Jewish Willow Creek Church…but sweeter?

As a renter in some of America’s best neighborhoods, currently in Santa Monica, California, I’ve had some interesting experiences. Not far from the 90210, I had another interesting experience tonight. Actually it started when for some reason Facebook targeted me with an ad to celebrate the sabbath, (“shabbat” in the Bible) at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, not far from UCLA and Westood. It was billed as “Friday Night Lights” which sounded cool. Free event with a suggested donation of a toy. My social options were a party farther east with a friend in West Hollywood or go solo and check out this “FNL” shabbat. What the heck I decided to check it out.

As I arrived security was tighter than LAX with a vehicle search and a pat down upon entry. What a crazy world. Once inside the building is really nice. I brought a toy to donate but oddly nobody seemed to know where to put it and as I looked around I didn’t see anybody else with a toy. Fortunately some lady took the donation and seemed like she knew what to do. The service itself was quite user friendly for someone like me who had never been to a conservative synagogue. In the sanctuary, the room shape was not uniform but the pew style seating was like an old school church yet they innovated with theater like individual seats in the pews. I haven’t seen that before. The band reminded me of services like at non denominational churches, inviting and warm but with much more crowd interaction, back and forth singing, which is very Jewish. The service had frequent sit/stand/sit/stand rythyms more akin to traditional churches. The only awkward moment for me occurred because I opted to sit in the back row of the pews and during the service there is a time when everyone is asked to turn around and face the backdoor as we “observe” the arrival of the sabbath queen/bride. It was awkward for me because it felt like hundreds of people were waiting for me to know when to turn back around from facing the “queen”, so after what seemed like an eternity, and a few of my head turns wondering when people had seen the arrival of the sabbath, we the crowd, agreed enough ritual time had passed and we could turn back to our normal positions. Finally! The service really started and the entire event was really nice. Songs, a few words, silent and group prayers and when you leave they give you candy! I enjoyed the laffy taffy. A sweet touch.

After the service, I noticed there are even a few flat screens w/ Jewish related news streaming. This use of technology reminded me of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, which is also rather innovative – for better or worse. Also, I did notice a lot security cameras as well. Anyways, turns out there was also a post service “lounge” event so I decided to check it out. This is where it diverged from anything I’ve ever seen at Willow Creek or any sanctioned church event. In the gym, it was setup like a high school dance, rock band included, and they had a nice food spread, and booze! I like it. I listened to a few songs which were nice but I was surprised by some profanity. The profanity didn’t surprise me, just the use of it in a place of worship – although technically it was in the gym. Anyways, I had a few cocktails and then went home.

Overall, it seemed like a rather seeker friendly event although I didn’t find people as friendly as you do at church but maybe next time. As I was leaving I did observe many security personnel. How sad if all the security is really needed! Other than that it was a sweet experience.

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