I flew to LA and stayed with my old friends Carl and Tove, friends from when we lived in LA 30 years ago. They took me in on short notice, made me feel at home, and invited other old friends to Shabbos dinner. I revisited the University of Judaism, but not too many folks were around since it was between semesters. Friday night I went to the Neshama minyan (with lots of Carlebach melodies) at Beth Am, and Saturday morning to a creative congregation, Ikar, at the Westside JCC. It meets alternating Friday nights and Saturday morning with a different format each week. It is led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, someone I have known mostly by reputation for many years. The services are energetic and creative, and the community is committed to social justice in the greater world. Since it was Martin Luther King weekend, Daniel Sokatch led us in “torah study,” a close reading of the complete “I have a dream” speech. The only shortcoming was that it was kind of cold for LA, even in January. The temperature went down into the mid-30s at night, and outside the city a lot of crops froze.
On Sunday, Jan. 14, I went down to Redondo Beach for the conference of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains. This was the reason I went to LA. It is a special group because rabbis and others from all backgrounds, from “black hat” Orthodox on one hand to Reform, Reconstructionist, and Renewal on the other, work together and treat each other as respected colleagues. In the beginning it seemed like this required walking on egg shells, but now it feels pretty natural.
On the first day I led a workshop on pastoral care for people whose spiritual values are not rooted in any religious tradition. What is a broader definition of “spiritual care?” I told two stories of hospice patients I had known, one of whom was a left-wing activist, probably a Communist (or at least communist), and the other whose life centered around folk music, especially Celtic. The discussion was spirited and useful for many of those who attended. I also led the egalitarian minyan on Tuesday morning, integrating many traditional and innovative modes. Both went well and got lots of good feedback.
For the last four years I have served on the national board of the NAJC. It has been rewarding and worth doing, but I was ready to step down. At the dinner on Tuesday when we made the official transition I was truly able to say, “Free at last, free at last!” On Wednesday, after exploring the fairly new LA light rail system, I flew back to NYC, flying Jet Blue from Long Beach. P told me it was a small airport, but I didn’t realize how intimate. It made me think of a small airport from the ‘50s or ‘60s.