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September 21, 2023

By Carol Felixson

Ed and Michelle Geil say they are blessed.

That’s evident in their home, where their motto, “Love and Light,” is displayed everywhere. Michelle says, “I knew something good was coming when I met Ed at Rosh Hashanah services 20 years ago. We were seated next to each other. I sensed right away that he was kind.”

A kind guy … Ed grew up as a secular Jew. “I lived in Jewish neighborhoods,” he said, “but experienced very little in the way of observance.”

While he was at work in the 1990s, he said, a colleague’s parent died.

“I wanted to know if we should get flowers for the family,” he said. He began to educate himself in all things Jewish.

“I read books,” he said, “and years later, while living in Santa Monica, I was walking on Main Street and saw Rabbi Naomi Levy’s photo in the display case in front of Mishkon. It was the right time for me to join a synagogue, and I joined Mishkon in 1993.”

After a career as a lighting designer, he became a lawyer. He moved and worked as a public defender in Palm Desert for about seven years, coming to Mishkon regularly. He developed a long-distance relationship with Mishkon. After he met Michelle, he had a long-distance relationship with her, too. She moved in with him after they got married.

Before meeting Ed, Michelle lived in Alhambra. “I followed my family’s level of involvement with Judaism,” she said, “but wanted to find something that felt comfortable and right for me. I also felt ready to meet someone special.”

She found both at Mishkon. After meeting Ed, Michelle told her friends, “I’m going to marry that guy.” They lived together in Palm Desert for a year and then moved back to the Westside.

Michelle worked a number of jobs helping businesses and individuals. She and Ed are retired and have, as Michelle says, “either found or are looking for our bashert vocations and avocations.”

Like many couples, Ed and Michelle have a mixed marriage. She came from a Conservative background, though she wasn’t observant. Ed came from a secular background. It became very easy for them to find a way to live a fulfilling Jewish life together by meeting in the middle.

“Mishkon has a place for all of us,” she said. “I wanted more Judaism in my life but on my own terms.”

Ed works up to 20 hours a week defending juveniles in the Inglewood, Compton, and Airport courts. He said it’s just the right amount of time “to feel fulfilled and stimulated.”

Michelle is interested in body work. Anything, she says, “that will help others.” She’s interested in a program called “Heart Touch Project,” which started helping HIV patients and has expanded to palliative care.

Most people know Michelle and Ed as adventurers. They love travel, having enjoyed trips to Yellowstone, Big Sur, New York, Chicago, and Denver and are planning a trip to Patagonia. They also are well-known Burners.

“We have attended the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada for 10 years,” she said. The festival covers as much land as does the city of Santa Monica. It’s huge in acreage and number of participants.

The festival started with very few people on a beach in San Francisco and has expanded to 70,000 people who attend annually. Ed and Michelle’s first “Burn” was in 2012. Initially, they were invited to attend by a colleague of Ed’s. The camp was quite small.

Now there are around 20 units/friends/families who share land, space, food, and activities. It has become a little village within a larger city. Everyone participates. There are no spectators.

They took on Burner names – which they either chose or were given by friends in their camp. Michelle is called Wyatt because she likes westerns and the wild west. Ed is called Rio after a song by Duran Duran. “We like to dance the night away,” he said.

They can relate some of their experiences at Burning Man to the struggles and exultations of the ancient Hebrews. It can be dangerous, but there are great benefits to be found if one is open to them.

On the back of their tickets is a warning that says, “The holder releases Burning Man from liability. You could die.” That could be very daunting for many. Not Ed and Michelle. They couldn’t wait to go.

Depending on the weather, activities change from day to day. Bicycles are the best mode of transportation, as are strong legs for walking. At night, it is imperative to wear lights on your bike or your body. People are responsible for their own safety.

“Last year,“ Ed said, “the biggest threat to safety was the heat and the dust. It was over 105 daily. HOT HOT HOT. The dust storms lasted for hours.” Ed and Michelle got Covid on top of everything else.

And THIS year???? It became international news that it rained at the Burn and people had to shelter in place! Mud everywhere.

“The only way to get around was to wear plastic bags over your shoes,” Ed explained. “Everything else got stuck in the mud.” Ed and Michelle made the best of it and danced the mud away.

Since 2012, they have sponsored a Shabbat potluck dinner for 40 people. The people in their camp wanted it to become an annual event. Ed and Michelle had a fun time explaining Shabbat rituals and blessings. People ate what they wanted, guided by their diets. They sponsored Shabbat again this year, but because of the rain, they only had 14.

Because of weather hardships, Ed and Michelle had more time this year for reflection leading into the High Holy Days. They felt a kinship with the Hebrews in the desert.

“It was a time of being present, emptying out, and purifying,” Ed said.

“Our origin story was a connection in the desert,” Michelle added. “Moses and the People got doubtful, hot, tired. Everyone needed courage to keep going. And had to work hard to reconnect with their inner selves, and had ultimate faith in God.” There were moments of awe and exhaustion.

“Strong feelings could hit you out of the blue,” she said. “One became more vulnerable.”

Reflections were powerful and left a trace that Ed and Michelle were able to bring back home and share with others. They experienced an Exodus out of the desert and back to civilization. This year, it took them eight hours to leave their camp site and get to the paved road, but they partied and danced along the way. And another 12 hours to get home. They are determined more than ever to go again next year.

They agreed that the best part of the experience was “arriving early and leaving late.” It was like being witness to creation; seeing raw land slowly become a vibrant city. And then empty out to leave no trace. Dust to dust.

Ed and Michelle live and love their lives fully. They love each other and their home. They love Mishkon. And Love and Light wherever they find it or create it, will keep them coming back for more!

Wed, November 29 2023 16 Kislev 5784