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Jewish Journal

Beit LosCon greets Shabbat, geek style

by Adam Wills

November 22, 2007 | 7:00 pm

Even if you've never been to a sci-fi convention, you could probably guess what you'd encounter. And likely you wouldn't be too far off.

Fanboys and fangirls turn up at a 'con' to learn behind-the-scenes details of favorite franchises, and many come dressed in character, sporting costumes like Natalie Portman's slinky white cat suit from "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones." Panel discussions of speculative fiction trends give way to concerts of folk music with sci-fi or fantasy themes known as filk.

But even at a gathering where it's wise to expect the unexpected, Jewish sci-fi fans might be a little shocked to see a minyan listed on the schedule.

The annual weekend-long L.A. sci-fi convention, known as LosCon, which invades the LAX Marriott Nov. 23-25, has regularly featured religious services during its 32-year history, including a Catholic Mass and a pagan circle. But starting in 2006, Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services were added to the con's list of events.

Judaism popping up at LosCon is not a total surprise. Like politics and accounting, Jews are disproportionately represented in the world of science fiction. Writers like Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, David Brin, William Tenn and Michael A. Burstein have brought Jewish voices to a genre that took off in the 1930s. Jews are well represented in the fandom community, and Marcia Minsky is certainly one of them.

The Camarillo retiree first organized the minyan for LosCon 33 and will return Thanksgiving weekend for LosCon 34 to serve as lay leader for the geekiest congregation in Los Angeles -- Beit LosCon.

Minsky doesn't have a smicha (rabbinical ordination). Nevertheless, she's dubbed herself the "Rabbi of the Con."

"If you're going to run services, you have to have some kind of a title," Minsky said.

The services are based on Conservative liturgy to ensure that a wide spectrum of Jews, from nonpracticing to Orthodox, can feel comfortable. "I'm trying to make it egalitarian," she said.

The inaugural services at LosCon 33 attracted about two-dozen people from the 1,000 LosCon attendees, and Minsky expects a similar or larger turnout this year.

When she isn't busy telling everyone what page number to turn to in the siddur, Minsky serves as president of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society (LASFS), the oldest continually meeting sci-fi fan organization club in the world. LosCon is the group's annual event.

Founded in 1934 by such luminaries as Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen, LASFS' membership numbers 3,000. This reporter recently joined the North Hollywood-based club, and the membership figure is probably somewhat inflated, considering its slogan: "Death does not release you."

Minsky, 62, has been a LASFS member for more than 20 years, and she's drawn to the club's literary leanings.

A lifelong science-fiction fan, her interest in the genre piqued when she was 9, "when reading was really reading," she said. "I would pick up a book, and it wouldn't matter if it was geared to a younger person, a teenager or an adult."

Judaism also has played an important role in her life. An L.A. native, Minsky grew up Conservadox, attending services at Van Nuys' Temple Ner Tamid, which merged with Maarav Temple to become Tarzana's Temple Ner Maarav. She says her faith brought her serenity when she spent a year saying Kaddish for her husband.

Minsky has participated in minyans at other cons, and she says the services help her feel that the week is complete: "When I'm in services, whether at the con or the larger world, I just wrap myself into my Judaism, and I can block out everything else."

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