Two Lessons Learned at a Street Fair

userpic=sheepToday, I worked at a booth at the Granada Hills Street Fair for our congregation. In discussions with the patrons there, I heard two very important messages that have stuck with me:

  • I had a couple of people mention a one-time bad experience they had — one time where they weren’t quite as welcomed as they could have been. Now, I know having gotten to know the congregation that this isn’t typical, and that given the chance, people are warm and welcoming. The lesson: Treat every encounter as if this is your only chance to make someone feel welcome. It might be. If you don’t, that one off greeting you give, that one time you talk to your friends instead of welcoming the newcomer — it might be the one thing that makes a great person walk away instead of becoming a member. It may also destroy the one chance you’ve got of meeting and learning about someone really neat.
  • We had someone in their early twenties come up to us and ask: What do you have for us? Someone who is single, young, and with no kids. We didn’t have a good answer. If we want Jewish continuity, if we want young people to continue participating in congregation life, we need a good answer. We can’t wait until they join with their kids — for that is too late (especially as people wait longer to have kids). We need to provide that authentic connection to the young singles. Hint: The answer is not in being a matchmaker service. Not all young adults are looking to find their mate, or their mate in a synagogue. Matchmaking happens best when it comes through other interests. We need activities that bring college and graduate level youths in because of their interests, because of their learning, because of their spirituality. Something that is authentic and challenging and is something they can’t get elsewhere. Something, by the way, that is very hard to figure out. What did they do in the past? Matchmaking. That solution isn’t the answer today.

Why post this here? After all, isn’t it the dirty laundry from my congregation. The answer is: it isn’t. I would bet that these two areas are problems for almost every congregation — for every congregation has that guest they’ve turned off, that newly-minted post-grad who doesn’t see something for them as a single with no kids. They are something we all need to find the answer for.


An Ages Old Tradition

userpic=tallitToday, my congregation participated in an ages-old Jewish tradition that many felt was a long missing tradition, and others found incredibly offensive. So what did they do?

Did they sit the men separately from the women?

Did they not let women sing or lead from the bimah?

Did they swing a dead chicken around their head to get rid of sins?

Nope. None of those. They did a congregational fund-raising appeal on Yom Kippur morning.

Now at many congregations I’ve been at, fund raising during the high holy days is a common tradition. One morning service you get hit up for Israeli Bonds. Another morning the Temple President (or designee) would get up after the Rabbi to appeal for the needs of the congregation. People were used to it, and they planned and gave every year. At our current congregation, however, that wasn’t the practice. There would be a supplemental annual appeal at the end of the Tax Year, and various fundraisers through the year. So this year’s appeal was a new thing — and as such, uncomfortable for those not used to it.

[At this point, the small Rabbinic voice in my head says: “But isn’t that the job of religion: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?”]

The thing is: the appeal is needed. As with most non-profits, subscriptions and memberships only cover about 70% of expenses. The rest depends on annual giving, and low giving means things like deferred maintenance and deferred dreams. It can also lead to little things like “temporary” lines of credit that can create even more deferrals.

So we did the right thing: We brought back the annual High Holy Day appeal.  We made the attempt. We swung at the pitch.

Did we hit it out of the park? I have no idea. I know for some it struck just the right tone; for others, it was too much, too heavy handed. Here are some thoughts of mine:

  • A very wise Kindergarten teacher at Wilshire Blvd Temple, Lillian Fisher, taught me when I was her assistant that the first time you do something it is not a mistake. There is a distinct possibility that today’s pitch was too heavy handed. But at least we tried, and we can fine tune the presentation over upcoming years.
  • Someone else who is very wise — perhaps Mark Twain somewhere on the Internet — said that 90% of everything is not in what you are saying, but how you say it. I certainly think that was the case here. I do believe that how the message was presented could be improved, but it was vital that the message get out there. We just need to work with people to enable them to look past the manner or length of presentation and focus on the underlying message and need.
  • Yet another person who is very wise — our current congregational president, Gail Karlin — taught me a very important lesson with respect to appeals like this. The most important thing is not the amount given, but the fact that you participate. A person or families’ participation in an appeal or fundraiser — at whatever level is comfortable for them, even if it is just $1 — is what is truly significant. Participation demonstrates you are part of the community, and that you are willing to give something to support the cause. Alas, far too often we structure our fundraisers to focus on the big machers, and push away the small givers. The message must get out that all participation is equal and valued and necessary.

