As the sun gracefully set on the Santa Monica Mountains on the last night of Hanukkah, Eliyahu Jian, a spiritual adviser and rabbi, lit the last of the menorah’s candles, closed his eyes and recited the traditional blessings. Behind him, visible through a window, sprinklers cascaded on the Calabasas Country Club’s golf course.
“We want to send out as much positive energy into Ventura County and the surrounding communities as we possibly can,” he said in a thick Israeli accent. “With this, we give those affected [by the fires and the Borderline Grill shooting], the light to turn misfortune into fortune, chaos into order and tears into laughter.”
A hearty “Amen!” rang out from the nearly 30 people gathered inside the club’s restaurant. Their eyes were closed, as instructed.
“Now open your eyes with a big smile on your lips,” Jian said. They did. “Now, please have something sweet to eat.”
Guests sidled up to a table with trays of pastries, water bottles, free astrology-themed T-shirts, bags of goodies for kids and copies of “The Snail With No Shell,” a Jian-penned children’s book.
The event, held for those affected by the November wildfires and the Borderline shooting, was part of Vital Transformation, Jian’s nonprofit that produces podcasts, teaches Torah and Kabbalah classes, and hosts services and spiritual lectures. Jian, who is also a motivational speaker who travels the world for professional engagements, delivered a PowerPoint-aided lecture on the power of positivity and how life’s challenges build strength, unity and character.
“The kabbalists 2,000 years ago explained that the soul is divided into three levels: your action, your speech and your mind,” Jian said. “If you’re able to learn how to control those three things, your life around you will start changing. If you believe that you can make your life better, you’re right. Whatever you believe you can do, well, you’re absolutely right.”
Jian’s wife, Debbie, filmed the talk on her phone and live-streamed it on social media for those who couldn’t attend the event. Throughout, Jian included talmudic references and encouraged audience participation, even leading a guided meditation. Afterward, he engaged with guests one-on-one and extended an open invitation for Shabbat dinner at his Pico-Robertson home that doubles as Vital Transformation’s headquarters.
“Just give us notice so we have enough food,” he said.
Jordan Schaul, 45, a zoologist who has traveled the world working with animals, recently settled in Marina del Rey and came at the urging of a friend to start getting involved with the local Jewish community and to show solidarity for friends affected by the wildfires.
“I got so much from this,” Schaul told the Journal. “When [Jian] talked about taking time to be silly, spending time with kids, I thought that was profound because it’s so uplifting without any context needed. I always felt that Judaism was so focused on ritual, but this was the first time I realized there’s a spiritual component I’ve overlooked my whole life.”
“We want to send out as much positive energy into Ventura to give [people] the light to turn misfortune into fortune, chaos into order and tears into laughter.”
— Rabbi Eliyahu Jian
David Levy, 19, who lives in Calabasas, came with his mother after a long shift at his retail job. During the height of the wildfires, Levy and his family were evacuated from their home twice, ultimately spending two short stints at a Hollywood hotel.
“Most of Calabasas was evacuated at some point, probably all of Calabasas was affected in some way,” Levy told the Journal. “While [Jian] spoke, I was thinking about all the people I know who were affected. It’s nice to bring some spirituality into the mix and reflect on everything.”
One of Jian’s Vital Transformation students, Michelle Alfi, 35, a West Hollywood resident, told the Journal she, too, has many friends and colleagues that had to evacuate. She also has connections to victims of the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting in Thousand Oaks.
“I wanted to be a part of something so beautiful here tonight and help prop up the community that has gone through something so devastating,” she said. “Finding the beauty in pain is the only way to create more beauty around us. One example that [Jian] spoke about is how the community has come together with so many amazing volunteers and first responders doing their part. If you can take that spirit and adopt it into your own life, well, that’s what creates change and makes the world a better place.” n