By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

It’s a radical act of defiance. A counter-cultural stand-off, and transcends gaslighting, call-outs, and hash-tags. Most importantly, it’s not about how much others have missed the mark, but rather, draws attention to our own contributions to this world’s seemingly spinning out-of-control on the Road to Nowhere.

And it begins now.

The High Holidays are an act of public protest, and it’s time that we take responsibility for our complicity and our sorrow as we begin the journey to T’shuvah, an authentic Return to Self.

We invite all of us to follow our guide (click on the link below), attend a Sound Bath (complete with bowls, gong and shofar), and slam it out in your Soul Journal (available to Co-Creators at High Holiday services).  Lay on the sand enveloped by sound waves as we announce the beginning of the month of Elul on the beach, with waves washing away the layers of resistance; visit Wi Spa for a night of Selichot and Song; get buried in the Yom Kippur observance of inner eternity, and so many other Open Temple Happenings to engage in this process as all of us Begin Again.

Get to Open Temple High Holiday Ritual Lab and Begin Again.

Mordecai Kaplan described Judaism as “The evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people.” Indeed, we are a peoplehood engaged in an endless dynamic of discovery, innovation and reinvention. One recent innovation borrows from the Counting of the Omer (that period of time between Passover and Shavuot, famously made relevant through the rabbis of the mussar movement, who added a layer of moral cathesthenic to the Counting of the Days as we ascended to Sinai). This new innovation shares this practice of self-discipline to the work of Heshbon haNefesh (accounting of the Soul), and companions the counting of the days between Tisha b’Av, which began Saturday, August 10, through Rosh HaShanah, September 29 this year.

At Open Temple, we are adopting this reflective practice as a companion through these reflective days leading up to the Yamim Nora’im aka the High Holidays.

High Holiday Mussar Practice:  From 9 Av to 1 Tishrei

(This practice is adapted from Tamar Frankiel, PhD, Past President of AJR/CA. Open Temple is thrilled to have Professor Frankiel as a guest instructor for our Intro to Judaism and Kabbalah classes):

Week 1: Malkhut, 10-16 Av, August 11-17:

Review the past year, making a list of what was “finished” this year (so far as you can tell), either things you accomplished or things that came to completion or apparent end in some other way. These could be in any area of your life:  your personal well-being, finances, relationships, house & home, family, earning money, studying, volunteering, creative projects, repair projects, new jobs, travel or vacations . . . think broadly. Take 5 or 10 minutes to jot down things the first day, and add at least one thing to the list each day.

Week 2: Yesod, 17-23 Av, August 18-24

Look at the list from last week, and now think of all the channels that had to open for these things to be accomplished: people who helped you or taught you, information you gathered, beings or places of the natural world, dreams or spiritual messages, resources like money or other physical things. This is a little bit like thinking of all that has to happen for food to be on your table, but now focused on your past year and its “deeds,” things that got done.

Week 3: Hod, 24 Av–1 Elul, August 25-Sept. 1

Express gratitude for all that you have recognized in weeks 1 and 2, and see if there are any other moments of gratitude you remember from the past year. Also ask yourself if there is anything you want to do to “give back,” either in new expressions of thanks (to people, other beings, God….) or reciprocity to them, or to give back by “paying it forward.” Perhaps you remember already actions in the past year where you paid it forward or passed it on; appreciate those too. Also, remember those times when you let yourself be completely receptive (okay, even partially receptive) to the help you received from others. What does that receptivity feel like? Give thanks for that too.

Week 4: Netzach, 2–8 Elul, Sept 2-8

Think of the effort you put out this year, the obstacles that you encountered, and how you dealt with them.  This includes how you took responsibility, how you persevered even when it was hard, and how you dealt with resistance or self-doubt. Recognize your strength and courage and the affirmations you received for acting in strong ways.  Who helped you with this?

Week 5: Tiferet, 9–16 Elul, Sept 9-16

Of the things that happened the past year (whether ‘finished’ yet or not), which ones felt most like your authentic self coming to expression?  Contemplate these memories and recognize the feelings of wholeness, healing, and satisfaction that come from those moments of authenticity.

