jew-ish curiosities with this mission. Our bodies will become conditioned for resilience in our Shal(OM) Yoga Shabbat sessions. Our Path to Authenticity will be paved through Mussar and Mindfulness. A parental Soul Break is offered for us mid-week to mitigate madness and promote humor. And while there is more (see below), we will lead the way in new forms of Social Connection while Social Distancing when we emerge from Quarantine and Celebrate at Drive-In Shabbat.

May Each of us Experience a Connection with the Source Within that Connects us as a Source for One Another as we Pray for All of Our World Through This Time.

with Love, Connection, and Torah Light,
Rabbi Lori