From CicLAvia to Cedars Sinai: In sorrow and joy

To the woman who confronted me last Sunday at the Celebrate Israel Festival, ranting that airplane vapor trails are actually toxic secret government gasses:  You complain that journalists don’t take you seriously. They might, if you didn’t walk around wearing large posters of airplane vapor trails.

To the man who attacked me for not being outraged that some festival vendors weren’t kosher: My lack of outrage wasn’t because, as you said, I “don’t really care about Judaism.” I just pointed out that there were plenty of kosher options for people who wanted them.

To the woman who yelled at me about the Palestinians: For the millionth time, just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean I’m anti-Israel. I’m not even anti-you. Yet.

Ah, community.

Sunday, April 21, reminded us that you can’t live without your community, even if, sometimes, you wish you could.

In the morning, just a block from my house, the CicLAvia ride closed down Venice Boulevard from downtown to the beach. The massive sea of bicyclists — an estimated 150,000 people took part — proves that CicLAvia is a genius idea that taps into a deep Los Angeles yearning for connection. 

But it was also just so … crowded. The jam-up made me wonder two things: Isn’t there a way to create serious, substantial bike lanes (and bike shares) around Los Angeles all year round, so we can spread the enthusiasm out a bit? And: Can’t they close down Venice Boulevard just for me?

I’d planned my Sunday to go to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, on the USC campus, and then to Rancho Park, site of this year’s Celebrate Israel Festival, and then to Cedars-Sinai, where I was moderating a panel discussion on “Healing and Spirituality.” Having a traffic-free Venice Boulevard all to myself would have been like having my own heliport.

But I managed (passing on the Festival of Books, as I’d gone there the day before). At the Celebrate Israel Festival, I noticed attendance was down from last year. Maybe because of lingering fears over the Boston Marathon bombing, was one theory. Maybe because there were so many other things going on that day: CicLAvia, the Long Beach Grand Prix, the Festival of Books, the Lakers game. Maybe because the whole festival needs to be reinvented.

Whatever the reasons, it’s too bad more people didn’t show up. Once a year, it’s a good idea to bring together in one place as much as possible of our vast, unruly, cantankerous, diverse and colorful L.A. Zion, if only so each one of us can reconfirm that our particular synagogue, or political viewpoint, or level of observance, is the best — and that all those other Jews are probably nuts. 

The Israeli music blares, and, yes, there are all the types: men dripping gold chains down their chests, women in Chanel screaming Farsi into cell phones, Chasidic families all in black, earnest middle-aged women pushing brochures about eternal Jerusalem and Latino Jewish men strutting about with this sticker on their lapels: “I Tied My Tefillin Today.” It’s easy to think, “Who are these people? And — what does all this have to do with me?”

I stayed for a couple of hours at the Jewish Journal booth. The man who each year complains that we don’t print all his letters came by to complain that we don’t print all his letters. Another man said he looked for me at the Jewish Journal booth at the L.A. Times Book Festival, but I wasn’t there. “I’m glad you’re here!” he said — then proceeded to attack me over our story exposing a kosher meat scandal. That someone would drive 40 minutes to insult me felt like a compliment. 

Sure, most people who came by thanked us for putting out the Journal. So why is it that the complaints are what stick?

I let them linger on my thick skin as I drove to Cedars-Sinai to lead a panel discussion as part of the “Wisdom and Wellness” week of learning sponsored by the hospital and the Kalsman Institute at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. There was an overflow crowd in Cedars’ Harvey Morse Auditorium, come to hear Rabbis Ed Feinstein, Abner Weiss, Naomi Levy and Laura Geller discuss the Jewish path to healing.

The entire discussion is online — you can find the link at — and well worth listening to.  You’ll find the rabbis made one point over and over, in different ways: Healing so often begins with, and depends upon, community.

We mustn’t face illness alone; we need to be there for one another. Knowing others care — just bringing a roasted chicken to their door, in Rabbi Feinstein’s memorable example — is a way of showing that they matter, that their life matters.

Yes, it was a long, tiring, fulfilling, exasperating, funny and teary day.  In other words, a day in community. We might fantasize about having Venice Boulevard all to ourselves, but would that really make us happy?

“Here lies the very essence of our way of life,” Elie Weisel once wrote. “Every person must share in the life of others, and not leave them to themselves, either in sorrow or in joy.”

Click here for more on the Celebrate Israel Festival