Moishe House gains up to $6 million to expand

Moishe House, the international group focused on building communities for Jews in their 20s, will gain up to $6 million to expand its programming.

The funding, part of a strategic growth plan, was offered by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Leichtag Foundation, the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Maimonides Fund. The Jim Joseph Foundation alone has offered a dollar-to-dollar match of up to $3 million for funds raised by Jewish federations and individuals for Moishe House in the next 4 1/2 years.

There are 46 Moishe Houses in 14 countries engaging more than 50,000 young adults each year, according to the organization. 

The grants will help Moishe House establish new locations, offer Jewish educational training for residents and their peers, and invest in Moishe House’s organizational infrastructure and fundraising.

“Moishe House already reaches tens of thousands of young Jewish adults each year, providing them opportunities to live vibrant Jewish lives,” Chip Edelsberg, executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, said in a statement. “With this Strategic Growth Plan, and the support of numerous organizations and individuals, Moishe House is positioned to cultivate even more young Jewish adults engaged in personally relevant Jewish learning and creating home-based communities for their peers.”

David Cygielman, the Moishe House CEO, said the Strategic Growth Plan “charts a course that is both innovative and comprehensive in its approach, allowing the organization to implement pilot projects and expand our reach to new regions.”

Despite neighbor’s complaints, Chabad expansion approved by L.A. City Council

Chabad of North Hollywood, an Orthodox congregation in Sherman Oaks whose expansion project set off a four-year dispute with a group of neighbors unhappy about the proposed new building’s size, returned to the Los Angeles City Council on June 27 for a second time to seek approval for the plans for their now partially built 12,000-square-foot new home.

The council’s unanimous vote appeared to mark the end of the protracted battle between neighbors supporting Chabad’s proposed expansion of its home on West Chandler Boulevard and those who objected to the building, first approved by the City Council in June 2009, saying it was too large for its lot.

The objectors sued the city and eventually prevailed in a California Court of Appeals, which ordered the council in August 2011 to set aside its initial approval. The council then sent the matter back to the Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM), which held a well-attended, hour-long hearing on June 26.

At that hearing, neighbors opposing the project argued that the building would change the character of their neighborhood. Chabad supporters, who significantly outnumbered the opponents at PLUM, urged the two members of the committee present to allow Chabad to continue its expansion, saying their 31-year-old community had outgrown its previous building, that the new building would be an improvement to the neighborhood and that because they are Orthodox Jews who do not drive to synagogue, the project — which could accommodate up to 200 worshipers but would include only five on-site parking spaces — would not have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

After hearing from about a dozen people on both sides and a representative from Councilman Paul Koretz’s office, in whose district Chabad is located, PLUM sent the matter to the full City Council for a vote the following day, with a recommendation that Chabad’s request be approved.

At the June 28 City Council meeting, Koretz arranged for the matter to receive a second public hearing before the full council. After hearing many of the same arguments made one day earlier at PLUM, Koretz urged his colleagues to vote in Chabad’s favor, in part because the building is mostly already built.

After the votes were tallied, the few dozen Chabad supporters remaining in the council chamber applauded.

“If neighbors have any specific issues, other than that the project continue, they’re welcome to call us,” said Rabbi Aaron Abend, Chabad’s spiritual leader, just after the vote was taken. “We’re good neighbors.”

According to Abend, the building is about half-finished and should take another year to complete. The walls on the triangular patch of land already rise up to their full 28-foot height.

Jeff Gantman, one of two neighbors who led the opposition to the Chabad expansion, has consistently maintained that neither he nor the members of the group he leads is motivated by anti-Semitic or anti-Orthodox sentiments, nor are they opposed to Chabad’s presence in their neighborhood.

Most of the neighbors in his group, Gantman said, are themselves Jewish, and their primary objection has been to the way in which the 12,000-square-foot project was first approved by City Council. That approval, brought about in 2009 by then-Councilman Jack Weiss, overruled a decision made by an employee of the Department of City Planning in November 2008, who had approved a smaller, 10,300-square-foot project.

After the council vote, Gantman appeared resigned to the Chabad building, but maintained that the approval of the project had not been transparent, and said his group would be requesting a “thorough review” of the process.