So do I think doing the appeal was wrong? Nope.

Did I participate? Yep, at a level I was comfortable with. As they would say, you can “count me in”.

Did I particularly like how it was said and presented? Not fully, but I was able to see past the presentation to  the need and the message, and I hope that other congregants and supporters can do the same. The need is too great to let a little mishandling of how they present it get in the way. Presentations are ephermeral and tactical. The focus must be on the ongoing need for annual support that is necessary for the strategic long term.

[ETA, for those unfamiliar with the terms: Tactical == short to mid-term, what you need to do now or shortly. Strategic == long-term, the overall end-game approach.]

P.S.: How could they have done it better? Some were uncomfortable with the Rabbi participating in the appeal build-up with his sermon, seeing that more as the role of a Board member. I can see that, but this was the first year after a long dry spell of appeals, and it could be tied in well to the Jubilee year theme. I do think it went on a little long, but I’m a “tell ’em what your gonna say, say it, tell ’em what you said” kinda guy. More significantly, I think the Board Member ask should have been after the Rabbi but before the Cantor’s song, so as to allow people to fill out the cards while the Cantor was singing.

P.P.S: You want to help? You can donate to the congregation here.

P.P.P.S.: Another way to help is to support the Men of TAS Annual Golf Tournment, which helps MoTAS help TAS.


A Positive Vidui

userpic=tallitMy daughter posted this on her tumblr, and it is wonderful (it was originally posted by he-harim). Here’s the introduction:

On Yom Kippur, an important part of the liturgy is what is called a vidui: a confession. It lists sins, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet: it opens “Ashamnu – We have incurred guilt, Bagadnu – we have betrayed, Gazlanu – we have stolen, Dibarnu dofi – we have spoken falsely, etc.“, (”… ,אָשַמנוּ, בָּגַדְנוּ, גָזֵלְנוּ”)

I heard of this positive vidui (vidui hamashlim) today. If you’re someone who struggles with the weight of all the sin and guilt you feel, you might want to read this to offer up some sort of a balance – although remember that Hashem will forgive you of all sins against Them today.

Multiple sources were quoted for this, so I’m not sure who actually wrote it.

Edit: It literally says Rav Kook and then what looks to be a citation (Mishnaic? maybe??) at the bottom, so that would be some sort of a clue.

Second edit: jewishhenna said: Isn’t this lovely? It was written by Binyamin Holtzman, the rabbi of Ma’ale Gilbo’a (his name is on the side in very small print). The Rav Kook quote is the piece at the bottom which inspired it.

Positive Vidui

Ahavnu – We have loved, Bachinu – we have cried, Gamalnu – we have given back, Dibarnu Yofi – we have spoken great things!

He’emanu – We have believed, V’hishtadalnu – and we have given our best effort, Zacharnu – we have remembered, Chibaknu – we have embraced, Ta’amnusefer – we have chanted Your book!

Yatzarnu – We have created, Kamanu – we have yearned, Lachamnuavur hatzedek – we have fought for justice!

Mitzinu et hatov – We have done all the good we could do, Nisinu – we have tried, Sarnu lirot – we have turned aside to see, Asinu asher tzvitanu – we have done as You have commanded us!

Peirashu – We have learned interpretations of Torah, Tzadaknu lifamim – sometimes we have even been righteous, Karanu b’shimcha – we have called out Your Name!

Ratzinu – We have been steadfast in our will, Samachnu – we have rejoiced, Tamachnu – we have been there to support one another.



Services and Service

userpic=tallitSome take delight in the majesty of the language of prayer during the High Holy Day services. Some find the spiritual in the worship connection; creating that everlasting link between Adonai and themselves. Me? Not so much.

