Opinion: A hub is born

Meirav Finley believes that she “complements” her husband, Rabbi Mordecai Finley, leader of the independent Ohr HaTorah synagogue in West Los Angeles. In her view, the rabbi is the deep, spiritual, brilliant teacher and synagogue leader, while she is the creative and practical partner who helps implement and promote his vision.

Well, I have to tell you that after spending time with both of them, I see it another way. In my view, they don’t so much complement as mirror each other.

The rabbi, for example, is known for his intensely spiritual teachings. You might think this means “escaping” to a higher spiritual plane, but it’s actually the opposite. His spirituality is as grounded as the work of the carpenters, electricians and landscapers who are currently renovating the grounds of his synagogue.

He will say things like “every human flaw is an expression of an inner wound” and then quote Chasidic masters to expand on the idea. But just when you think he’s about to float off into mystical land, he brings you back with a question like, “When you are resentful that life is so unfair, what is that really about?”

He then explains that your resentment is the klippah that covers up your holiness, which is expressed in your yearning for fairness. So, like a carpenter, you must carefully “break” the klippah of resentment before you can tap into your own holiness and rewire yourself for a “life of truth.”

Just as the rabbi likes to go deep before going “practical,” his wife does the same. For example, Meirav had to internalize the deep alienation many Jews feel toward their religion before coming up with the idea of transforming their synagogue into “The Hub on Venice.”

This evolution is the result of many years of observation and reflection as she and her husband have built Ohr HaTorah into a community of more than 250 families. Meirav, an Israeli of French-Yemenite descent who majored in English literature and is a trained classical pianist, comes from a solidly traditional background. Yet she is savvy and “spiritual” enough to understand that she had to break the klippah of communal habit in order to unleash more holiness into the world.

The Hub on Venice is the physical expression of this breaking of the klippah.

Meirav saw that most synagogues today are “empty 90 percent of the time” because they’re stuck with their habit of being primarily houses of worship. But if Judaism is indeed a roadmap to a better life that nourishes mind, body and soul, and has something for everybody, shouldn’t a “house of Judaism” be more than just a synagogue? And shouldn’t it be mostly busy rather than mostly empty?

The Hub on Venice aims to be just that, a busy gathering place that caters to different interests and crowds, such as the literary and culinary crowd (Sophos Café, a restaurant and music-poetry lounge); the spiritual and personal growth crowd (Institute for Spiritual Formation and Moral Psychology); Jewish families with young children (Early Childhood Center); unaffiliated Jews who can sample an array of classes and Jewish activities (Beach Communities Jewish Center); and even non-Jewish families from the neighborhood who might be interested in things like homework clubs, music, art and fitness classes or volunteer work (Venice Boulevard Community Center).

Of course, the heart of The Hub continues to be the “progressive yet traditional” Ohr HaTorah synagogue, with its full program of Torah and liturgy classes by Rabbi Finley, as well as prayer services that Meirav orchestrates with an innovative blend of musical traditions.

Will this ambitious Hub concept take off? You can judge for yourself on April 22, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., when The Hub on Venice will host its community open house at its location on the corner of Venice Boulevard and Barrington Avenue.

It’s clear that it took an enormous amount of effort and diligence to get this far. Getting financial support for big new ideas is not always easy. Last summer, Meirav took her Hub concept to community donor groups, but with little success. In the end, the initial funding has come from Ohr HaTorah’s own base of supporters, which include a few Hollywood players who are devoted followers of the Finleys.

I can see why the Finleys have attracted devoted followers. For one thing, they have no patience for things that don’t work. The rabbi’s teachings, which often delve into psychology, are unapologetic in trying to improve people’s lives and attitudes. “Just because you’ve been hurt doesn’t mean you’ve been wronged” is a classic example of his no-nonsense approach.

Meirav’s approach is also deep and rigorous, but these days, she’s so task-oriented that her motto might be, “Just because I’ve been wronged doesn’t mean I’ll get hurt.”

So, maybe she’s right — in many ways, they do complement each other.

But if they do, it’s not in the sense that one helps to fulfill the vision of the other. This vision of a community Hub is one that has been nourished equally by both of them — by Mordecai’s probing intellect and rigorous spirituality and Meirav’s ability to observe, imagine and make things happen. 

Groundbreaking concepts that merge different ideas into a singular vision can’t happen overnight. Maybe it took all this time for the Finleys to arrive at The Hub because they needed their own individual gifts to merge and become one.

The Hub, then, is not just an idea whose time has come. It’s also a partnership that has blossomed.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.