Jewish Reponsibilities to the Community

userpic=tallitYesterday, there was a very interesting article in the LA Times concerning the need for a park in Koreatown. Quoting from the beginning of that article:

The people of Koreatown were on the brink of getting something urban planners and psychologists said Los Angeles’ most densely packed neighborhood desperately needed: A public outdoor space for respite in a booming urban corridor increasingly smothered in concrete and glass.

Now, five years later, a 346-unit luxury apartment building dubbed the Pearl on Wilshire is taking root where Koreatown Central Park was slated to go. It will have a dog wash, yoga room, putting green and spa, but not so much as a park bench for public use.

And as heavy equipment roars and beeps at the once-vacant lot at Wilshire and Hobart boulevards, people familiar with the abandoned project are left to wonder: Who’s to blame for letting a park die in this neighborhood where residents have about one-hundredth of the park space as the average Angeleno citywide?

Most people read this and moved on. Me? My eyes stopped on the phrase “the once-vacant lot at Wilshire and Hobart boulevards”. I grew up at Wilshire Blvd Temple (WBT). WBT is located on Wilshire Blvd, between Hobart and Harvard. Next to it to the east is a major catholic church. Wilshire, in fact, now owns all the land betwen Hobart and Harvard, between Wilshire and Sixth, and operates an outreach and support center for the community on the Sixth Street end.

Here’s my question: What is the Jewish obligation in this issue? Should WBT (and its neighbor, St. Basil’s) be speaking up for the park. Should they have been lobbying for the park. Going back to when I attended Wilshire in the 1970s and 1980s, that land was vacant. Should Wilshire have tried to purchase it for the community? How does one balance the responsibility to your community of faith with the responsibility to the community at large?

I’m not sure I know the answer, and I’m not sure they could have made a difference. But I thought the question was an interesting one.


Saturday News Chum Stew: History and Los Angeles

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clear out the links for the week that didn’t theme. This week brings a number of items related to history and Los Angeles:

  • Living in the Past. Suppose your kids just can’t put that modern technology down. What do you do to teach them a lesson? How about forcing your family to live as they did years ago for a year? That’s what one family did. Now they didn’t go back to Elizabethan or other really historic times — they chose the glory days of… 1986. No Internet (so they say). Cassettes. Vintage Encyclopedias. Hard-wired phones. Banking in person. Paper maps.  My only problem with this is that they did have Internet back in 1986. I know; I’ve been on the net since 1979. Of course, they would have had to restrict themselves to USENET, Gopher, and Email, and dial-up connections unless they could afford a T1 line. Oh… and Unix. At that point, I don’t think MS-DOS was networked (Windows 3.1 was 1992).
  • Clowns Will Eat Me. Here’s an odd article: Smithsonian explores the history of Scary Clowns. Now I’m not the type that is scared by clowns, but there are a number of clowns that are intentionally scary. The history and many forms of the clown itself is quite interesting.
  • Running Away. When you’re scared, you want to run away. That’s just what one county in California wants to do: Siskiyou County has voted to secede from California. They want to get a number of other Northern California and Southern Oregon counties to join them. Never mind the fact that they would never get the legislatures of California and Oregon to go along with their scheme, and they certainly wouldn’t get Congress. Never mind the fact that they would have no major cities or industries to provide the state with a sustainable income. Facts don’t matter. If you recall, a few weeks ago, I wrote about a county in Northern Colorado that wanted to do the same thing.

Chatzi Kaddish. Etsy Problems. OK, this one didn’t theme anywhere, unless you can figure it out. Here’s an article on why the Esty Economy is Crumbling… in the face of Chinese knockoffs. Perhaps this link is like the Chatzi Kaddish — a rest between subjects.

Chatzi Kaddish. Owl Suits. Our last chatzi kaddash — something to close the Los Angeles theme. Did you know that Italian has a word meaning the-jacket-left-hanging-over-the-back-of-your-chair-in-the-office-while-you’re-gallivanting-around-town? It is “Giacca civetta“, which means “Owl Jacket”. I’m sure we all have our Owl Jackets that we leave out for others to see.