“It’s really a question of the city, and the process, and has this been done correctly,” Gantman said. “That’s our issue. It’s boring, but that’s the issue.”

Op-Ed: Netanyahu’s choice

The State of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are fast approaching a fork in the road.

Down one path lies a future of settlement expansion, continued control over the entire West Bank and a population under Israeli rule in which non-Jews outnumber Jews.

Some Israelis to the prime minister’s right see no problem on this path. They are consciously supporting a “one-state solution” in which Israel keeps all the land without addressing how non-Jews maintain the rights necessary to maintain Israel’s democratic character. Others, like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, believe this is Israel’s path by default, since there is no way to achieve peace in this generation.

The cost to Israel of going down this path, however, is further international isolation and a place as a pariah among the nations. Down this path lies never-ending conflict and little promise of long-term security, or even survival, for the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The other choice is compromise, some of it painful to many Israelis. On this path, Israel establishes an eastern border based on the pre-1967 borders (with equal land swaps) and builds only within that border, relinquishing dreams of Greater Israel. It removes far-flung settlements and relocates their Jewish residents within the country’s borders. It acknowledges Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state and agrees to compensate Palestinian refugees. 

In return, Israel will get solid international commitment to its security and legitimacy, recognition of its borders and acceptance in the region by its neighbors.

Stark choices also face those in the United States who care deeply about Israel’s future and about peace and stability in the Middle East.

On the left, some criticized the new direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as fruitless before they even began and are now preparing to badmouth any compromises made to keep alive the chances of negotiated resolution to the conflict.

Their aversion to Netanyahu makes it hard for them to accept that he may be the one best positioned to lead them to the promised land of peace. Their answers—increasing international pressure on Israel, holding out for other leadership or banking on a solution imposed by a U.S. president or the United Nations—are far more likely dead ends than paths to conflict resolution.

On the right, some already are laying the groundwork for blaming the eventual collapse of the talks on the Palestinians. They highlight a “settlement freeze” during which thousands of units of new housing were built over the pre-1967 Green Line and then ask why Palestinians won’t acknowledge Israel as a “Jewish state” at the start of talks they say should have “no preconditions.” Theirs, too, is a dead-end path filled with zero-sum politics and blame games.

So here we all are at the fork in the road, in search of the path that brings stability to the Middle East, peace to all its people and long-term security for Israel as the democratic, national home of the Jewish people.

For the prime minister, the first step on the road should be to suspend settlement construction just a bit longer—not even a full freeze, simply the compromise that he himself shaped last fall—so that negotiations can continue.  Down the road it will mean far tougher concessions and sacrifices—on both sides. But defining a border ends the debate over settlements forever, and whatever building is delayed in the short term can be quickly and legitimately undertaken in communities that through negotiation are recognized as within the State of Israel.

For the American Jewish community, it is time to move past recriminations and finger pointing, to stop worshiping the ideal and to accept the possible. It is time to pledge support to any Israeli prime minister who chooses to make the tough decisions needed to end the conflict though a negotiated two-state solution.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said last week that he anticipates opposition from some parts of the American Jewish community as Israel makes further moves for peace, and he appealed for support from American Jews as Israel prepares to take risks for peace.

It’s not the first time an Israeli official has lamented the lack of vocal support for efforts to reach peace from Jewish Americans. Support from Jewish Americans is never short when Israel is at war, under attack or simply under pressure. But when it makes moves for peace, support can be much harder to come by.

The fork in the road is clear for the prime minister and for American Jews. The time for decision is now.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president and founder of J Street.

Neighbors oppose Chabad expansion on Pico

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, head of Chabad of California, has a dream — a block-long, five-story “village” on Pico Boulevard that would provide a girls day school and boarding school along with affordable, safe housing for Holocaust survivors and other elderly people and for teachers with large families.

On the ground floor, retail stores — such as “milchig” and “fleishig” commissaries, a pharmacy and a clothing store selling inexpensive, modest but fashionable clothing — would serve the residents as well as the community. Beneath the proposed almost 108,000 square-foot building, 80 feet in height, would be two levels of subterranean parking.

