(This is an article that was published in VoyageMia Nov. 2017 Click here for link to article)
Today we’d like to introduce you to Lee and David Degani.
Lee and David, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Lee and David: If you had told us 25 years ago that we would soon become spiritual leaders of a congregation we would have laughed! That was definitely not part of the plan! But you know that saying…. In this case, it was, “Man and woman plan and God has the last laugh!”
The seeds for Shirat Shalom (Song of Peace) actually began with a class we formed for our second-grade daughter in 1994 to enhance her Jewish education. At first, we just worked with children who already belonged to a synagogue but within a couple of years, we began attracting families who weren’t affiliated.
Lee: I still remember so clearly the lightning flash that woke me up one night. It made me sit right up in the bed! The message was to begin a chavurah (a community) with the unaffiliated families of the children we teach! Ten families joined in the fall of 1998 and we began meeting once a month. We officially became Congregation Shirat Shalom the summer of 1999 with our mission to return to the spiritual and mystical roots of Judaism. Two years later I left my job and became the full-time Cantor and Director of Education. After another two years, David came on board as full-time Rabbi.
Lee and David: Thinking about those early days always brings smiles as we were so radical with our ideas! We were even nicknamed the Rebel Temple! For example, we welcomed interfaith families with open arms, parents had the choice of Hebrew School or a Tutoring Program for their children’s Jewish education and could enroll anytime. Our main focus would be our children. Hebrew School would only meet once a week and would be a fun experience! Remaining affordable was a priority so we never planned on having a building. Of course nineteen years later, these ideas are not so radical anymore and are more accepted
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Just like everyone else we were affected when the economy spiraled down in 2008. After all, people need to pay their mortgage before donating to their congregation! But we are grateful that we were able to get through those few years afterwards and are where we are today.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Today, we continue to implement unique ideas such as our Online Tutoring Program and even traveling to conduct B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies for out of town or state families. This was initiated ten years ago after one of our families had moved out of state and asked if we would travel to conduct their child’s Bar Mitzvah service. We like to say “Have Torah, Will Travel!” Our Online Tutoring Program is so popular that most of our local students meet us online for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah lessons!
We actually have our own unique way of conducting B’nai Mitzvah services that makes everyone feel included and welcome. People will often say it is the warmest and most beautiful service they have ever attended. Perhaps it is because we have such a close connection with each child and family. And yes, Lee cries at every single ceremony!
Although more rabbis are now performing interfaith weddings we have been doing so for years. Whether it is for a Jewish couple or Interfaith couple, we design our wedding ceremonies with the understanding that we are merging first and foremost two loving souls who may come from different backgrounds. We always receive many compliments that people are so touched Cantor Lee’s beautiful voice and Rabbi David’s authenticity as well as his sense of humor! We ourselves have actually been married 39 years. Each time we conduct a wedding ceremony we feel as though we are getting married again!
Perhaps we are most known for our emphasis on bringing spirituality and the Kabbalistic teachings to our congregants in a way that is easy to understand. For years we have been holding meditation and healing circles and Lee also offers private energy healing sessions. In our Hebrew School, we teach Jewish meditation on a child’s level. We ourselves are blessed and honored to be channels of God’s Divine Light whether we are leading a service, teaching or during a life cycle event.
We have always had a saying that Shirat Shalom leads and we follow. And it has led us to our most unique and radical idea, the Infinite Child Program – Our Crown Jewel Spiritual Training for children of all faiths. But before we tell you what it is about, here is how it came about…
Lee: It actually began with a prayer. As any longtime teacher knows, children learn much differently these days. Although I have always been able to help children become successful who have difficulty learning to read Hebrew, I have even been stumped with some of the children the last couple of years. So I prayed, “Please God, help me help these children!” And the answer came…
David and Lee: The Infinite Child program teaches children focusing and mindfulness techniques while they are wearing a blindfold. As a result not only are children having an easier time learning and reading Hebrew (as one student put it, “it was magic when I had to practice for my Bat Mitzvah the next day!”) but they are also improving in secular school subjects as well as having transformative changes socially and emotionally!
Just to prepare you, the next sentence may be initially difficult to fathom…With training, the children are actually able to see and read while wearing the blindfold. It seems we all have the ability to use our third eye, our Infinite Light Vision. It is just that we were never taught or encouraged to use this sacred gift.
As people learn of our Infinite Child program we receive reactions from utter amazement to total disbelief! We so understand for each time a child reads blindfolded and experiences transformations we too are amazed. Can it really be true? But it is!
We feel so blessed to add this radical new idea to our other ones. Perhaps one day, just like the others, it too won’t seem so radical…
Do you feel our city is a good place for businesses like yours? If someone was just starting out, would you recommend them starting out here?
We are living in a time when more and more people are looking for answers and are being drawn to spiritual teachings. Whether it is through Judaism, another religion or spirituality in general, we feel South Florida is a prime area for spiritual seekers. If someone truly feels the calling to be a spiritual leader the universe will lead the way. In the end, we all have the same foundation and that is Love. And as we bring more Love into the world, well, the possibilities are unlimited! Even a World of Peace is possible…