On Friday, August 29, Cantor Craig Taubman hosted his fourth annual Shabbat at the Ford, which took place at the historic Ford Amphitheater. The open-air venue was the perfect setting for such an event. “It’s the summer for gosh sakes,” remarked Taubman, and it sure felt like it, with sweltering temperatures reaching the 90s by mid-day.
At 6 pm, the event kickstarted in the theater’s courtyard with a picnic-style BYOK (Bring Your Own Kiddush). Families and friends shared makeshift Shabbat meals served in tupperware containers while they sipped two buck chuck from plastic cups. The overall mood was easy and relaxed as klezmer-revivalist band Mostly Kosher serenaded the crowd.
Mostly Kosher performs in the courtyard, frontman Leeav Sofer, age 23, on the clarinet (photo credit: Tess Cutler)
Meanwhile, event sponsors passed out challah samples, brochures and spice bags to attendees from their respective booths.
An especially inventive booth featured Shalom Institute’s smoothie machine, a blender powered by a stationary bicycle. “It’s all part of environmental education,” said Marsha Rothpan, Family Program Director for The Shalom Institute, as she cycled on the bike and powered the blender. “I also like to ride bikes!” she smiled, maintaining an impressive pedal torque without breaking a sweat.
Shalom Institute's Marsha Rothpan operates the pedal-powered blender with gusto (photo credit: Tess Cutler)
Among the concert goers, Rachel Kennison and her son Dustin Morris, age 14, picniced with Kathy Leader and her son Nick Leader, 15. Congregants of the Reform Leo Baeck Temple, Kennison and Leader sprawled a blanket on the steps leading up to the amphitheater, displaying a decadent spread of wine and s’more cupcakes topped with “Leo Baeck Temple” logos printed on sugar buttons (made possible by Randy Fett, president of Baeck Temple). “Our amazing president thinks about things like this,” said Kennison as she pulled apart a cupcake and marshmallow filling oozed out. They, along with 75 other congregants from their temple, came to support Rabbi Ken Chasen.
From left to right: Rachel Kennison, Dustin Morris, Nick Leader, and Kathy Leader (photo credit: Ryan Torok)
Around 7:30 PM, people started flocking to the theater with ticket stubs in hand. By 8 PM, the service was full throttle. The shabbat service, a two-hour long concert, featured an eclectic lineup of performers, ranging from the LIFE choir, a 20+ gospel ensemble fronted by H.B. Barnum, to Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz, who played a gig in Mississippi just the night before. Finalist of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest, Israeli singer Shany Zamir also took the stage, sporting her signature blonde tresses and a floor-length white gown.
Shany Zamir blends pop and tradition in her performance (photo credit: Ryan Torok)
At the halfway mark, Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Feinstein delivered a heart-wrenching sermon about real-life angels, and specifically about his own angel, an African-American nurse named Charles who sat at Feinstein’s bedside for ten nights while he was admitted in intensive care. “Tonight we celebrate angels- because it’s been a terrible summer,” said Feinstein, as he listed genocides, wars, and outbreaks that have plagued the news for the past three months. “Let’s go be an angel,” he finished.
Shabbat at the Ford was made possible by a grant awarded to the Pico Union Project, Taubman’s multicultural initiative, by the Jewish Community Foundation. Partners of the Project, including trilingual Pastor Abraham Chung (who speaks Korean, English and Hebrew) and Pastor Omar Perich, participated in the services.
Pastor Perich took a moment to introduce members of Victory Outreach, a church comprised of rehabilitated gang-members and drug addicts. A congregant of Victory Outreach, this was Ray Morales’ first time at a Shabbat service. Born and raised in east LA, he was in and out of prison for most his life, until he found Victory Church two and a half years ago. “It’s a different culture,” Morales said of the evening, “but it’s cool that everyone came together.” Also a member of Victory Outreach, Sonny Santiago, age 23, said this was his second time attending a Shabbat service, “I love the music, I love the culture of it, I love how everybody comes together. It’s beautiful.”
The stage was a sight for sore eyes, as red, yellow and blue lights saturated the stage, and back-up singers, guitarists, pastors, rabbis, cantors, spoken word artists, a choir, dance troupe, sign language interpreter, and an array of musicians all contributed to a patchwork ensemble of mixed races and faiths. Taubman, with his silver hair, crisp white button-down and black slacks, led the service masterfully with a guitar in hand.
Pico Union Project has a motto, to love your neighbor as yourself. Up in the Hollywood Hills, cradled in a nest of palm trees, the amphitheater overlooked the Los Angeles cityscape. This event captured the real essence of what Shabbat actually means. Echoed by all the people participating, it’s about coming together, Jew and non-Jew alike, and clinking plastic kiddush cups.