“It will make lives easier for people, including the people down the block,” Cunin said.

But for neighbors living in the vicinity of this one-block area on the north side of Pico Boulevard, bordered by Wetherly and Crest drives as well as a back alley, the project represents anything but a dream. They envision a nightmare — a structure too massive for the 28,000-square-foot parcel of land that they believe is certain to bring more noise, traffic and trash into an already congested area.

“I don’t want a monster built right behind my back yard. It destroys my privacy. It’s outrageous,” said Mike Rafi, who lives on Wetherly Drive, one house away from the alley behind the Chabad property.

The Master Use Permit Application that Chabad of California filed on Aug. 7, 2007, for property located from 9001 to 9041 W. Pico Blvd. calls for the four buildings currently occupying that block, which is owned by Chabad, to be demolished. The proposed mixed-use development complex would include seven retail stores on the ground level; a junior high school accommodating 225 girls and high school for 200 girls on the second floor; 25 dormitory rooms housing 100 girls on the third floor; and 31 residential condominiums, one to three bedrooms, on the third, fourth and fifth floors.

View larger map

Neighbors and community advocates brought their objections before the Land Use and Economic Development Committee of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council at meetings held on Aug. 5 and Sept. 2. The neighborhood councils, created in 1999 by the new Los Angeles City Charter, serve as advisory bodies to city council members and the mayor but have no regulatory power.

Opponents focused on the scope of the project, claiming their point was illustrated by the number of variances that Chabad is seeking, including exemptions to zoning and building requirements stipulated by the Los Angeles Municipal Code and the West Los Angeles Community Plan.

These include Chabad’s request to build to a height of 80 feet instead of the mandated height of 45 feet. The organization is also asking for a floor-to-area ratio of 3.84 to 1 in lieu of the established 1.5 to 1, which pertains to the building’s total floor area in relation to lot size.

Additionally, Chabad wants approval to provide 71 parking spaces instead of the required 168 and also wants the mandated loading space to be waived.

Chabad attorney Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro, maintained that the variances are necessary because of the limitations the commercial zones impose on a building’s square footage.

“L.A. was designed and built as a commuter city where all the major boulevards — Pico, Olympic — have shallow lots that don’t lend themselves to the ability to create a mixed-use village,” he said.

He added that the limitations concern traffic and that the impact, with students who are not allowed cars and with many elderly residents who don’t drive, will be controlled.

South Robertson Neighborhoods Council’s Land Use Committee members proposed that both sides appoint representatives to meet and attempt to work out some compromises regarding size. Meanwhile, because the project is currently undergoing review by the Los Angeles City Department of Planning, with the environmental impact report expected to be released in the next week or two, the committee also proposed sending a letter to City Planning stating its opposition to the requested variances.

The motion passed unanimously at the Sept. 10 South Robertson Neighborhoods Council board meeting, held at Hamilton High School’s cafeteria.

Four community members have been selected to participate in talks with Chabad, according to community advocate Lorrie Stone, and are waiting for the next step. Cunin also confirmed that Chabad staff members will take part.

Meanwhile, Stone expressed concern by many residents dating back to 2001, when Chabad’s variance requests were approved to build the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade Bais Chaya Mushka School in the block immediately west of the proposed project.

“The zoning code exists to give us livable neighborhoods,” Stone said, adding that Chabad is not enforcing conditions that were imposed on Bais Chaya Mushka.

“All drop off and pick up is supposed to be on school grounds, but parents are totally parking on neighborhood streets,” Stone said. “They bring snacks for their children and change diapers, leaving the trash and diapers on the sidewalks.”

Cunin has recently hired a full-time professional security guard to prevent any violations. At the same time, he suggested that the diapers could also be from a neighborhood daycare facility.

Attorney Joubin Nasseri, who has volunteered to serve on the mediation committee as a community member, hopes that the two visions — that of Chabad and that of the neighbors — can be resolved.

“The bottom line is that Chabad is going to build. The question is to what degree,” Nasseri said.

