Vishnu Luke Visits First Happy Minyan Banquet

Behind my computer keyboard, I feel like Vishnu.

I feel like the All-Pervading essence, the master of—and beyond—the past, present and future, the creator and destroyer of all existences, one who supports, sustains and governs the Universe and originates and develops all elements within.

Venturing out of my dream world can be scary, particularly when I have to deal with Jews.

In yoga, I never feel like a weirdo. I feel safe. I have an open heart. I’m surrounded by friends. Everybody seems to get me. They laugh at my jokes. They’re not threatened by my blog.

Oy, here I go idealizing again. Next thing I know it, I will be devaluing some other group in my next paragraph. Where’s my lithium?

Now I’m heading into the Jews. It’s not just my religious community and cultural community and practical community, it is also my reporting beat. Do I put on my reporting hat tonight or do I encounter people with an open heart?

I made that decision long ago and I can’t escape the consequences of 12 years of blogging. By pouring myself out, I chose to enormously complicate my life. When I started publishing things that were not entirely positive about my community, I condemned myself to this furtive, fearful life.

The top secret location for the banquet tonight honoring Stuart and Enny Wax is the Gilmore Adobe at the Grove.

My friend walks in, gets a drink, turns to me and after some small talk and says, "Wow. This is more socially awkward than Bnai David.

"Look at this crowd. They’re dressing better for this banquet than for shul on Shabbos.

"Look at you. You used to lecture me that everyone should wear a suit to shul on Shabbos."

I hit the water hard, slamming down seven cups. Cocktails are the cruelest hour.

"Hi, I’m Levi. I see you at shul all the time. What’s your name? How long have you been coming to the Happy Minyan? How long have you been in LA? I’m from Australia. You’ve been to Australia? How did you like it? I heard on NPR recently that in a survey, Australian men were the least likely in the entire world to help with housework. Yeah, neanderthals. It’s like America in the 1950s. Those traditional sex roles. Yeah, it’s like Orthodox Judaism."

I run into a bloke who says that when he moved to the hood three years ago, my synagogue reviews were of great help to him finding his religious home.

The call to Mincha is my wake-up call. Before it was issued, I did what I liked. Now I am commanded.

I can’t just pray to God when I like, I have to pray now.

I remember that I chose to accept the call of Mount Sinai, that I signed on to a very particular program and now it is time to march.

The siddurim are all in Hebrew. I ask for help to find Mincha. When I find it, I get awfully confused because it is not configured like my beloved RCA Artscroll siddur.

I’m surrounded by a very particular group of people and I have a particular role and suddenly I feel keenly my loss of freedom, but I step up and meet my responsibilities, knowing that within ten minutes, I will no longer have to talk to God, I can talk to whoever I like.

Five minutes after I tell the waiter that I want the vegetarian option, I get my dinner. I dig in. It’s delicious.

Musician Peter Himmelman entertains us from the stage. The place is jammed. Over 200 people, mainly from the Happy Minyan but also a strong contingent from Bnai David.

"The Happy Minyan is the melting pot of shuls," says a friend.

Himmelman is relaxed and funny. "When I started becoming religious, people asked me, ‘Who m’kareved [brought closer] you?’ It’s like I’m some ham to be carved up.

"I was drinking some water during a concert and this woman says, "Say the bracha!’ I had already said shehakol before the concert. It covers me for the entire concert. These Jews, always wanting to educate."

There’s shushing. Himmelman does not approve. "Don’t shush anyone. If a speaker can’t hold your attention, he needs another job."

Rabbi Abner Weiss gives a poignant talk. "When I’m called before the HaKodesh Barchu one day and have to account for myself, one thing I’ll be able to say in my defense is that I had a hand in starting the Happy Minyan.

"I was talking to Stuie one Friday night and said we need a minyan like this. And the next Shabbat it started."

Rabbi Weiss ran Beth Jacob where the Happy Minyan got its start downstairs in 1995 and he sheltered the minyan during the next five years until he moved to England.

Rabbi Weiss has a lot of friends at the Happy Minyan and they streamed over to say hello during the evening.

Rabbi Weiss is now a practicing psycho-therapist and a pulpit rabbi in Westwood.

David Sacks, the number one preacher at the Happy Minyan, quotes Shlomo Carlebach that you shouldn’t need a reason to be happy.

I wander around until I find my friend. Then I take the spare seat next to him and think, "I love you, man. Do you know how often I think, I wonder what you will think of this post? You appreciate my hard work, man. You get me. I did have a good zinger yesterday, didn’t I? Did I ever tell you how often I don’t write things because I think, you won’t care for this. I write to you, man. I know you’re reading. Thank you. Thank you for being my friend in public and in private, in front of my face and behind my back, in good times and in bad."

Yedidya (John Blanton) gives a dvar Torah. In 1968, he was playing guitar for the Grateful Dead.

On the ride home, I find this post on my Facebook wall: "luke! missed you tonight! he told some amazing stories about yogi bhajan. cool guy."

I get out at the corner of Pico and Robertson and walk past my Kundalini friends celebrating Yogi Bhajan’s 80th birthday with tea and cookies.

Luke Thompson posts: "Hey Luke, have you seen the Tarantino movie yet? The world awaits your opinion as to whether or not it’s good for the Jews."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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