CYPRESS, CALIFORNIA – Dressing for a flight from the winter-chills of the East Coast to the sunny-frills of the West Coast is always a daunting task – does one wear a fur coat with cotton shorts; or maybe tall boots with short sleeves? – but, I guess the convenience of flying from coast to coast must be kept honest by the inconvenience of dressing for the occasion.
As my JetBlue flight touched down on the runway of the Long Beach airport and I retrieved my handbag from the overhead compartment (of course while heeding the ever-present warning to beware because baggage may have shifted during the flight), I could not help but marvel at the fact that not six hours ago I was more than three thousand miles away, not two hours ago I was more than thirty thousand feet off the ground, and not one minute ago I was sitting near a guy who I have never seen before and who I will probably never see again.
My high-altitude, cross-country journey from cold to warmth was for a Shabbaton weekend with Chabad of Cypress, where, according to the brochure, I was supposed to give “insights from a Jewish journalist.” Well, at least it wasn’t “outsights from a Jewish journeyman.”
In one of the many small shopping strips that adorn The OC, a sign reading JewishCypress.com welcomes you to Chabad of Cypress’s storefront headquarters – and, as my weekend here has taught me, big things come in small shopping strips.
Rabbi Shmuel Marcus and his wife Bluma run Chabad of Cypress. Shmuly, who is the lead singer of the alternative bluesy rock (rocky blues?) band, 8th Day (myspace.com/sm8thday), and the author of Chicken Kiev, creates Jewish programming that is almost as alternative as the lyrics he croons: on any given night, his shopping strip Chabad House has the ability of transforming into a movie theater, complete with a twelve-foot dropdown screen and Dolby surround-sound that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention; a Kosher pickle factory, complete with buckets full of sour inducing chemicals; and, on Sundays, Hebrew High, complete with forty rowdy-yet-smiling teenagers. Not to mention the usual minyonim, kiddushim and classes.
Friday night, some fifty people came together at JewsihCypress.com for Shabbat dinner. Bluma cooked a five-course meal for fifty with the ease of someone making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and with the taste of a Jean-Georges Vongerichten concoction. If I were a three-hundred-pound Italian with a drooping mustache, I would kiss my fingertips and, with a glint in my eye, exclaim, Bellissimo!
The dinner was a beautiful thing to see, Jews from all different backgrounds, speaking different languages, coming together for a common purpose, Shabbat. Shmuly, with his glib and sincere tongue, kept the crowd on its toes while the food and drink kept on flowing.
Yours truly, who, as I said, was invited to give insights from a Jewish journalist, spoke of the evolvement of The Algemeiner Journal, and how the term, “Jewish journalist” is a bit of an oxymoron, for Judaism demands perfection of the soul and journalism in today’s age often calls for the manipulation of facts in the bodily disguise of an op-ed or news piece.
The joke I used to illustrate this point – that all too many journalists have an agenda – went as follows:
Three journalists were picnicking near the Potomac. Suddenly, they see a familiar figure crossing the river on foot.
The next day, there are three screaming headlines, submitted by the three picnicking journalists.
The first, a more straight-shooting paper, reports: “President Bush crosses the Potomac River.”
The second, a more right-wing paper, exclaims: “Bush's conservative approach saves taxpayers a boat.”
The third, a more liberal, left-wing paper, shouts: “Bush can't swim.”
My point was, that we all have these two aspects in our lives, the “inner journalist” that would do anything to get a scoop, and the “inner Jew” that would do anything to make the world a better place, and our challenge is to combine the two so that they can feed off each other.
The highlight in a weekend full of highlights (I guess I should say, “highest-light”), was the Saturday night Kabbalah Café. The lights were dimmed, the candles were lit, and the mood was set.
I opened with a few Chassidic stories and then the main attraction, an Israeli violinist, stepped into the spotlight. He made his fiddle cry and laugh with songs ranging from Yiddish to Ladino, Israeli to Chassidic. Once again, the Chabad House showed its transformation-ability, this time into an unassuming, soul-oriented café, where even people who are afraid of Shabbat dinner can feel comfortable.
Sunday was Hebrew High day. More than anything, I think this was the most powerful moment of the weekend, seeing young 16-17 year olds take their day off, Sunday, to learn Judaic studies. These teenagers are the future and the Hebrew High makes sure they are in good hands. I sat down with a few of them and was amazed how proud and excited they were about Judaism. “Shmuly and his wife are some of the coolest people I know,” one teenager told me. And, if a teenager can see a Rabbi as “cool” then I think Judaism is in some pretty cool shape.
Now, as I sit in the Long Beach airport, once again faced by the how-to-dress-for-the-west-coast-east-coast-journey dilemma, I look around at my favorite airport and realize that the airport is a reflection of Jewish Cypress: relatively small, unbelievably convenient, very unassuming, not that much baggage, wireless capability, and smiling people. But, most of all, I think it’s the cool atmosphere in the presence of the burning sun that most reminds me of Jewish Cypress.
You can reach the author at email@example.com
Or check out his blog jakyology.blogspot.com