News Of The Hood: Los Angeles

userpic=los-angelesThis collection of news chum all has to do with my home town, Los Angeles:



Memories of Yom Kippurs of the Past

Today, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times about Wilshire Blvd Temple closing their sanctuary for two years of renovations, starting tomorrow (just after Yom Kippur). That brings back memories…

After we moved out of Westchester when I was young, our family switched congregations to WBT. I soon joined their youth group, TAG, and became part of the High Holy Day Choir. This included numerous trips back and forth to WBT for rehersals (I remember carpooling with Leslie, Lida, and Alex), culminating with our doing youth services in the Warner Youth Center, on the 3rd floor of the main building. This also included fasting, and I still remember the feeling as the concluding services ended. Later, the youth choir took over the family services that were being held in the Piness Auditorium, across from the main sanctuary. I don’t think, in any of my years at WBT, I ever actually attended a HHD service in the main sanctuary.

So what is Wilshire going to do while the main sanctuary is down? According to the article, “During the 18 to 24 months of construction, regular Shabbat services will be in an auditorium across from the sanctuary. Weekly bar and bat mitzvahs will also be held there. For next year’s Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services, the temple has rented the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.” What this means is that Piness Auditorium (which may not be in great shape itself) will be the interim sanctuary. Of more interest is the use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion for high holy days. I can’t even imagine how they will do the Torah procession there, especially if they have people in the balconies!


Marvin Hamlisch and Me: A Story about cahwyguy

In the spirit of last night, a story about me. In part, this is prompted by my finding a certain piece of paper while going through my dad’s autographs, which I’ve scanned and posted with this entry.

Back when I was in high school, probably 16 or 17, I was part of the high school class at Wilshire Blvd. Temple. As I wasn’t teaching, I didn’t drive all the way to WBT from Brentwood: we had bus transportation provided by the Temple. The rabbi at that time, Larry Goldmark (who is now at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada), had arranged a speaker program of famous Jews. This included folks like Ed Asner, Monty Hall, and many others. This particular day in question, the speaker was Marvin Hamlisch. I presume it was an interesting talk (I don’t remember any of it). What I do remember, however, is that at noon I got up and started to walk out to catch the bus. Hamlisch stopped what he was saying, turned to me, and asked where I was going. I indicated I had to catch a bus to get home. He said he didn’t like his audience to walk out on him, and said that he would give me a ride back home. So, after he finished his talk, he kept his word and gave me a ride back home. I remember that on the way we stopped at the newsstand in Westwood so that he could pick up the New York papers — it seems “A Chorus Line” had just opened and he wanted to read the reviews. When we got back to my car, I grabbed a piece of notebook paper and had him sign it for my dad.


Being A Member of a Congregation

One of today’s la_observed items was about Wilshire Blvd Temple–specifically how a chunk of plaster had fallen from their main sanctuary, closing that part of the building. However, the original headline was that “Wilshire Blvd Temple Is Closed”, which prompted me to go out to their website, look for news, etc.

That got me thinking. I’m a dues paying member of Temple Ahavat Shalom right now. But I still get the Temple Beth Hillel e-Newsletter, and I still regularly read the Temple Beth Torah newsletter. Even though I don’t read the newsletter regularly, I still care about the folks at Wilshire Blvd Temple, and even the folks at Or Rishon, because I care about the Rabbi there. I still, in some sense, even have a spiritual connection to Temple Akiba in Culver City as it is the spiritual successor to my first congregtion, Temple Israel of Westcheter/Temple Jeremiah, and to Kol Tikvah, the spiritual successor to Temple Emet of Woodland Hills. Although I am only paying dues to one of these, I view myself (to varying degrees) as still a member of the community of my past congregations.

So here’s my question to you: What is your relationship to your past congregations (and churchs count as well, for you Christians out there). Once you leave a congregation, is it “good bye and good riddance”, or do you still view yourself as a distant family member, still caring about the people there even though you might never see them again?