Museum of Tolerance expansion plans controversy continues at City Hall

A long-running dispute between homeowners and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance (MOT) and Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YOLA) entered a more formal stage last week, with a hearing by the Los Angeles City Planning Department on Oct. 24 at City Hall.

At issue are plans by the MOT/YOLA complex at Pico Boulevard and Roxbury Drive to adapt and expand its facilities to accommodate the museum’s increasing attendance and activities.

Most controversial is a proposed two-story addition for the existing MOT, which would cover most of the memorial garden, now used for occasional ceremonies.

A good number of the 144 homeowners in the adjoining, and predominantly Jewish, North Beverlywood neighborhood have strongly objected to proposed changes in operating hours, parking arrangements and the addition of the previously denied ability to rent facilities to outside groups.

Homeowner activists Susan Gans and Daniel Fink have argued that the proposed plans violate the conditions under which MOT and YOLA were given permission to build and operate in the first place, and that the changes would lower the neighborhood’s quality of life through growing traffic, noise, crowds and parking problems.

The Oct. 24 hearing was an initial step by city planners to hear both sides of the case and present their findings to the decision-making City Planning Commission, said hearing officer Sarah Rigamat and senior planner Maya Zaitzevsky.

The two-hour hearing gave the Wiesenthal Center, which had chafed under the homeowners’ charges and in response to a report on the confrontation in The Journal (Oct. 19), a chance to roll out its high-profile supporters.

According to interviews with participating city planners and spokespersons for the Wiesenthal Center and homeowners, the hearings included extensive testimony on behalf of the Weisenthal Center’s work.

Susan Burden, the center’s chief financial and administrative officer, and Kathy King, an outside consultant, submitted a sheaf of letters, all written within two days of the hearing, enthusiastically praising MOT’s impact in promoting tolerance, social responsibility and Holocaust education in Los Angeles and throughout much of the world.

Among the supporting correspondents were Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, as well as officials representing school districts, peace officers, UCLA and others. In addition, there was live testimony by two Holocaust survivors and two rabbis.

Gans, a lawyer and a leader of the homeowners’ group, argued that the letters and testimony, however sincere, were beside the point. “I am willing to stipulate right now that MOT performs a valuable public service,” she said. “But what we’re talking about here is the enforcement of zoning regulations.”

Countering previous letters by residents critical of the museum, the Wiesenthal Center also introduced letters from supportive neighbors.

One, by Alan Willner, said in part, “The minor inconveniences that any close neighbor may have to living proximity to the institution are clearly offset by the many important benefits that we all derive from the very impressive work that they do.

“I fully endorse their efforts to expand their facilities that are so importantly needed and look forward to many more years of living in their close proximity.”

The Wiesenthal Center also found a champion in Jack Weiss, the area’s city councilman, who spoke at the hearings.

In a phone call to The Journal after the meeting, Weiss argued that the The Journal’s reporting had exaggerated the dispute, which he described as not particularly noteworthy.

He added that the operating and building conditions for the museum were “set over 20 years ago, and it has become more successful than anybody could have imagined.”

Weiss also noted that “MOT’s plans will go forward; it would be irresponsible to do anything else … it would be perverse to punish the city and the Wiesenthal Center for its extraordinary success.”

Neighborhood activists have complained for some time that they cannot get a meting with Weiss, but the councilman said that he would call a mediation session and try to narrow the gap between opposing views, if homeowners “stop telling us that the sky is falling.”

However, the hearing also had some cheer for the residents, as city planners told the Wiesenthal Center to submit more detailed plans, suggested revisions, expressed concern about the center’s past violations of its conditional use permit, and stressed the need for MOT and YOLA to act as good neighbors.

In addition, Psomas & Associates, a land use consultant for the Wiesenthal Center, introduced a modified plan, meeting some neighborhood objections in access and parking, including possible changes in the size and shape of the addition.

The hearing officer indicated that she might tentatively recommend approval of another controversial request by MOT to take over two stories of the yeshiva.

The next step in the process is consideration by the City Planning Commission, which is not expected to take up the matter until a meeting in early January or February.

In the meanwhile, North Beverlywood homeowners hope to enlist the support of the wider South Robertson Neighborhood Council at a meeting on Nov. 6.

