Eight events, three days, one love: it’s Tu b’Av


On the evening of July 30, 25 young professionals ran to the ocean at Dockweiler Beach and howled at the moon.

With a bonfire serving as their communal light source, they played a riveting game of “Never Have I Ever” while indulging in artisanal s’mores. Rabbi Lori Shapiro, spiritual leader of Open Temple, a progressive community in Venice of what she calls “peripheral Jews,” offered a sermon titled “From Temple to Tantra” (you can only imagine). 

Meanwhile, a night hike was taking place at Griffith Park and a garden cocktail party in Pico-Robertson. 

All of this was the perfect beginning for Love Fest 2015, a three-day celebration of Tu b’Av, the holiday of romance (also known as the Jewish Valentine’s Day). In past years, Love Fest was limited to one all-encompassing event, but this year, participating organizations (which include The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, ATID, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, NuRoots, Moishe House, East Side Jews and others) decided to break up the festivities and scatter them across the city. Over the span of the weekend, eight events stretched across the vast Los Angeles cityscape — from Venice to the San Fernando Valley.

The next day, three more events were held (two Shabbat potlucks and one sit-down dinner). 

Eight people attended an intimate dinner at The Six, a farm-to-table gastropub in Studio City. “We’re all about micro-community building,” said Marisa Kaplan, director of NuRoots Community Fellowship, adding that its community is built only by word of mouth. “We don’t have newsletters,” she said.

“Happy Friday, Shabbat Shalom!” Kaplan, 33, announced to the attendees. The Six proved the perfect setting, with lights spiraling down columns like ivy and sparkling behind the guests as they spoke to one another, an environment very conducive to the love-lust specter of Tu b’Av.

“I like these things because this is how you meet new people,” said Mara Weingarten, a 33-year-old nurse. Weingarten said this was her first time celebrating Tu b’Av. She lives in Sherman Oaks and attends NuRoots Valley events, which allow her to mingle with other young Jews in the Valley.

Among all the event’s attendees, none were active temple members (although Weingarten mentioned she attends Stephen Wise Temple during High Holy Days). For them, this was their Judaic outlet, a way to connect with fellow members of their tribe. A blessing over the challah before dinner (a three-course meal of salad, roasted brussel sprouts, risotto and pizza) sprinkled some tradition into the evening. 

North Hollywood resident Andrew Berezin, 28, dipped a torn-off wedge of challah into a mound of salt after reciting the blessing. “I didn’t know this was Tu b’Av until today,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t read the invitation carefully?” 

Berezin is a software engineer originally from Ukraine, who said he was looking for a way to spend Shabbat that felt more like family and less like ritual. “Being a Jew in Ukraine was tough,” he said, but after living in Los Angeles for the past six months, he’s now looking for a way to fill that void in his life, which is how he came across NuRoots. 

During the final day of festivities the following afternoon, Open Temple again hosted an event on the Love Fest lineup, a “How to Tell Your Love Story” instructional for young families that took place at Electric Lodge, a community space located just off of Abbot Kinney Boulevard. 

Open Temple is all about what Shapiro calls “disruptive ritual,” a break from tradition. During the storytelling event, Shapiro’s 2-year-old daughter, wearing a UCLA Bruins cheerleading outfit, was playing peek-a-boo behind curtains and having a rollicking good time. 

“V’ahavta is the love story that God has for the Israelites,” Shapiro said, alluding to the prayer recited during the Shema, and this day was dedicated to parents’ V’ahavta with their kids. 

“How do we tell our own love stories to our children?” Shapiro, 44, asked a room full of parents. Four tables were stocked with arts and crafts materials consisting of markers, glue sticks, construction paper, stickers and stamps, as parents and their children scrapbooked their stories together. 

Dana Resnick, 36, was scrapbooking the story of how her 1-year-old daughter, Avalon, came to be. It started with Resnick, a professor at Loyola Marymount, meeting her husband, followed by a cross-country road trip they took together, and ending with a baby girl: Avalon Simone Resnick. 

“She’s light, she’s just awesome,” Resnick said of her pony-tailed little girl.