What I enjoy — perhaps surprisingly — at the services are the sermons and the personal stories (especially this year when we are talking about TAS’s 50th anniversary as TAS (it really is the 64th anniversary if you go by the oldest constituent congregation, but they split back out, so we don’t talk about that… but I think about it because I know some of the founders of that original congregation).

So, while getting ready for the HHD services — and again during the services last night and this morning — I thought about what creates the connection between me and Judaism. It isn’t the spiritual. It isn’t the language. It is the service, not the services.

I get the most pleasure — and the most “good feelings” — from being of service to the congregation. Whether it was — in my Beth Torah days — doing Religious Practices, Tot Shabbat, Newsletter, IT support, Publicity, and all that rot; or whether it is like it is now — at Temple Ahavat Shalom — being president of the Men of TAS. Through service I get to know the members of the congregation. Through service I make connections with the congregation. Through service, I can help others and help the community.

In the era I grew up in, Jews came together in communities. The 1950s and 1960s saw an explosive growth of congregations. There was just a reunion of the congregation of my youth (Temple Israel of Westchester/Temple Jeremiah) — and what people remember are the people that did things for others. Today, listening to the stories of long-time congregants, the same thing came out: people remember the people that did things for others. Even when I did the 50th Anniversary of Beth Torah, that’s what people remembered.

You want authentic Judaism? Be of service to the Jewish community in some way. Be active in your congregational groups. I personally don’t care if you have that spiritual connection. That may or may not come; it comes and goes. But take the values — the value of doing service, the value for doing for others — and go out there and do.

Our congregation is running a campaign this year called “Count Me In”. We haven’t had the details yet, but my guess is it is a fund raising program. That’s all well and good for those that can afford it (and if you can, do give — congregations need your help). But you can always give your time. Help a program. Volunteer to share your knowledge. Build a community. Get to know someone in the congregation and make a friend.

I think you’ll find that doing the service may bring more meaning to your life than those two hours standing and sitting. It certainly will move you to a better place.

L’Shanah Tovah. Sometimes these musings just have to come out.


L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5776

Apple in Honeyuserpic=tallitRosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts Sunday night. Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog, LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5776. May you be written and inscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. Apples in honey, specifically, express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year. Apples were selected because in ancient times they became a symbol of the Jewish people in relationship to God. In Song of Songs, we read, “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved [Israel] amongst the maidens [nations] of the world.” In medieval times, writes Patti Shosteck in A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, apples were considered so special that individuals would use a sharp utensil or their nails to hand-carve their personal hopes and prayers into the apple skins before they were eaten. And the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text, states that beauty – represented by God – “diffuses itself in the world as an apple.” With respect to the honey: honey – whether from dates, figs, or apiaries – was the most prevalent sweetener in the Jewish world and was the most available “sweet” for dipping purposes. And as for the biblical description of Israel as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” the Torah is alluding to a paste made from overripe dates, not honey from beehives. Still, enjoying honey at Rosh HaShanah reminds us of our historic connection with the Holy Land. Although the tradition is not in the Torah or Talmud, even as early as the 7th century, it was customary to wish someone, “Shana Tova Umetukah” (A Good and Sweet Year).
(Source: Reform Judaism Website)

Rosh Hashanah ImagesAnother traditional food is a round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the King of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
(Source: Aish Ha’Torah)

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting Sunday evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of September 22nd), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.


Doubles and Singles: News Chum for Everyone

userpic=observationsNow for the rest of the news chum, which seems to fit into the theme of doubles and singles — that is, we have a bunch of groupa-twos and a few singlets:


“That Kind” Takes the Cake

userpic=sheriffjohnRecently, over on Facebook, I’ve gotten into a discussion with some of my more devout friends about the recent court case in Oregon. You may be familiar with it: This is the case where the former owners of an Oregon bakery have been ordered to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple who were refused a wedding cake. The large amount was for pain and emotional distress. The bakers had cited their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage in refusing to make the wedding cake for the lesbian couple. The court decision was based on the fact that Oregon law bars businesses from discriminating or refusing service based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot turn away customers because of race, sex, disability, age or religion.

