Open Temple

Jewish Journal: Women rabbis at forefront of pioneering prayer communities

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — A decade ago in Los Angeles, two organizations opened their doors with a call to prayer — or they would have if they had any doors to open.

Ikar, led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, and Nashuva, led by Rabbi Naomi Levy, were conceived separately. But when they launched in 2004, both offered a novel, and in many ways similar, approach to Jewish spirituality and community — regularly scheduled, rabbi-led services that were not affiliated with any movement or institution, that met in rented space, and that were avowedly not synagogues.

“We were trying to walk into the conversation about Jewish identity and community and ritual without preconceived ideas about where we would land,” Brous told JTA, describing the beginnings of Ikar. “What we were trying to do didn’t follow any model that already existed.”

Since then, however, the format pioneered by Nashuva and Ikar has become its own recognizable model, and similar spiritual communities with a noticeably common style have sprung up in a number of other cities across the country. Prayer is designed to be heartfelt and arouse the spirit. Often there is clapping, dancing and singing without words. Worshipers tend to skew young, informal and hip. The groups don’t own buildings; typically they meet in up-and-coming or already desirable neighborhoods. The communities are led by charismatic rabbis who stress innovation and outreach to Jews who feel alienated from existing Jewish institutions. They are nondenominational. They often don’t know exactly how to describe themselves.

And most, but not all, have one more common element: They were founded, and are still being led by, women rabbis.

In 2006, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum launched The Kavana Cooperative in Seattle. In 2011, Rabbi Noa Kushner opened The Kitchen in San Francisco and Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann initiated Mishkan Chicago in the Windy City. In 2012, Rabbi Lori Shapiro started Open Temple in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice.

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The Wandering Jew Truck / A Spiritual Food Truck



The Jewish Innovation
The Wandering Jew Truck /A Spiritual Food Truck engages the Jew-ishly curious and those who love us in public spaces serving spiritual nourishment and Jewish enchantment. Creative programs provoke thought, conversation and community at Los Angeles food truck gatherings and Jew-y and non-Jew-y Festivals. With a schedule of offerings including Shabbat Services, guest speakers, Torah Study, Sustainable Drive-in Movie Nights and Havdalah Happenings, community is created by pulling up a lawn chair and introducing yourself. The Jew-Truck will work with a roster of local and national Jewish community collaborators to reach families and individuals outside of traditional community circles. Our bio-diesel fueled truck rolls with the values of welcoming, egalitarianism, and justice for all. A new Mishkon for a new generation.

The Impact
A modern Mishkan, the Wandering Jew Truck draws from an ancient symbol of community in-gathering, reaching new Jews at every “Happening”. In the 21th century, our lifestyles do not revolve around one center. We want to focus our spirituality on community building without the yoke of synagogue mortgages. With a post-Pew study call for action for engaging the unaffiliated and disaffiliated, the Wandering Jew Truck serves the second most visited tourist site in S. California — Venice Beach. With dynamic and creative Jewish programming, community and curiosity, the Jew Truck will re-enchant Jewish life in an already out of the box beach community. The Wandering Jew Truck — a Spiritual Food Truck.

What the money is for

Building a Jew Truck is kind of like building a Mishkan. We need the entire community to help. Artists. Educators. Mechanics. Rabbis. Bubbes. All money raised for the Wandering Jew Truck will go towards truck purchase, refurbishment, design and maintenance.

Monies raised will go directly to our non-profit’s fundraising campaign to support the following:

Used Step Van: A Step Van is like a FedEx truck. We will purchase a used diesel motored truck and make improvements to it for reliability and bio-diesel fuel.

Skins: A food truck is a rolling piece of art. A local Venice artist will be commissioned to provide the design and art for the Jew Truck.

Truck Refurbishment: The Jew Truck will have a cozy interior with cupboards, bookshelves and nooks to store materials for our events. Included but not limited to: movie screen, iPads, lawn chairs, books, art supplies, sound equipment, and other Jew-y supplies.


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GirlieGirlArmy: The Wandering Jew Truck


Imagine this: a feminist, veg-loving, animal-loving, breastfeeding Mother, who is also a Barnard brainaic married to a Doctor turned eco-activist, opens a synagogue for those who don’t feel at home at traditional synagogues and wants to explore their Judaism in a 21st century sort of way. Artists, explorers, half Jewish, mixed-religion couples, members of the LGBT community, rock n rollers, heart surgeons, atheists, athlete, vegans, open-minded thinkers are all embraced at this warm community in Venice, California called The Open Temple.

