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.

The Great Exodus March

The Great Exodus March
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

There’s a rabbinic midrash on Exodus 14:13, an interpretive story inspired by the Torah, that goes something like this: As the Israelites stood with the blanket of the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh’s army behind them, there were four different reactions:  the first was to say “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.” The second said, “Let us return to Egypt.” A third declared “Let us wage war upon the Egyptians,” and then a fourth chorus cried, “Let us pray to God.” The rabbis teach that Moses’ response rejected all four opinions, and implored the people, “Fear not; stand by, and see the salvation of God which God will show to you today.”

One might read Moses’ response as satisfactory; or, less so – as a passive call to God’s miracles. As one who doesn’t necessarily know what God is or even that God is, and even considers the entire construct of a sentence that begins with “God is…” an impossible consideration, the concept of miracles enacted upon us by a personal God alienate my spirit of what is possible.

And so, what might Moses have meant?

It is here that I call upon what is more relatable — this weekend.  As we “Turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King…,” (to quote James Taylor), might we reveal the hidden message of Moses’ instruction through the prism of Hebrew? In a playful shuffling of the Hebrew, without bounds or ties to vowels, a verse traditionally invoking a (possibly) unknowable G?d, converts from the passive instruction: “Fear not; stand by, and see the salvation of God which God will show to you today,” into a Call to Action:  God! Radical Amazement! Rise up and See God’s Transcendent Presence that One (You) Will Make Happen Today.”

It’s the moon that moves the tides; the currents, tectonics and weather that makes waves; it is the energy of one body interacting with another that Causes for Creation. It is not in heaven – it is of us, upon us, within us all.

The Presence is Here. The Time is Now. And the One is You.

Freedom Shabbat.
Find your Wave.
Make it Happen.
This Friday at 7:15.

With Love and Torah Light,
Lori

The Miracle of Waves

The Miracle of Waves
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

Ocean waves. Radio waves. Birthing waves. Waves reveal the presence of something greater than ourselves in action. Ocean waves are water’s way of revealing its interplay with the wind and its underworld. Radio waves are imperceivable until they are harnessed by a transmitter or antenna to reveal their hidden messages. The waves of childbirth move through the mother, unleashing a chemical reaction that spasms the body into the birth of life in an experience that I called “a visitation from Shechinah“. We are all transformed and born through The Waves that, unknowingly yet ceaselessly, surround us.

Our Torah cycle reads like the greatest of Hollywood films these weeks, with Freedom Fighters and Pharaohs. I invite you to experience the miracle of the parting of a sea with towering waves juxtapositioned with images of the biggest wave surfed ever recorded (see video, above) as a visual meditation with the kavanah (intention) of recalling that we live in a time of miracles that we can strive to perceive and experience. From receiving this message in the palm of your hand, to finding love and friendship, to our health, to our beautiful Venice seaside, the parting of the Red Sea reminds us to Find Our Freedom through the Small Miracles that happen in our lives every day.

Each of us are a product of the waves. Each of us are drawn to them. Each of us has a purpose that creates a wave.

Find Your Wave.

with Love and Torah Light,
Lori

Last Night of Hanukkah

Open Temple’s “Hanukkah on the Canals Parade” Party
Source: The Jewish Journal

Armando at the Jewish Journal visited our Eighth Night Hanukkah on the Canal Parade Party with Open Temple and turned out this amazing video capturing the experience. May the lights continue to shine! Thank you, Armando!

Celebrating Light and Hope


Celebrating Light and Hope in Our Time of Darkness
By: Esther D. Kustanowitz, featuring Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Source: The Jewish Journal

How do we celebrate the rededication of the Temple destroyed long ago, when we and our families, friends and neighbors are reeling from these urgent crises?

Bringing Home Early Detection


Yehudit Abrams: Brining Early Detection Home
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
Source: israelnationalnews.com

Israeli physician and engineer Yehudit Abrams speaks about the influence of Open Temple and Rabbi Lori’s impact on her life for Israel National News at 26 minutes into this interview.  Dr. Abrams award winning Monither empowers women to monitor changes in their own breast tissue and is a revolutionary innovation in breast cancer early detection.

Reflections


Message from the CEO
By: Larry Yudelson
Source: jewishinsandiego.org

Michael Jeser, now CEO of Jewish Federation/San Diego, shared this thought piece featuring Rabbi Lori’s innovative work from when she was the rabbi at USC Hillel.  Ten years later, he reflects on her innovations…