Week 6: Gevurah 17-23 Elul, Sept 17-23

What lessons have you learned from the events of the first year? Go back to Week 1 and think whether there are things that you intended to complete but didn’t, and examine what was the blockage and whether there is something to be learned from that. Perhaps you later realized it was better that you didn’t continue in that effort, or perhaps there is a correction you can make for the future. If there are any other painful events you experienced besides blocking of your action (just this past year!), what were their sources? What fine-tuning or mid-course corrections did you make, and did those help? Give thanks for the lessons.

Week 7: Hesed 24-29 Elul, Sept 24-29

What in the past year were the gifts you most cherished? Was there anything that felt like a gift beyond your expectations? Where did things come out even better than you had hoped? Did something you dreaded or feared turn out to be a source of blessing, did darkness turn to light or the unknown become a source of insight? Give thanks for this too, and think of how you might “pass it on” by telling others, in stories or other ways.

1 Tishrei:

Get to Open Temple High Holiday Ritual Lab and Begin Again.

P.S. Be Warned, Friends: We Will Sell Out This Year as We Only Have Room for 120 Souls. Tickets available HERE.

Why Get Shtupped?

Why Get Shtupped?

By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The opening psukim (verses) of Lamentations conjure images of a desolate young woman; curiously, the woman is identified as a princess, with language that alludes to Sarah the Matriarch. This woman is the personification of the City of Gold, Jerusalem, and in the wake of the terrors described in Lamentation, or Eicha (a word I think is best described by an image – that of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”), she lies vulnerable, ravaged, beaten.

This disturbing image is, indeed, a metaphor for the collective trauma of what might have happened in 587 BCE. Jeremiah’s words are an ancient PTSD lament describing the emotional trauma of the loss of the First Temple. What are we to make of this disconsolate dirge today, whose highly charged poetry spins subtle verses of sexual metaphors about the desecration of Jerusalem? Why the sexual innuendo?

These images are a hauntingly disturbing counterpoint to the conversations in our media this week. Perhaps it is time that we turn from prurient interests (and the unresolved traumas that underly them), to the holiness of lovemaking and the sanctity of intimacy. Perhaps, it is time to reclaim the idea that the act of physical intimacy is actually a Manifestation of Love, and an accessible portal for knowing and celebrating Godliness in our midst.

Thus, Get Shtupped Shabbat.

Get Shtupped Shabbat is Open Temple’s offering to reclaim healthy sexual language on the Hebrew calendar date that celebrates love – Tu b’Av. “Shtup” is the Yiddish word for “getting it on,” and we celebrate the Love-Positive notion that all of our ancestors were once young and in search of love, which led to creating us. Get Shtupped Shabbat celebrates the universality of sensuality and intimacy – with oneself, with a beloved or in community. It invites us to remember and reclaim the notion that the rabbis considered it “a mitzvah” to engage in sexual intimacy on the Sabbath as a way of knowing intimacy with God and Creation. It’s Open Temple’s way of acknowledging the beauty of human love in all forms, and it’s this Friday night at 6:30 pm on the beach.

Full Moon Rising. Ocean Waves Radiating Shechinah. Pure Soul.
It’s going to be Beautiful.

with Love and a Blessing to Love in All Forms,
Rabbi Lori

Innovations in B. Mitzvah

Innovations in B. Mitzvah

By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Before rabbinical school, I was a guest at a bat mitzvah. The service was a perfunctory event at one of the largest and most successful synagogues in Los Angeles. Following the service, the guests were bussed to a nightclub on the Sunset Strip. As we ascended up a steep staircase into the club, my chest vibrated with each boom of the DJ’s bass. It was during the peak of Britney Spears’ popularity, and there were literally cages on the dance floor, where the bat mitzvah girl and her friends swayed and danced on their bars like other clubs not meant for 13-year olds on the Strip.