Imagine walking into a synagogue with no snide looks if your skirt is too short or you have a tattoo, imagine all veg-events that are kid and dog friendly! A synagogue where eco-ethics are the forefront of the agenda, it exists.

Now Rabbi Lori Schneide Shapiro is upping it a notch.

Imagine these two words: Jew Truck.

Imagine they became this:


Really.  Imagine a Jew Truck rolling around town serving spiritual nourishment and Jewish enchantment at food truck gatherings, Art Crawls, Jew-y events, or in a parking lot at a State Park showing a movie.  Imagine the community it could create for those seeking Jewish community outside of traditional synagogues.  The Open Temple started in 2012 and is now really gaining momentum, and as a “pop-up community” Rabbi Lori is now starting a campaign to support the communities vision of what that might look like.

Lori Schneide ShapiroFounding Rabbi
Lori Schneide Shapiro
Founding Rabbi

Enter the “Wandering Jewtruck; A Spiritual Food Truck.”

Here’s her plea to GGA Jews;

We’re moving this idea into reality through grant writing and crowd-funding and we need your help.

First – grant givers love seeing a lot of people give a little to an idea.  That’s where you come in…

Might you be able to offer a donation from the heart (it’s tax deductible) to our cause?  Whatever you can give would be great…plus, there’s SWAG (meaning, we give you something back)!

Here’s a link to learn more about the JewTruck and to offer your support:

Again, I am so in awe of what is happening here in Venice and West LA with the growth of Open Temple.   There is a real need to capture all of the unaffiliated Jews and provide a home for them that matches their contemporary values.  With the Jew Truck, I know that we can keep it rolling!

If you are a Los Angeles curious Jew looking for spiritual relief or a heightened state of consciousness, we highly recommend getting involved with this progressive community. Shabbat Shalom!

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Jewish Journal: The Open Temple’s Sukkot on the (Canal) Farm

The Open Temple’s Sukkot on the (Canal) Farm brought some unique, local spirit to the holiday in a celebration in the Venice Historic Canal District.

Some 30 young families gathered Oct. 11 on Sherman Canal from 3:45 to 6 p.m., where they were treated to a pumpkin patch, sukkah, petting zoo — featuring guinea pigs, ducks, turtles and more — and an enchanted reading forest sponsored by PJ Library, according to Rabbi Lori Shapiro, founder of The Open Temple in Venice. There was a learning session about the holiday as well.


“There are a lot of farming events that are going on nationally for Sukkot, and I thought how great would it be to do one on the canal for our community,” Shapiro said. “We’re offering community-building events where people can meet one another.

“We’re really generating some momentum. There were lots of people with lots of babies.”

The Open Temple aspires to reach out to unaffiliated and intermarried families. Shapiro described it as a pop-up community that rents space in the Electric Lodge, where it will begin celebrating Shabbat on the third Friday of every month, beginning in January.

— Ryan E. Smith, Associate Editor

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Argonaut News: People of the ‘Open’ book | link ›

Rabbi Lori Shapiro is building a Venice congregation that crosses denominational and cultural boundaries to make Judaism relevant for all.

Rabbi Lori Shapiro transformed a booth into a sukkah at the 2010 Abbot Kinney Festival
Rabbi Lori Shapiro transformed a booth into a sukkah at the 2010 Abbot Kinney Festival

Chances are that Rabbi Lori Shapiro’s Passover seder last April in Venice was unlike any other.

For starters, it wasn’t held at a synagogue steeped in tradition but within the aggressively contemporary architecture of the 800 Main event space.

Most of the 85 people in attendance were not particularly religious about their Judaism. Some were gentiles.

And the centerpiece of Shapiro’s ceremonial march through the Haggadah — chronicling the emancipation of the ancient Hebrews from Egyptian slavery as detailed in the Book of Exodus — was illustrated through PowerPoint.

During the presentation, a New Testament verse, Matthew 26:19, flashed across the screen: “The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover,” appearing alongside a scene of the Last Supper created not by Da Vinci but at a Las Vegas hotel.

Later, the phrase “freedom of oppression within and without” was juxtaposed with images of Kim Kardashian and Kim Jung Un. There was even a clip of a song-and-dance number from the raunchy “Sesame Street” parody “Avenue Q.”

This was definitely an unorthodox seder, and orthodox without the capital “O” at that.

Under the auspices of her Open Temple endeavor, Shapiro runs distinctive, Venice-friendly Jewish services, but they’re not meant to be flip and she didn’t fall into the role lightly.

