Jules Porter, Community Lay Leader and Preeminent Social Photographer, Dies at 72

Jules Porter, community lay leader and preeminent social photographer, died of pancreatic cancer Nov. 22 at the age of 72. Working from his well-known Jules Porter Photographer’s studio on Pico Boulevard, Jules chronicled the life-cycle events for multiple generations of Jews from every denomination and every corner of the Southern California Jewish community.

To watch Jules work was to witness a master of his craft — moving people into position with skill and gentle persuasion, anticipating moments that had to be captured, climbing his ever-present stepladder to rise above the crowd to get the best shot. When the photos were developed, Jules would help his clients shape an album of memories — albums that are certainly the most cherished books families own.

I was a young assistant professor of education at what was then the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) when I had the good fortune to meet Jules. He had been the president of the Sinai Temple chapter of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the men’s organization of the Conservative movement, and later rose to become Pacific Southwest Region president and then international president. In fact, Jules was the first lay leader from the West Coast to serve as president of a major arm of the Conservative movement.

Jules was determined to develop a big idea during his tenure as international president, something that would make a difference in the lives of the people he knew so well. Together, we discussed the need to teach adults and families how to celebrate Judaism in the home, beginning with the Shabbat Friday night table ceremony.

The idea of a book emerged, a book that would teach not just the meaning and practice of the rituals but would empower families by presenting the stories of real Jews as they celebrate, stories illustrated, of course, with photos by Jules. With the invaluable assistance of Joel Lurie Grishaver, Jules suddenly became a publisher. When he asked Jack Roth, the purveyor of Judaica, how many copies to print, Roth told him 1,000 copies would be “good,” 3,000 copies a “best seller.”

Over the course of 10 years, beginning in 1985, four books appeared in the Art of Jewish Living series — “Shabbat,” “Passover,” “Hanukkah” and “A Time to Mourn, a Time to Comfort.” Jules made it a project of the University of Judaism, but he secured the support of every arm of the Conservative movement. Hundreds of synagogues offered courses in the Art of Jewish Living.

When the stream of Jewish immigrants coming to America from the former Soviet Union became a flood, Jules insisted the “Passover” volume should be translated into Russian.

It was Jules who raised the money, warehoused the books and tirelessly promoted the courses. And it was Jules who called Roth years later to report that more than 100,000 copies of the books were in print — with second editions available from Jewish Lights Publishing.

As a community lay leader, Jules rose to the highest ranks in his chosen philanthropies. He served on the board of directors of Sinai Temple for many years, including a term as synagogue president. Jules was a founding member of the Masorti Council and served on the national boards of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, MERCAZ, the World Council of Synagogues and the Jewish Theological Seminary.

He was president of Los Angeles Hebrew High and was appointed to the boards of Sinai Akiba Academy, Camp Ramah in California and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University.

A devoted husband to his late wife, Marion, Jules is survived by his two daughters,Dawn Rudy and Karen; son, Richard; two grandchildren, Allison and Sharon; and sister, Judith (Chris) Storey.

For those of us whose lives were graced by this passionate and elegant man, a man who captured cherished memories and served the community with distinction, our memories of Jules Porter will always be a blessing.

— Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson is Fingerhut Professor of Education, American Jewish University, and president of Synagogue 3000.

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