Sitting at a leopard print cocktail table on high stools, I heard a few parents talking about the latest trends in bar and bat mitzvah. “The last one I attended,” one parent with martini in hand shared, “the bar mitzvah boy was carried in by the Laker Girls.” The woman across from her, eyes wide and impressed, responded “the last one I was at, there was a mechanical bull.” The table of parents nodded with some kind of acknowledgement of achievement. I just couldn’t help myself. “The last one I was at,” I shared, “they had God.”

Mordecai Kaplan’s March 18,1922 innovation of bat mitzvah for his daughter, Judith, and its antecedent, bar mitzvah, with roots at Sinai (Mt. Sinai, that is), is one of the greatest innovations of Judaism. It acknowledges that each of us has to find our place in the world, and that we choose Torah as one of our guides to reveal its path. At Open Temple, we honor this tradition in all of its glory, as we breathe new life into this ancient ritual.

Read More about Open Temple’s unique approach to B. Mitzvah
featured in this week’s Jewish Journal here.

For more information on how to make your son or daughter’s
B. Mitzvah unique, personal and impactful:
Email us at: info@opentemple.org

And, enrollment for The Venice Yeshiva is now live!
“The Venice Yeshiva: Where ‘The Chosen’ Meets ‘Yentl’.
For ages 9-13.
Learn more about Open Temple’s B. Mitzvah program here.

Let’s make the world a better place, one B. Mitzvah at a time.

with Love and Torah light,

Open Temple Welcomes B’Nai Mitzvah

Open Temple Welcomes B’Nai Mitzvah
By: Erin Ben-Moche
Source: Jewish Journal

Rabbi Lori Shapiro of Open Temple in Venice has been providing meaningful b’nai mitzvah services to her students for more than 10 years, allowing them to curate their own services. 

Shapiro said, “It always starts with asking, ‘Who is this student? What is their curiosity? How do we match what is their personal spirituality and then tie it so that Judaism has a deep starting point in them?’ instead of fitting them in this hole if they are a square peg. A big synagogue isn’t for every kid.”

She added the only requirement of a bar or bat mitzvah student is that he or she recites the Torah’s “Barcha banu” prayer. The rest is open to “invite the students to make it their own.”

Shapiro has helped more than 100 students become b’nai mitzvah and has helped craft their rituals to meet each one’s specific needs. The Open Temple rabbi has held b’nai mitzvah services on top of mountains, at black-box theaters and even on golf courses.

The venue isn’t the only thing in which students get to have a say. They also create their own tallitot, craft their own melodies to prayers and find connections to Judaism in whatever creative way that makes sense to them.

“We want the students to go deep and see what the literal woven tradition is about, being Jewish,” Shapiro said.

Currently, Shapiro is preparing a nature-themed bat mitzvah service that includes meditation and a nature walk for one of her students, who has been meditating with Shapiro as part of her bat mitzvah preparations.

Shapiro’s mission is to show her students there are other ways to connect spiritually to God and Judaism without holding a service in a traditional synagogue.

“We are trying to allow the students’ curiosities to grow through the lens of Torah,” she said.

One of Shapiro’s students had a passion for R&B and rap music, so for her bat mitzvah, she recited the “Adon Olam” prayer to the melodies to which she connected. Another student was drawn to Holocaust studies and survivors and held his bar mitzvah at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust to share Holocaust awareness and history. Another wanted his service held in the Los Angeles mountains because the views reminded him of Israel and his connection to Zionism.

Shapiro said this year, Open Temple established a music studio and developed a Jewish “School of Rock” so students have access to songwriters, musicians and recording services for their b’nai mitzvah.

Because it’s so personal and the children run the service, Shapiro said the students’ passion always moves their families and friends. “They are ready to really officiate a service and they are creating ritual space,” Shapiro said. “I bring them into an empty box and say, ‘What is this space?’ and give them an idea that an empty space can also be a ritual space … and that’s why they all look so different.”

Whether you are a lover of tradition, sports, soundstages or stand-up comedy, a service can incorporate these passions, according to Shapiro. She added there is no end of possibilities for ceremonies because the idea of Judaism is that ‘Godliness is everywhere,’ so a b’nai mitzvah services should be no different.

She notes that it is easier to have this strong experience if a student is involved in at least two years of Open Temple’s religious School of the Arts program. 