The discussions on Facebook at times has been heated. To many of my devout friends (by that I mean folks who hold strong scriptural Christian views as well as Orthodox Jewish friends), this is a case of the courts impinging on the freedom to practice their religion, or upon their freedom of speech. To many of my more liberal friends, this is a case of Oregon simply enforcing their anti-discrimination laws. The whole recent issue of same-sex marriage has highlighted the tension that exists between these three legal concepts, and Facebook discussions do not easily permit a suitable exploration of the issues. As this issue is swirling in my head, I request your indulgence to do so here.

Lets start by looking at some constitutional amendments:

  • First Amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  • Fourteenth Amendment. Section 1. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Next, there’s the Oregon law:

  •  659A.403 Discrimination in place of public accommodation prohibited. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, all persons within the jurisdiction of this state are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation, without any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age if the individual is 18 years of age or older. [A public accommodation is defined to include “Any place or service offering to the public accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges whether in the nature of goods, services, lodgings, amusements, transportation or otherwise.” but to exclude “An institution, bona fide club or place of accommodation that is in its nature distinctly private”]

Let’s start by exploring whether baking a cake is an exercise of religion. To my interpretation, free exercise of religion is a personal matter. What I wear. What I worship. How I worship. My ability to do that exercise stops at the point where it starts to infringe on someone else’s exercise or beliefs. Same sex marriage is actually a good example of this: Some believe it is not within their religion, others believe that it is. Within my church, I don’t have to do such marriages; I should not be able to prevent those that believe in it from doing it. To do so would be to impinge on their free exercise of religion. In the case of a public business refusing to bake a cake, even with a message on it, that’s impacting someone else. It is not preventing me from going to my church, worshiping my deity. It is trying to impose my view of what is proper, based on my religion, upon someone else. As I’ve said before: My freedom to exercise my religion stops when it impinges on someone else ability to follow their beliefs.

Here’s another way to look at it: In general, my religion should not care what the heathens do; my religion should only care about what I do and what I need to be a good and righteous person/get into [Heaven-concept]. Imposing my religious morality upon the heathen is imposing my religion upon the heathen, and preventing their ability to freely exercise their heathen religions (damned that they may be for doing it). [Unfortunately, the Christian majority in this country far too often wants to do just that to us “heathens” (non-Christians), and the first amendment exists to make it clear that they can’t]

What about freedom of speech? After all, what is on a cake is a message. Perhaps the producer of the cake didn’t want to deliver the message. This would be similar to a private publisher refusing to publish a letter to the editor because they did not want to appear to be condoning the form of speech in the letter. Such refusal is legally allowed — we don’t require all letters to the editor to be published, and permit hateful comments on news articles to be deleted. I think this might be a plausible argument … depending. Whether it really applies in this case depends on information we do not have, such as whether they attempted to order a plain wedding cake with no message, no topper, no decoration indicating it was a same-sex marriage after the original cake with a message was refused (the LA Times article did not say). If they did, then then only “speech” would be their delivering the cake, which could be accommodated by having the cake be picked up by the people that ordered it. The mere presence of a cake, with no attribution, provides no speech on behalf of the baker. Further, even if the cake was baked with a message, if there was no attribution to the bakery, there is no speech by the bakery. Lastly, there is nothing that could have prevented the bakery from requiring a disclaimer to be present on every cake they sell: “Any message on this cake does not represent the views of the owners and management of xxx bakery.” Put it on every cake, and everyone is equal.

Lastly, let’s consider “equal protection of the laws” and the Oregon discrimination law. When is a particular refusal discriminatory? I think a good test would be to substitute “that kind” or “them” — if that is your reason, you’re being discriminatory. For example, “I wouldn’t rent a room to “that kind”” or “I wouldn’t bake a wedding cake for “that kind””. If by “that kind” you are referring to a protected class under the laws of the nation or state, you’re being discriminatory. Just as “I won’t marry them because of their skin color” doesn’t work, “I won’t marry them because of their sexual orientation” doesn’t work. Going to the previous paragraph, if they had refused to allow the couple to pick up a plain cake, that would have been discriminatory. Refusing to pick up a cake with a message depends on attribution; without anything connecting the bakery to the cake, it is likely not freedom of speech and thus discriminatory.

