The Final 5 Words from the “Toracle”

Dear Friends,

Today is the official post High Holy Day season. It’s been a packed two months of prepping and praying, blogging and singing; conversations about silence and activism, love and re:love, our role in public and private racism, and what it means to have the chance to restart our lives, again, for good. Thank you all for showing up, for sharing feedback, for generously loving and supporting us in so many ways. Our survey and pledge lines are still open…

This past Sunday we held our annual Unscrolled event, wrapping up the season by coming full circle, letting the old Torah Scroll give us new insights into what we may want to remember in the year ahead. 

We got five words, randomly chosen from the wide open scroll, and I want to share this “oracular” gift with the rest of the community: 

Love, Truth, Other, Good, One.

It really is quite profound when you stop to put these five together. Here’s how it came about: 

We unscrolled the sacred scroll and stood in a big circle – about 75 of us, all ages, old and new Lab/Shul friends, gathered at the Manny Cantor Center in the Lower East Side. I went around the scroll-circle and, using a lulav, picked at random a single word/verse from each of the five books.

In Genesis 34:3 we found the tale of Dina, Jacob’s daughter, whose love affair or possible rape with a local boy ended up badly and bloody for both families and their futures. The verse that came up spoke of the love that the Canaanite boy had for this Hebrew girl, and how sometimes love can become lethal and toxic. We took from this a reminder to rise up to love that offers dignity, insists on consent, and triumphs beyond borders to repair a world so torn by hate. 

From Exodus 25:7 we got the reminder that the High Priest, Aaron, wore a special truth-telling oracle on his chest, adorned with twelve gem stones. This “Ephod,” now long gone, gave us the gift of Truth – and how to demand it from our leaders, both civic and spiritual. The oracle on Aaron’s heart reminds us of the truth we all know deep within our own hearts. 

Leviticus 19:18 gave us the golden rule: “Love Others As You Love Yourself.” And then again in the same chapter, “Love the immigrant, the stranger, for you too were once a refugee.”

203075807194713-dyrnuvio8qnvmhzxstbx_height640In Numbers 24:5 we met Balaam, the one-eyed prophet hired to curse the people Israel but who found instead such a quality of goodness in their midst that he simply had to sing their praises. How do we go from negative to positive, from curse to blessing, each and every day? “Your tents are beautiful, Israel,” we sang together – vowing to look at the glass half-full in each and every interaction. 

And finally, the Book of Words and Things, Deuteronomy 6:4, which gave us our mega one-liner, our sacred bumper sticker. By chanting it together, we were all reminded to strive for alignment, to find unity, to commit to the one love that binds us. We sang the S’hma. 

Love, Truth, Other, Good, One.

With this mantra we thank you all for joining us to re:love and are so excited to continue this year’s journey together. 

See you soon – at Lab/Shul.




Photo Credit thanks Jen!

Beit Midrash Israeli

Beit Midrash Israeli
November 16, 2016 @ 8:00pm
RSVP for Location

Facilitated by Rabbi Amichai, Beit Midrash Israeli is a community led initiative that brings together Israelis monthly who wish to explore Jewish, Israeli and other text through a modern, secular view.

Please note, this session is facilitated in Hebrew.


Upcoming Dates:
November 16   |   December 19   |   January 17   |   February 14   |   March 16   |   April 19   |   May 17   |   June 14

סדרת מפגשי היכרות עם המיתוסים הגדולים של היהדות והסודות הקטנים של החיים.

בהנחיית הרב עמיחי לאו לביא, הסדרה בת שמונה מפגשים חודשיים תכלול  לימוד של מבחר מקורות מהמקרא, ספרות חז״ל, שירה עברית והגות עכשווית.

עלות הסדרה (שמונה מפגשים) היא $280.
למתלבטים יש אפשרות להרשם רק למפגש הראשון ($40 ליחיד / $70 לזוג)

תאריכי המפגשים:
16 בנובמבר  |  19 בדצמבר  |  17 בינואר  |  14 בפברואר  |  16 במרץ  |  19 באפריל  |  17 במאי  |  14 ביוני


We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest

“How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Our Rise from Rubble ritual started inside the Church Center for the United Nations yesterday with this sad song, words from the Psalms, just as resonant now as they must have been then for the exiled Judean poet on the banks of the rivers of Babylon.