Briefs: Survey to catalog landmark Boyle Heights buildings to prevent destruction; Chabad expands on

Survey to catalog landmark Boyle Heights buildings to prevent destruction

A survey of historic landmark buildings in Boyle Heights will start shortly, spurred in part by the mysterious demolition of a former Jewish Community Center last year.

To prevent such thoughtless destruction in the future, City Councilman Jose Huizar announced funding of a survey to identify “sites of cultural and historic significance, enabling the city and community to proactively protect these cultural treasures.”

Huizar emphasized that “after the Boyle Heights community lost the Jewish Community Center at Soto and Michigan — and The Jewish Journal reported the tragic loss — I redoubled my efforts to catalogue and preserve our cultural landmarks.”

In the 1930s and ’40s, Boyle Heights was the oldest and largest Jewish enclave in Los Angeles, with approximately 35,000 to 40,000 Jews living in 10,000 homes. It was dotted with small Jewish stores and such impressive houses of worship as the Breed Street Shul, currently being renovated and converted into a joint Latino-Jewish center.

The early Jewish, African American and Asian residents have now been largely replaced by Latinos, but, said Huizar, “Boyle Heights is filled with Victorian homes, stately synagogues and other precious remnants of our shared history, and we must protect them.”

The survey will focus on the Adelante Eastside Project Area in Boyle heights, containing some of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles.Encompassing 2,200 acres with 2,800 separate parcels of land, the project area is roughly bounded by Indiana Street on the west, the Los Angeles River on the east, Valley Boulevard on the north and Washington Boulevard on the south.

The survey will be largely funded and conducted by a partnership of three municipal entities: Huizar’s office, the Community Redevelopment Agency and the Office of Historic Preservation.

The razed Jewish Community Center was an outstanding example of the architectural style known as California Modernism and was designed in the late 1930s by Raphael Soriano, a Sephardic native of Rhodes.

One year ago, The Journal first reported that the building had been hastily demolished without a permit and without notification to the appropriate city department or neighborhood organizations. An investigation by The Journal found that the culprit was the federal government, which acquired the property to erect a Social Security regional office.

After protests by the Los Angeles Conservancy and Jewish Historical Society, a U.S. government spokesman apologized and promised to take steps to avoid the razing of historical buildings in the future.Huizar said that the survey is expected to begin this spring and should be completed within 12 months.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Chabad expanding West Coast operation

Chabad-Lubavitch, the Chasidic organization known in the Jewish world for its success in outreach, is redoubling its efforts on the West Coast. At its 42nd annual West Coast convention last month, the organization announced that the coming year will see an additional 36 new shluchim, or emissaries. This is in addition to the 220 emissaries already on the West Coast, operating some 150 centers, as well as summer camps, university locales and operational centers.

The Feb. 17-19 convention in Glendale, attended by 212 shluchim from California and Nevada as well as supporters, hosted workshops and presentations designed to better help the rabbis perform outreach in their communities.

Sessions focused on the financial (“Managing Your Finances,” “Making the Dream a Reality: How to build a Chabad Center”), youth (two parts on both “Engaging Your Students” and “Harnessing the Power of Student Participation”) and negotiating in the non-Chabad world (“Resolving Conflicts and Managing Differences,” “Walking on Eggshells: How to Discuss Sensitive Issues”).

“This is one of the most inspiring events of the year for Chabad,” said Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, the head of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch. “It’s a gathering of people who dedicate themselves every day to helping those in need — whether it’s at hospitals, shelters, preschools, senior centers or on college campuses.”

Unveiled at the conference were the prototypes of the new “Chabad-mobile,” a fleet of mobile mitzvah units that will drive through the streets, attend Jewish events — both Chabad and non-Chabad — to offer passersby the opportunity to do mitzvahs, study and get involved with Chabad. There will be 20 new Chabad mobiles to start, although, as with everything Chabad, they hope to increase the number soon. The new colorful design, by artist Marc Lumer, features a businesswoman holding a cup of coffee, a surfer, a “Fiddler on the Roof” character, a Chabad rabbi and more.

