For much of his life, Lawrence Mudgett didn't need Judaism. He had football. But when the 6-foot-6, 250-pound sophomore was declared ineligible for the NCAA at the beginning of the school year, he began searching for another niche.
As a participant on Birthright Israel's 2002-2003 winter programs, Mudgett found what he was looking for.
"Going to Israel changed me. It's opened up so many doors," said the UCSB sophomore. "Just being part of the Jewish community and being involved in Hillel helps fill the void of not being on a team and not having that camaraderie."
After the candles were lit, the wine blessed and the bread broken, Jimmy Gamliel and Yosi Levy, standing on a small stage in front of patrons at Tempo Restaurant in Encino, broke into traditional Shabbat songs from Israel. The crowd, nearly 110 strong, sang and clapped along with the band. Some mothers stood, holding their children, and swayed to the music. Other patrons, moved either by memories or the melodies, joined Gamliel and Levy onstage to dance.