What happened here? According to the LA Times:

When Aaron Klein was told there would be two brides, Rachel and Laurel, he responded that he was sorry, but the bakery did not do wedding cakes for same-sex couples because of his and his wife’s religious convictions, according to the report.

Based on the knowledge at hand, it appears the court made its decision based on the fact that the bakery was a public accommodation, and they did not provide equal privileges based on sexual orientation. We’ve shown that free exercise of religion doesn’t come into play here (as the baker’s decision impinged upon the couple’s exercise). Freedom of speech might have come into play — the article says nothing about the message requested for the cake or how the cake would be presented at the ceremony. For those who believe they should have just gone to another baker: if the issue was simply freedom of speech or freedom of religion, you would be right. If the issue was discrimination, you would be wrong. Consider the analogy of the south in the 1960’s, and a restaurant refusing to serve blacks in defiance of the civil rights laws. The black patron should not be told to just go to another establishment; under the law, they have the ability to use any public establishment of their choice. That is what seems to be the case in Oregon: The law says they can use any public accommodation. If the accommodation does not want to follow the Oregon law, they should either move to a different state or become a distinctly private organization (e.g., only members can order cakes).

Note: This simply goes to the question of whether the action appears to be legal or not. It doesn’t go to the amount of the damages for emotional suffering. Quite often, those amounts are set by the judge or jury to send a message to other groups: is this a slap on the hand (minimal damages) or something to be prevented in the future (major damages). It appears this judge and jury went for the latter. To my point of view it seems excessive, especially in light how how the public reacted to this before the decision:

The bakery’s car was vandalized and broken into twice, he said. Photographers and florists severed ties with the company, eventually forcing the Kleins to close their storefront shop in September 2013.

To me, the vandalism was uncalled for, and should have been taken into account in the damage calculation.

[Update: It appears the damages were the norm, and were partially because the bakery owners indicated they would continue to publicly discriminate against gays.]

[Update 2: It is clear after reading this the damages were justified. The bakers doxxed the couple, subjected them to harrassments and death threats, and almost lost them the foster children they were trying to adopt. They also made clear that the refusal was because they were gay, and they clearly knew they were in defiance of the law.]

Do I think this was the right legal decision? Yes. If you are a public business, you agree to serve the public even if you find it distasteful.† Just as it would be wrong for an innkeeper in Oregon in 2015 to refuse to rent a room to an unmarried couple or to a gay couple (right, they’re just roommates 😉 ), it is wrong for a business in Oregon to refuse to serve gays because they are gays and doing what gays do. A business cannot impose their morality upon their customers. Was it acceptable in the past? Yes, and many forms of discrimination from the past are not acceptable today (such as discriminatory housing practices). Did it force the bakery or the bakery owners to send a message that they approved of gay marriage? Only if any message on the cake was accompanied by information about who produced the cake — and even then the issue could have been sidestepped through a disclaimer. This was discriminatory because there were options and ways for the business to have served the customer without implying they personally approved of the ceremony, and their refusal to serve the public like that makes it clear that it was solely because of their sexual orientation (disclaimer: at least based on the facts as I know them). [† Similarly, it is wrong for a government employee to refuse to take a Federal action because it disagrees with their religious beliefs. When you become a Federal employee, you make an oath to follow Federal laws. If you can no longer abide by that oath, you must resign.]