“They needed a facelift,” Rabbi Chaim Cunin, communications director of Chabad said of the fleet. “We wanted to make it represent what Chabad is really about: A place where everyone feels completely at home — both in the centers and in the mobiles.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Rabbis and doctors gather at Brandeis for Jewish healing conclave

In January, the Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health held its fourth biennial Partner Gathering at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. The event drew more than 100 rabbis, physicians, social workers and others from the United States, Israel and Brazil whose work or interest involves Judaism’s role in healing.

Tom Cole, director of the Center for Health, Humanities and the Human Spirit at the University of Texas, delivered the keynote address on “Aging and the Changing Nature of the Human.” He spoke about modern medicine’s potential to dramatically increase the human life span, and the implications of such longevity. “Judaism lacks a vision of the good life for our elder years,” said Cole. “We need to create authentically Jewish visions of later life.”

The gathering allowed participants to “learn, network and recharge,” said Associate Director Michele Prince. “Themes of memory and aging were explored during this retreat, and will influence the ways the Kalsman Partners work with one another, their patients, congregants and students.”

“A special element of the Kalsman Gatherings,” she added, “is that we, as a department of the Reform movement seminary, are able to bring together leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish life — from secular Israeli to modern Orthodox. This transdenominational effort is more than symbolic, and it gave us great pleasure as we davened, learned, networked and recharged together.”

At an evening reception, Rabbi Richard Address, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns, was honored with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Sherut L’Am Award for “revolutionary work in Jewish congregational life.”

Address has been instrumental in creating congregational programs dealing with such issues as the changing nature of the Jewish family, bioethics, aging and illness.

— Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

Hooray for Holy-wood

When the media or politicians chatter about Los Angeles’ urban resurgence, they usually refer to such things as $700,000 lofts in downtown Los Angeles, grandiose projects like the proposed Grand Avenue development, million-dollar postage stamp lots on the Westside, clubs on Sunset Boulevard or perhaps glittering new cultural institutions like the Getty Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

But perhaps a better reflection of Los Angeles’ overall civic health might be to look at Temple Israel in Hollywood. There, a $20 million new building program — this being Los Angeles, an expanding parking lot is one centerpiece — will soon be tearing down aging adjacent apartments to make way for an expanded campus, including a new education complex and chapel.

Just two decades ago, Temple Israel was floundering like many shuls in more urban parts of Los Angeles. Membership was down to about 500 families, and there were thoughts that perhaps this synagogue would go the way of so many urban religious institutions, becoming increasingly isolated and rarely attended.

Over the past decade, however, membership has grown to more than 900 families today. What Temple Israel provides, suggested Rabbi John Rosove, is “a community” for its congregation, “a home away from home.”

This is all the more remarkable because of the horrific events that overtook Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

“The earthquake, the riots, the disaster years, but still the Jews didn’t leave,” Rosove said with some pride. “Things were supposed to be shifting away.”

What turned this around? Rosove suggested it may have been a need to find roots and a safe place, a critical shelter in the urban storm.

“A lot of people are coming back to the synagogue for a lot of things,” he explained. “There are young people looking for schools, and there are people who want a spiritual community.”

Critically, this resurgence in religious activity is not confined to Jews, but is a citywide, multiethnic phenomenon.

Religious affiliation, according to one recent study available on the Internet at, stands at nearly 60 percent in Los Angeles, compared to barely 40 percent in the Bay Area or in the Portland and Seattle areas.

In contrast with many regions, particularly in bigger cities, Los Angeles’ religious growth is keeping pace with its population expansion, up some 700,000 since 1990. The number of congregations has grown to over 4,000 from roughly 3,500 a decade earlier.

Like Los Angeles itself, this renewal of faith has many faces. Among Jews it includes expanding synagogues in the Conejo Valley and scores of smaller, largely Orthodox congregations spread from Pico-Robertson and Hancock Park to Valley Village and North Hollywood.

The non-Jewish communities show similar diversity, both in terms of faith and location. South Central Los Angeles is home to some of the largest churches. There is the Faithful Central Bible Church at the former site of the 17,500-seat Forum in Inglewood and the West Angeles Church of God and Christ on Crenshaw. And the new $163 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown represents a major continued commitment to the urban center by the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese.

