For several years, Rabbi Miriam Hamrell has had an idea that kept reappearing in her mind. Her recurring idea has been, "What if there were a way to experience the warmth and friendliness of a home-cooked Shabbat dinner with all the delicious foods, spiritual meaningfulness, and soul-nourishing conversations. But what if it could be done in a warm and welcoming room large enough for congregants, guests, good friends, and brand new visitors all to feel the sense of love and peacefulness of Shabbat together as one."

So Rabbi Miriam talked with the Board of Directors of her congregation and then brainstormed with Rabbinic Intern Susan Nanus, who happens to be a Broadway playwright and Jewish storyteller along with being a soon-to-be rabbi. (Among Susan's many writings are The Survivor, The Orphan Train, and the stage version of The Phantom Tollbooth)

Together they came up with a new and different way of experiencing a unique "Soul Shabbat" that is happening for the very first time on Friday night, (at a date to be announced soon but not the January 28th date that needed to be rescheduled) from 6:30 pm to 9 pm. All are welcome, whether you are a long-time congregant, an occasional visitor, a first-time guest, or someone who has never fully tasted the foods and spiritual depth of what Shabbat is capable of being.


I interviewed Rabbi Miriam Hamrell and Rabbinic Intern Susan Nanus to ask them, "Why is this Shabbat different from most other Shabbats?"

Here's what they described as the key ingredients to this first of many "Soul Shabbats" (that will be held on the last Friday night of each month with a different creative theme each new month):


Rabbi Miriam and Rabbinic Intern Susan have come up with a diverse menu for the Soul Shabbat as "the full spread from soup to rugalah, from hummus to brownies." There will be kosher and tender "balabusta" chicken for the omnivores and numerous delicious choices for the vegetarians. There will be Israeli appetizers and desserts that bring in the flavors of both the European and Sephardic traditions of Shabbat recipes.

But the rabbinic planners insist the key aspect of the food will be the love, wisdom and teamwork in the preparation process. In the weekly newsletter of Ahavat Torah Congregation recently, there was a small item that said, "Shabbat Cooking with Rabbi Miriam. So you always wanted to learn to cook and set-up a wonderful Friday night Shabbat table and dinner? Here is your opportunity at 2:30 pm on Friday (on the date of the rescheduled Soul Shabbat, but not on the January 28th date that needed to be rescheduled). For this class, group size is limited to the first 6 callers."

Since this is an egalitarian congregation (especially when it comes to cooking and cleaning up), therefore men and women, great cooks as well as klutzes are all welcome in the cooking class. These 6 volunteers at the first Soul Shabbat will probably bond for life from braiding the challah bread and preparing the many courses of the meal together. Please don't worry if you aren't one of the first 6 callers to the Rabbi to RSVP to be at the first cooking class; your next chance will probably be in February and then you will be able to bond for life with your own cooking team of volunteers.

Rabbi Miriam also explained that because the food is being prepared with love, enjoyment, and teamwork, it will also be served family style at each table with every person who attends the Soul Shabbat being an equal partner in serving one another and being served these delicious treats.


In addition to the food, this Soul Shabbat will include an eye-opening and thought-provoking Hasidic story from Isaac Bashevis Singer, passionately adapted and told by Rabbinic Intern Susan Nanus and accompanied with traveling music from the well-known musical group Klezmer Juice. (The bandleader of Klezmer Juice is an Argentinian born Jew named Gustavo Bulgach who now lives in Los Angeles and travels internationally playing the melodies of Eastern Europe as well as Latino and world music rhythms).

When was the last time you went to a dinner that had live Klezmer music, Hasidic stories, and a beloved storyteller stirring up a lively discussion? By the end of the evening, you might be able to see your life's journey and your soul's longings in a new light as a result of this atmospheric story-telling.


At various moments during the evening, Rabbi Miriam Hamrell will make each aspect of the Shabbat come alive for you and the people you are meeting at your table with a few words about the kavanot (or deeper meanings and holy intentions) of the candle lighting, the prayers, the connecting rituals, and the songs we will enjoy together.

It doesn't matter whether this is your first Shabbat dinner or your two thousandth Shabbat dinner. The brief teachings, discussions, and deeper meanings will be accessible and inspiring no matter what background or experiences you bring to the evening. You will probably find that your future Shabbat dinners (that you host or attend in your own style) will be enhanced by what you learn at this Soul Shabbat.


One of the themes of any Jewish Shabbat is to envision and practice what it will feel like when the world is healed and we are all living in harmony. So at this Soul Shabbat evening, you are encouraged to wear a white shirt or a white blouse or outfit. You will see flowers and other special preparations to make this night a bit different from the other nights of the week. You will look into caring faces and hear inspiring words that you might not be seeing or hearing on most other nights. You will be part of a unique gathering where each voice is treated with respect and each person's point of view is heard with openness.

Ahavat Torah Congregation was formed only eight years ago with the intention of creating a community of "One Torah, One People, Many Teachers." With participants from all branches of Judaism, this new congregation has been growing each year because it keeps coming up with innovative ways to respect the diversity among us while at the same time honoring and learning more about the wisdom of our traditions. In this congregation, there doesn't tend to be a hierarchy of insiders and outsiders, big makhers and little makhers, because each person is treated as someone with gifts and insights to share.

HOW TO RSVP (and please respond AS SOON AS POSSIBLE because space is limited):

If you would like to experience the first ever Soul Shabbat dinner and evening, or to invite a few friends or family members to join you, all you need to do is call Arlene at 310 429-6817 or email The suggested donation at the door is $18 per person for the food and the sacred space we are creating together. If you are feeling generous, you are welcome to donate more than $18 toward the creation of this new event. Or if you are feeling concerned about funds lately, please give whatever you can afford, and you can trust that someone else will make up the difference.


The social hall of the building at 343 Church Lane in Brentwood 90049 is just west of the 405 Freeway a half mile south of Sunset Blvd., one block west of Sepulveda Blvd, and one block north of Montana. If you are travelling north on Sepulveda you pass Wilshire and turn left a half mile north of Wilshire onto Montana (which has a traffic light). After taking Montana Avenue under the 405 bridge, you turn right quickly on Church Lane. You will see the building in one short block and there are two small parking lots that fill up quickly as well as street parking.

PLEASE NOTE ONCE AGAIN: The January 28th Soul Shabbat had to be rescheduled. Details for the next Soul Shabbat date will be coming soon.

--For more information about Ahavat Torah Congregation, please visit the website at

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