This case illustrates well the impact on the devout, who are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side they have an unchanging scripture, which they view as the word of God, unerring and eternal. It dictates particular societal norms, and prohibits what is perceived to be abnormal behavior. On the other side they have secular society which has an ever morphing definition of what is normal and acceptable — what was clearly unacceptable 50-60-100 years ago is now acceptable today (be that same-sex marriage, living together, children outside of marriage, interracial marriage, premarital sex, etc). The choices for the devout are not pleasant. They can attempt to find a loophole or interpretation that permits what they view as sinning. It has been done in some cases, but can’t be done in all. They can grouse about how the changes in society are preventing their exercise of their religion and their ability to impose what they view as normal morality on everyone. They would be right, but they would also be forgetting that freedom to exercise your religion has the implication that others have the freedom to exercise their religion and beliefs as well, even though you might not like it, and even though you believe your God will condemn them for their behavior. Lastly, they can isolate themselves into communities of the like minded, where the problematic issues just won’t raise their nasty head unless an interloper in the community forces it (and communities mores and pressure make that unlikely). This has been done before with numerous Orthodox, Amish, and Mennonite communities, and I’m sure there are many devout Christian communities that may do the same thing.

I also recognize that this has many faith communities up in arms. Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, and devout Muslims all see this as a perversion of God’s word. But the key underlying fact is: this is not a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation. It was founded by Deists, and there was no intent that biblical laws would govern. There is no government approved religion; government is secular and reflects the overall morals of society — which change over time. Much as the devout may believe that same-sex marriage will lead to the destruction of the world per God’s word, secular government doesn’t give that word authority. In fact, if someone tried to hold a particular scripture as “the authority” for our laws and decisions, I’d point out that such an action is essentially establishing a religion — it establishes one religion’s scripture and interpretation over another’s. If one wants a particular casting of God’s word to have such authority, a religious state with a state religion must be created. Although some would like that, history has shown that it is not very good for those on the short end of the favored religions. The tension we have in America between the secular and the devout is not perfect, but it is head and shoulders better than other systems. The reality (which is often forgotten) is that the devout will not use same-sex marriage, and the urge to have “God’s word” be “America’s word” is really an agenda to have a state religion with everyone subservient to the same scriptures. The better attitude for the devout is to let same-sex marriage be for the heathens that want to use it; they will get their punishment in the end (per the devout’s beliefs). For the devout communities, there should be no temptation.

Lastly, I’m sure you’re wondering what I think about same-sex marriage. My answer is that I don’t. If they want to recognize a commitment and call it marriage, it has absolutely no impact on my marriage. As for the government dictating it: as long as the government makes a distinction between “married” and “single” in any law or regulation (tax filing, social security benefits, etc.), there needs to be a common definition of what constitutes a marriage across all the states, otherwise confusion reigns. The government’s dictate only applies to government organizations and government officials. No house of worship is required to conduct such ceremonies or recognize the status from non-religious ceremonies (which is what we have now: there are sects within Judaism that won’t recognize marriages performed secularly or by different movements, especially if there was a halachic Jewish marriage before and no halachic Get).


Continuing the Tradition

Songleaders Boot Campuserpic=folk-guitarAs I wrote yesterday, this has been a music weekend, not a theatre weekend. Last night was the concluding concert of the Songleader Bootcamp Regional Conference – Los Angeles (FB) (SLBC) at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB), featuring Rick Recht (FB) and Sheldon Low (FB). It was a truly special night, highlighted by the unexpected — running into my cousin Robin who was part of the SLBC staff.

SLBC is an effort to educate future Jewish songleaders. As we were heading out of the concert, my wife was trying to explain the concept of the Jewish songleader. She thought it dated from Chuck Feldman of Wilshire Blvd Temple. I disagreed. To me, the Jewish songleader is a direct result of the folksinger movement of the late 1950s/early 1960s, which was also the time of the formation of the Jewish camping movement. The 1950s and 1960s was also a time you saw high school students picking up guitars and forming singing groups. This led to the Jewish camps adopting the singing of the emerging folksongs (if I recall the songbook of the Wilshire camps in the 1960s, there was a large number of songs from the folk movements). Other factors flavoring the mix were the emergence of modern Israeli music in the 1950s and 1960s, and the encouragement of folksongs that addressed social justice issues. Put all these factors into a blender, and what emerged was the songleader: a young adult with a guitar leading a Jewish camping community modern Jewish song (and possibly writing them along the way). This moved Jewish music from the traditional cantorial style to the “Rabbis with Guitars”. The seminal emergence here was from Minnesota, which gave us Debby Friedman in the early 1970s; this led to the modern Jewish artists that came out of NFTY, artists such as Rick Recht, Sheldon Low, Beth Schafer, Julie Silver, and many many more.