“I didn’t have a Jewish education growing up, so I represented the periphery. I had no denominational bias,” she said. “I realized that every denomination had an agenda. So I wanted to pursue Judaism looking through a very contemporary lens.”

Which set Shapiro on a complicated, trans-denominational journey. After getting her bachelor’s degree in English at Columbia University, she pursued master’s degrees in Jewish and rabbinical studies.

Shapiro’s rabbinical explorations also took her to the Orthodox Sharei Bina Women’s Center for Jewish Studies in Tsfat, Israel, the trans-denominational Pardes in Jerusalem, and the Conservative Judaism-focused American Jewish University in Bel-Air.

She emerged from her rites of passage determined to infuse a love of Judaism into Jews as disenfranchised and disconnected from their faith as she once was.

In 2010, the former Lori Schneide married Dr. Joel Shapiro, creator of the Electric Lodge and an environmentalist who founded Arts: Earth Partnership. She gave birth to a daughter in May 2013.

Open Temple, which has seen nearly 300 people attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur events since forming last year, holds High Holiday services at Electric Lodge on Wednesday.

— Michael Aushenker

You were not raised religious, correct?

I didn’t grow up with any preconceived notion of what a synagogue should look like. One of the things people find difficult is just the Hebrew. When I came back to America, I had a certain philosophy of Jewish life that has a more traditional version of balance. With Open Temple, the biggest thing was to make all of what is greatest about Judaism accessible to someone who hasn’t learned about Judaism. I wanted to take that feeling of shame and replace it with empowerment. You can bring all of who you are to it because we make it accessible to you.

At what point did you have this epiphany?

I was a rabbi-in-residence at USC Hillel for four years. Being on campus was a great match for me. The model of Judaism [at Hillel] is not top-down; it’s more peer-to-peer — getting students where they were at. It’s much more 21st century.

Why did Venice become ground zero for Open Temple?

It was always really clear to me that Venice had no [Jewish] community. Yet here was all this vibrancy, the individualism, the radical thinking, the provocative thought through creative expression.

How does being in Venice shape what you’re doing?

There’s no [common] domination, but what they have in common is their individualism. People are allowed to be who they are. They don’t have the pretense or the ambitions of the rest of L.A. Those of us who live in Venice are really grateful. We really love it here. We see each other every Friday morning at the farmers market. People are surfers, people love to eat healthfully, and all of those values match what Open Temple is all about.

How did you build your congregation?

By going out into the community. It’s been very organic. I meet them on the playgrounds, in the coffeehouses, in the streets, at the farmers market. I’ll talk to eight to 14 people at a house, asking people what’s important to them, where in their lives the Jewish community intersects, has it been there for them. Emerging from these coffee dates, I have a good sense of what they’re really looking for. And they become volunteers. But I call them co-creators.

What does Joel think?

My husband has been very supportive. He hadn’t set foot in a synagogue for ages. When he heard I was a rabbi, he initially said ‘no’ [to being set up on a date], but he went out with me and the rest is history. He’s a creative person and someone with a great sense of art. He’s enjoyed taking part in Open Temple because it also respects his intellect. It doesn’t tell him what to think, but encourages him to think. I think he’s the perfect example of someone at Open Temple.

What do you have planned for this year’s High Holiday services?

All of our services are come as you are. We’ll have local actors doing creative interpretation of the Torah sections. We’ll have a woman playing piano. We have a labyrinth in the parking lot so you can have a meaningful walk after services. It’s going to be really energetic and provide a creative reality in a way that High Holidays aren’t usually experienced. We’re asking people to learn to play, to lend out their voices. We want to go through this together. I always wanted to do a yoga flow. We’re giving it a Jewish context.

What’s next for Open Temple?

Through [the crowd-funding site], we want to start The Wandering Jew Truck. It’s very Open Temple, the idea of meeting people where they are at: Shavuot at Temescal Canyon, a night hike in Santa Monica, at Mother’s Beach and near Abbot Kinney Boulevard on First Fridays. We’re not serving food; it’s a spiritual food truck. We’re bringing Jewish content to people. We’re also starting our school with Tuesday afternoon classes for seven to nine year olds and a monthly woman’s group.

Is having a permanent building a goal?

No, it’s to have a community. We represent a creative Judaism. You don’t have to leave your creative juices at the door.

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 24. Yom Kippur begins the evening of Oct. 3. For a full holiday schedule, visit

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