How do we translate our legacy of loss and longing, so much Jewish suffering condensed into one fast day, to a global group of humans seeking ways to fix the broken pieces of our world? 

Lab/Shul took a risk this year and adapted the fast of the Ninth of Av to the rubble of our larger reality – Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ teens, Islamphobia and domestic abuse, political violence and strife. All are temples shattered, rubble of visions and dreams gone awry, worthy of mending. We quoted Isaiah’s prophetic call, “‘make this a day to break off every shackle”.


By 3pm, mid-heat wave, the Church Center started filling with people of different faiths and color, some with Jewish prayer shawls and some in Christian clergy robes, some fasting, some not, all marking together the saddest day on the Jewish calendar as a shared human moment of loss. The ritual included live music, liturgy, reflections and conversation. Muslim and Christian voices, Zen meditation, Storahtelling style Torah verses telling us of second chances to rebuild trust, candles lit, slogans written out with prophetic calls for justice: a powerful and inclusive way to rise together. 

Lab/Shul was created on the fast of the Ninth of Av four years ago. Our first gathering in a sweltering room downtown was created with the intention of starting from what’s broken so that we could rebuild together into the High Holy Day Season and the rest of our lives. 

Four years later, with allies and partners, community regulars and new faces, we gathered to focus on the rubble of today and the tools for rising to the challenge of a better reality for all.

One highlight: listening to Yazmine Nichols, a passionate seminarian at Union Theological Seminary and a leader within the Black Lives Matter community, as she quoted Elie Wiesel’s Night and urged us not to silence the prophetic voices among us who are calling for radical empathy and change. After the ritual we spoke about what binds us and where we and our communities have a ways to go in standing together, shoulder to shoulder, for justice, not just on big holy days but all year round. I shared with her some of the tensions in the Jewish community in reaction to the recent Movement for Black Lives platform and its strong condemnation of Israel. She shared with me some of her thoughts and how good it would be if brothers and sisters could sit together to listen, share, dream, rise to the challenge.

I carried the Torah Scroll to the Isaiah Wall where hallowed words are carved in stone, as bystanders and onlookers paused to notice the strange procession of people in religious garbs and hand written signs gathered, singing “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” Some joined us. Others pulled out phones to capture the moment. Others watched from afar on Facebook Live. Our message was sent forth – live and virtual, poetic and prophetic and spontaneous – rising together to name the shame and sadness and commit to change. 


The Ninth of Av marks the start of our High Holy Days. From the broken, within each of us and in the world, we rise to rebuild and renew both the year and our lives. We are committed to continue the multi-faith rising that we co-created yesterday not only this coming Yom Kippur at our Interfaith Prayer for Peace but all year round. And as this sacred work continues, it is so good to know that budding friendships, collaborative spirits, and voices harmonizing in song, silence and story can help the work continue so that, as Rabbi Kerry Chaplin reminded us yesterday – “Justice and Peace will kiss soon,” and often. 

I am grateful to all the hands and hearts that helped co-create yesterday’s ritual and call for justice. So much talent and love in one space. 

So let us gather together soon and often again In peace, respect and gratitude: May we rise from the rubble in joy and focus – together. 

– Amichai Lau-Lavei

As seen on Lab/Shul :

Brothers on the Border – Two Lau rabbis, Shared Interview. Makor Rishon, 7/29/2016

Rabbi Benny Lau, one of Israel’s leading Modern Orthodox leaders, sits for a shared interview with his younger brother, the newly ordained Conservative Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie. They share similar concerns, different challenges, and very different perspectives on some of the hottest topics and challenges facing modern Jewry. The interview, by Zvika Klein, is in Makor Rishon, one of Israel’s leading newspapers widely read in Orthodox circles. 


Click to read the interview in Hebrew or English.