April 19, 2019

It’s Friday Night Live!

It’s back!

The Ted and Hedy Orden and Family Friday Night Live (FNL) has returned to Sinai Temple in Westwood — with new leadership and a revamped focus — after 16 influential years under the stewardship of Rabbi David Wolpe and singer-songwriter Craig Taubman.

About 350 people dressed to the nines attended a Thanksgiving-themed evening on Nov 14. It was the second FNL since the program took a summer hiatus to retool and since Wolpe and Taubman stepped down from their front-men positions with the legendary, high-energy services.

Now the services are officiated by a pack of fresh-faced leaders from Sinai, including Rabbi Jason Fruithandler, Rabbi Nicole Guzik and husband Rabbi Erez Sherman, Cantor Marcus Feldman and Millennial Director Matt Baram. 

“There are a lot of cooks in this kitchen, and, for the most part, it’s been very beneficial,” Fruithandler said.

Guzik said the months-long break was productive and involved informal focus groups, allowing FNL organizers to get input from their targeted demographic on how to concoct the perfect service.

“Our hiatus was spent going on coffee dates, lunch dates, meetings with young professionals in Los Angeles,” she explained. 

Guzik said that while the service is still open to any age, most efforts are being directed toward the millennial population. That’s where Atid, Sinai’s young professionals group, and Baram come play.

“Millennials want to be in a service where they see [people like] themselves,” Guzik said. 

At 33, she’s one of the oldest people on the bimah for FNL, which has coined a slogan to sum up the services: “For millennials, by millennials, about millennials.”

The recent FNL service kicked off at 7 p.m. with a wine and candy mixer on the Conservative synagogue’s Wilshire patio, followed by services an hour later in Ziegler Hall, a smaller, more intimate space compared to the main sanctuary, where FNL was previously held.

FNL 2.0 retained some of its predecessor’s traits, such as condensed services (ranging from 45 minutes to an hour) and a major emphasis on music (now led by Sherman and Feldman). As always, services are held on the second Friday of every month. 

Also being preserved is what Fruithandler dubs a “respectful irreverence.” 

“It’s not a disrespect of tradition, but it’s a willingness to play with it,” he said.

What these new FNL services are really pushing are after-service dinners. For November, the theme was Thanksgiving, and 150 young professionals wined and dined as robust chandeliers sparkled overhead. 

“We had never done a Shabbat dinner to this extent,” Guzik said.

Pumpkins and gourds served as centerpieces for round gala-style tables. Waiters walked around with platters full of peartini and appletini cocktails, as well as pumpkin ravioli and za’taar lavash crisps. A buffet-style dinner offered glatt kosher Thanksgiving staples: carved turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Dessert was a pumpkin-spiced mousse tiramisu.

“I believe if you love what you’re doing, you never have to work a day in your life,” Feldman said, smiling, while filling his plate with turkey and stuffing after the hourlong service. 

Earlier that night, during the sermon, Fruithandler and Guzik took the stage. The sermon started with a question, which Fruithandler posed to Guzik. Referencing the Torah portion, he said God picked Abraham, “but never once does it tell us what’s so great about Abraham. Why was he chosen?”

Guzik responded with sage-like erudition, quoting Rabbi Samson Hirsch and Maimonides. 

“If I want to make it my own, what I want to hear is not a 19th-century German rabbi, is not a 12th-century Egyptian/Israeli/Spanish rabbi,” Fruithandler said. “Rabbi Guzik, Nicole, neighbor, I want to know what you think.” 

And that’s what the new FNL is all about. The space is smaller, more quaint and less formal. Hearing the sermon is like listening to two friends speak. 

As Guzik said, “We want it to be a more intimate space, a more communal space.”