“The whole idea is we have this incredible initiation ritual [bar and bat mitzvahs], the commencement of Jewish adulthood,” Shapiro said, “but so many times, we don’t pay attention to who this adult is becoming. Why is it that we force them to be in these rigid environments? I work a lot on life skills with these kids. What I see so often is that students are transformed through the work we are doing together.”

Shapiro added that with this freedom
and creativity, students truly reflect their likeness in the image of God (B’tselem Elokim) and other Jewish values that will stay with them as they continue their Jewish
adult journeys.

“They are the next innovation of what comes, because that’s where Judaism is going,” she said. “It’s really a validation of what Judaism is. It’s l’dor v’dor — from generation to generation — and this young generation that we’re nurturing will put their own soul print on it, unique and distinct to what we gave to them.”

Pinchas’ Passion

Pinchas’ Passion…

By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

At a meeting last week, I committed a social faux pas. When asked to introduce myself using “my pronouns and access points,” I reflected that there was “no way one person was doing all that I was doing,” and so I requested that my usual pronouns – she/her – be replaced with them/they.  After the meeting, several people approached me and told me that they were offended by the way I presented this, that pronouns “are serious” and maybe I didn’t understand?

I did understand, I responded.  I am just no longer understood.

In a time when comics lose their popularity for offensive humor, where every comment can be commented on, I fear that we have lost our sense of humor as a culture. I fear that we no longer live in a “safe space” while we are fervently trying to create them.  I fear that we have fallen wayward on our path, and are usurping our passion.

There is an interesting word in this week’s Parsha, used in context of an audacious act of personal agency.  Pinchas, the Kohen, commits an act of double murder that is lauded by the God character. The “God Character” rewards Pinchas with a “Brit Shalom” or “Covenant of Peace.”

How can this be? In light of our political landscape, should acts against humanity, literally murderous behavior, be rewarded?

It all comes down to one tiny word:  Ki’na.

Ki’na, a word tied to passion, is a word that seems to have a negative spin in our post-millinnial times.  For the Stoics, passion was debase.  In Biblical Hebrew, it translates as “zeal, jealousy, envy or passion.”  For the God character, it is one of God’s go to descriptions of God’s self as in “I am a jealous/passionate/zealous God.” It also seems to be, whatever this Ki’na quality is, something worthy of “a covenant of peace.”

So what is Ki’na?

I think it’s one of those words that my Aramaic profession would say “you will spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what it means.”  But I think it has value.  I think passion is what makes us get out of bed in the morning, it is a driving force for creation and creativity, it can be audacious and bodacious and busy and morally complex and even wrong; but it a force to reckon with. These days, it is unpopular to like or agree with the current US President.  That being said, he seems to have a bit of it as well.  Ki’na is racy, spicy and entirely démodé; that being said, perhaps it is exactly what most of us need to reclaim to take back our sanity, exile our depression and reclaim our power.

The film Network was recently revived as a Broadway show starring Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame. The iconic moment of its protagonist still resonates in our society and perhaps sums up Ki‘na for our times:

“I’m mad as hell and I’m just not going to take it anymore.”

Go for it.  Go Ki’na wild.  And reclaim our sanity and humanity.

With Love and Torah Light,
Rabbis Lori and Lori and Lori and Lori and Lori….

2020 Bunch: The First Dialogue


2020 Bunch 

By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

What are we to make of that the very week of Independence Day we are reading a Torah portion about divisive politics in the Torah? The rebellion against Moses in the ancient world is a mirror to our political soul. The language used in Korach is layered in mockery, rhetoric and a verbal one-upmanship. The verse is filled with grammatical parallelism and allusion in vintage B’midbar fashion, as in B’midbar, the Book of Numbers, sometimes a word is more than a word, as the Hebrew name itself might be translated as “in and out of the word.”