SLBC is an organized effort to keep this movement alive to the next generation. Musical leaders and Jewish educators spend an intense weekend with regional Jewish teens, focusing on the music and the message. What emerges are teens supercharged to take their guitars (or fiddles or trombones or ukuleles or … whatever) and lead and inspire. From what we saw last night, that’s just what happened.

Songleaders Boot Camp ConcertAs with any concert like this, writing a traditional review is pointless. This was a high-energy songfest, with a mixture of songs led by Rick and Sheldon, and featuring various subsets of SLBC participants and leaders, and encouraging audience participation. It was a camp song session in Northridge, not a sit-in-the-chair-and-listen concert. What songs were sung? Here’s an attempt at a song list, although you must note that many variations of songs have the same name being based on common texts:
(Note: The picture to the right was snarfed from Facebook)

  1. Salaam/ Ki Va Moed
  2. Am Yisraeil Chai
  3. Kobi’s Lullaby
  4. Shalom Aleichem
  5. Halleluyah
  6. One Day
  7. The Rainbow Song
  8. Shehecheyanu
  9. In This Home
  10. The Hope
  11. Hinei Ma Tov

So here are some general observations of the concert:

  • One of the things I did during this show was watch the faces of the participants — and they were just radiating “joy”. I saw this on the faces of Rabbi Lutz and Cantor Roher as they joined in the leadership; I saw it in the faces of the educators; I saw it in the faces of the kids. I wished I could just bottle this joy — this joy from the leadership is what draws people in. As those who have been to Jewish camp say: if every day at a synagogue had the spiritual joy of a day at a camp….
  • The event was remarkable for its inclusiveness. I’m not talking about the fact that there were more than just guitars present. Rather, I’m referring to the point where Rick called up his Chevra. This was clearly a group of special needs participants — and their participation just amplified the joy and energy just mentioned. No particular “look at us for doing this” was called out — it was just another group of normal participants. It was this non-emphasis that created the extra message of inclusiveness that was great to see. The unsaid says so much.
  • As President of MoTAS (the Mens Club at the Synagogue), I found it telling what members were at the concert and what members weren’t. I was heartened to see so many MoTAS folks there, and it demonstrated a divide that wasn’t strictly age — rather, it identified those that were young at heart. These are the leaders that MoTAS needs for the next generation, and I was pleased that so many of them have already been — or are — in leadership positions.
  • The fact that TAS (and Temple Ramat Zion) were the hosts and coordinators for this event says a lot about the congregations and their focus to the community — a message that is a good one and one that must be shared.

At this point, I’d link in a video of the show. Loads of folks were filming. But so far, nothing is up on YouTube. I’ll edit this post if I find something.

Different things draw people to synagogue. Some come to find the ritual they had in their youth. Others come for the spiritual community, the kehilla kedosha. What will make synagogues succeed in the 21st century will be the ability to create that community, and that means figuring out how to bring the camp energy, experience, and spirituality out of the woods (or the California hills) and into the edifices, transforming them. This bootcamp — and the concert we saw resulting from it — is a great way to do so.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Today we head out on vacation — Las Vegas, baby! Two shows are already booked: Menopause the Musical at Harrahs, and Penn & Teller at the Rio. Other shows that are possibilities are either Don Rickles at the Orleans or Jeff Dunham at Planet Hollywood, and Crazy Girls at the Riviera (before the Riveria goes away on May 4th) — the particular show depends on what shows up at Tix4Tonight.  Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB), and may also bring “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB) (I’m just waiting for them to show up on Goldstar). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (note that all Fringe dates are holds; ticketing doesn’t open until 5/1). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.