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.”

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.

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

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.


Message from the CEO
By: Larry Yudelson

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…

Wall Street Journal: Reaction II

NYT, WaPo Champion Leftist High Holiday Jewish Services, Including Goat Yoga And Black Lives Matter Discussions
By: Ben Shapiro
Source: Daily Wire

Ben Shapiro 2020 cross referenced Open Temple Goat Yoga in the Daily Wire as well as the National Review. Ben, “for reals”, we invite you to experience Open Temple. We are NOT political and focus rather on the role of ritual life and Torah in the 21st Century.  #DailyWire #OpenTemple #SpiritualbutNotPolitical #VeniceLove