The rebellion against Moses is a verbal jousting from various sources of discontent. Dothan and Abiram are descendants from the Tribe of Reuben (Jacob’s eldest); they feel slighted by their lost birthright (an enduring theme in Jacob’s life). Korach himself, as Moses’ cousin, brings a separate grievance, that of the parity of the sons from the House of Amram. The cacophony of discord is brought to symphonic melifluity through the well orchestrated language within the Book of Numbers. Num. 16:13 begins with a callback from another verse: the word “Ha’m’at” – translated as “it is a small thing.” The verse is a mockery of Moses’ earlier statement made with his face to the earth (an act of humility or histrionic display of deference?). Dathan and Abiram’s retort is an act of impudence, followed by a thick layer of cynicism: Egypt, not Israel, is depicted as the land of milk and honey, whinings of despair about Israelites dying in the wilderness are repeated complains as are accusations about Moses as lording over his fellows?!?

We’ve got our own kind of rebellion going on in the United States today. Within all of the divisive politics and pundits, is the potential for human redemption. Open Temple is readying itself to be a source of light as we enter into the media circus of the upcoming election year and a half, and we are rooting ourselves in the holiness of our country, perhaps the greatest human experiment of democracy since Torah. Everyone is invited to a series of house talks, beginning THIS WEEK. Indeed, the Korach rebellion serves as a proof text to remind us that Torah sometimes delivers messages through examples of human conflict; in this case, so timeless that it reads as a contemporary commentary to the world we are living in today. Open Temple wants to begin a dialogue rooted in humanity and the eternal values of covenant founded in the Torah. Through conflicts like Korach and Moses, we are reminded that Torah is the source text for our American Constitution. The Constitution is an aspirational text to inspire us towards realizing our human potential as a polis. Rooted in ancient ideas and wisdom, it is the American Foundation text for how to become One People. Which, in Open Temple-speak, is Godly.

What Dreams Are Made Of…

What Dreams Are Made Of…

By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro

There is a place between our awakened state and our slumber that seems a slip into a liminal space; and, it is as if through this “in between” that we can enter into a bonding of that which we are usually too distracted to perceive. It is not quite the dream itself, nor the awakened awareness, that this space lies, but in that dawn of awakening that extends like a twilight into the Eternal.

The rabbis have a lot to say about that space.  They even offer us a prayer, the “Modeh Ani” for us to recite once we are aware of dwelling in it, which is the prayer that accompanies us into our awareness of being each day. The idea is that in that moment, we offer a blessing of gratitude to imbue the passage into this consciousness while attaching it to a remnant of that which lies beyond.

This week’s Torah portion, B’halotecha, offers a pinhole into this curious expansiveness. In a moment when Miriam and Aaron are using language in an abusive way, God requests their presence and speaks directly to them. Numbers 12:6-7 states:

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר שִׁמְעוּ־נָ֣א דְבָרָ֑י אִם־יִֽהְיֶה֙ נְבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם יְהוָ֗ה בַּמַּרְאָה֙ אֵלָ֣יו אֶתְוַדָּ֔ע בַּחֲל֖וֹם אֲדַבֶּר־בּֽוֹ׃

…and God said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the LORD arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream.”

לֹא־כֵ֖ן עַבְדִּ֣י מֹשֶׁ֑ה בְּכָל־בֵּיתִ֖י נֶאֱמָ֥ן הֽוּא׃

Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household.

Most of us are not meant to be Moses; we are not direct recipients of immediate spiritual epiphany or intimacy. However, all of us dwell in a space of spiritual improvement; where, if we cultivate our instruments through moral consistency and rigor, we might be able to ascend to a place of receiving aligned truths through the messages that surround us.

As we enter into our Summer Solstice, May our Soul Awakening expand to include the journey each and every one of us is called to have; at a time of so much misused speech and divisive intentions, may each and every one of us find a connection to holy speech and manifest these words into action. May we rise to a more Soulful plane and hear the Call of the One within ourselves and within the Other.

May our summer travels companion us with adventure and new friends as well as a renewed sense of self.  And if you find yourselves in a Staycation, Open Temple invites you to experience radical amazement through our summer adventures – from this Friday’s Beach Shabbat to a special Co-Creator Fourth of July on the Canals celebration, July Bike Shabbat and Beyond.

With Love and Torah Light,


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:

Hand Sanitizer
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.


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.