The Other Church on Wilshire Boulevard

I’ve been through a variety of congregations in my life. However, when I was growing up, there were two main ones: Temple Israel of Westchester, which later became Temple Jeremiah under Rabbi Mordecai Soloff, and Wilshire Boulevard Temple, under Rabbis Magnin, Wolf, Dubin and Goldmark. Most of the conscious phase (meaning my Jr. High and teen years) were at WBT, which I knew like the back of my hand. I explored the catecombs of the A/V area under the Piness Auditorium, I wandered the Warner Youth Center, and so on. Yet then, in the 1970s and 1980s, there were stories of problems. The Jewish center of Los Angeles was moving west, and Wilshire was losing members. The growth was at congregations like Steven S. Wise, University, and the ones in West LA. There were even rumors of Wilshire’s demise or relocation.

Over the years, however, it has survived. It opened up a beautiful school and satellite campus in West Los Angeles, and of course has continued to expand and grow the camps. But it is about to grow more. Today’s Los Angeles Times has an article on how WBT is poised to do a major expansion and remodelling… of its downtown campus! The article noted how Wilshire has already spent $20 million to purchase the entire block upon which it sits, so that it owns the land bounded by Wilshire Blvd, Havard, 6th Street, and Hobart. It then expects to spend $30 million renovating its santuary, as well as doing a major expansion of the facilities: construction of a six-story parking structure (which anyone who has parked there know they really need); a K-6 day school; a parenting center; and a cafe. Knowing Wilshire, I’m sure a museum or facility to display their extensive collection of Jewish artifacts will be included.

I should note this isn’t the only Wilshire facility expanding: when I was at Gindling Hilltop Camp in July, I learned of major expansion plans there. There will be a new master plan and rework of the facilities at GHC and CHK to better serve the campers. There are also plans for a fourth camp across Yerba Buena Road to serve adult conference needs better.

But what is amazing is not the size of Wilshire’s expansion: this is a monied congregation, with a long history (and thus, endowments). They know how to invest and how to do things fiscally correct. What is amazing is that the downtown campus, almost written off 20 years ago, is growing. The Times article notes that the temple is following the return of younger Jews to places like Silver Lake, the Wilshire corridor, downtown and Los Feliz. A survey commissioned by the temple found that from 1995 to 2005, in the area roughly from La Cienega Boulevard to Glendale and from the Hollywood Hills to the Santa Monica Freeway, the number of Jews increased by 28%, about 4,000 more people. An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Jews live in Southern California, making it the second-largest Jewish community in the country, after New York. Rabbi Leder at WBT looks at the changes taking place in Los Angeles as an opportunity for the temple to grow well beyond its current 2,500 families.

I should also note that Wilshire is also active in its community: I know there have been strong efforts by Rabbi Leder to create bridges between the Jewish and Korean communities in the area.

And Wilshire isn’t the only congregation growing. The congregation we just left, Temple Beth Hillel, is in the midst of a major renovation project, totally remodelling the activities building and about to embark on a major remodelling of its early 1960s main building and sanctuary. I know the congregation we just joined, Temple Ahavat Shalom is growing. Which reminds me: I need to get off the nets and get ready to go to a pancake breakfast at TAS…


Building a Bridge Near Wilshire and Western

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article today on Wilshire Blvd. Temple. Now, I grew up at Wilshire, which is near the intersection of Wilshire and Western, in what is now Koreatown. According to the article, one day WBT got a call from Koreatown leaders wondering if the building was for sale. Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein responded “We can’t sell you the temple, but how about building a relationship?”. From there, dialogue between the communities started, leading to much better understanding. The Koreatown community received an invitation to use Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s facilities, which include an 1,800-seat sanctuary, a 600-seat auditorium and a 300-seat banquet hall, at member rates… and the two communities will also join forces to address issues affecting the Koreatown community, such as crime, poverty, the granting of multiple liquor licenses and the idea that growth should take place in a thoughtful way.

I think this is a wonderful thing. The WBT facility is a beautiful facility, and it is nice to see that (a) it is committeed to staying, and (b) committed to forging a relationship with the community. This is something that was never even discussed during the days of Rabbi Magnin… and I’m not even sure Rabbi Fields considered it. I think that interfaith activities are a remarkable way of building community (and it is one of the reasons I applaud Rabbi Jim at TBH for his work building relationships with the churches in Arleta).