RABBI AMICHAI LAU-LAVIE (Founding Director and Leader, Lab/Shul): Lab/Shul is an experimental arena for how we reimagine spirituality in the 21st century, for Jews and all those who are with them who are not necessarily Jewish. We are everybody-friendly, which means everybody is invited to be part of the community. And we are God-optional, which means we do not take for granted that people have faith.
We meet in wineries and in theatres, in galleries and studios. We want to go all over the city and see where people are and meet them where they’re at, as opposed to them coming to us.
So we’re doing what every Jewish generation has done. We’re reinventing ourselves to speak to today’s needs. And it’s a process of give and take. We’re keeping some things; we’re retranslating some things. So we are igniting our lives as humans, using the Jewish toolbox to make what we inherited work for today.
Rabbi Amichai: “All right, Go Boot Camp!”
We thought of doing a boot camp because boot camp is a way to just really take this seriously, so that it’s not just about rote, auto-pilot, mumble prayers, show up. It’s a much deeper, mystical, spiritual, personal process, and we want to wake people up to that.
People are invited to come think about life-coaching skills, to be more present with their dreams, to learn about the shofar and, what is this primal sound that we are hearing and try really play with it.
We’re here to look at foods, from honey to beets, and how the gastro-Judaic is part of how we connect to our better selves and a whole bunch of other ways to “boot camp” ourselves into more consciousness at this time of year.
So, in Hebrew, the word teshuvah defines this period.
"Return again …”
Teshuvah is the Hebrew for both “return,” like return again to the same place, but also “reply,” as in an answer to your question. The mystics say the question is the existential question…Ayeka? Where are you? That is what the Divine asks Adam and Eve in the garden—Where are you? Are you accountable? Are you present? Are you living the life you were meant to live? So that's the question. And the answer is, the teshuvah, say “Okay, yes, oh my God, I’ve woken up.” I spent a whole year on auto-pilot. Who am I? Am I living up to my virtues? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? My addictions, my failings, my rages, my late-night e-mails, whatever I’m doing that’s not keeping me happy…okay, how do I get back on track? So teshuvah is the annual process of saying second chances are possible.
“Return to the land of your soul…”
It’s about a month of taking time to say “I’m sorry” to myself, to others. Who am I fighting? Who am I not talking with? What debts do I have? What do I really want to reflect on to start a year with intentionality?
“Forgive me … is all that you can say …”
There’s a Talmudic saying: “Repent the day before you die; do teshuvah the day before you die.” And, of course, the paradox is you don’t know when you are going to die. Exactly. So do your work today.
"Human being, rise, rise … Alai …”
It is an invitation for introspection, for honesty, for reconnection. And that is the response to the question, “Where are you?” Hineni. Here I am.