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.

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…