You can also see this in the growth of relatively new religious institutions, including the North Hollywood Thai Temple, the Northridge Islamic Center, the Hindu temple in Malibu and the 1,600-seat Korean Valley Christian Presbyterian Church in Porter Ranch. In many ways, these new buildings, many of them quite impressive, suggest the scale of renewed religious sentiment throughout the region.

“What is happening among Jews is not an isolated phenomenon,” observed Rabbi Mark Diamond, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. “People are looking around for something, and the more successful congregations are those that are providing for the needs of their flocks.”

Immigrants Drive L.A. Revival

Perhaps most heartening has been the restoration of religious life close to the historic heart of the city. Among Jews, this has been sustained largely by the growth of the Orthodox shuls around Hancock Park, but now there are signs of life even among the less observant.

For decades, the venerable Wilshire Boulevard Temple has been shifting west along with its membership to its $30 million Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus. But now, the congregation is developing a plan to restore and expand its original facilities in Koreatown, hoping to draw a new generation of Reform Jews moving to the increasingly fashionable neighborhoods of Hancock Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz, as well as the Hollywood Hills.

In the same area near Wilshire Boulevard Temple, others of the city’s leading religious institutions are finding new life after decades of neglect and decline. Like the venerable temple itself, great churches are welcoming new parishioners in a way not seen for a generation.

Back in the 1920s, most of the major religious institutions moved out of downtown and to the west on Wilshire. Burgeoning with new businesses and residences, the boulevard, notes Kevin Roderick, author of the recently published “Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles,” also became home to “the churches and synagogues of the L.A. power elite.”

The 1960s and 1970s — with the flight of the middle class outward, particularly to the Valley and the Westside — saw the decline of many of these once well-heeled congregations — Catholic, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, as well as Jewish. Yet unlike in many Eastern and Midwestern cities, where urban churches have been largely abandoned, Roderick notes, Wilshire’s have come back to life, largely by serving new immigrants from around the world in languages as diverse as Tagalog, Korean, Chinese, Ethiopian and Spanish.

In the inner city, as well as elsewhere, immigrants have done much to power our strong religious revival. This process can be seen in virtually every religious community.

Among evangelicals, it has been driven largely by Hispanics and, to a lesser extent, Asian immigrants. Koreans, in particular, have been a force in the more mainstream Protestant faith. Many synagogues, both new and old, have grown to serve newcomers from Iran, North Africa, Israel and the former Soviet Union.

The immigrant desire to preserve one’s national culture, moral values and languages certainly represents one clear motivation. Take for example the rapid growth of day schools affiliated with the Armenian Orthodox Church, with some 5,000 students. Armenian Archbishop Hovnan Derderian believes his church, its 15 day schools and 30 Saturday academies provide a means to transcend a largely secular, morally relativist reality.

“I think somehow we help people hold on to our identity and culture,” explained the archbishop, spiritual leader of the region’s roughly 450,000 Armenians. “We try to continue the faith of our fathers — just like the Jewish and Greek Orthodox communities. It’s a sense of security and a way to provide some authority over morality.”

Derderian added that this revival is broad based across many faiths and reflects to a large extent a growing unease with our public, secular institutions. It can be seen in the continued success of Catholic schools in the region, which serve some 13,000 families, according to a new study by the Pacific Research Institute, as well as scores of Lutheran, Episcopal and conservative Christian establishments.

The Jewish community has certainly also been influenced by this trend. There is today a revival across the city. Jewish day schools, once largely restricted to Orthodox yeshivas, are flourishing as never before.

According to Dr. Gil Graff, director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education, the number of affiliated Jewish day schools in the Los Angeles region has risen from 22 two decades ago to 37 today. The number of students attending these schools has almost doubled, to near 10,000. This is all the more remarkable, Graff suggested, since the total number of Jewish youngsters is believed to have dropped significantly in that period.

The reasons for this growth are varied. As Derderian suggested, there is a growing interest in traditional values and ethnic identity.

There is also the state of the city’s public schools, which, at least judging by test scores, are bad even by the poor standards of urban state-funded education. And finally, there are other reasons, such as concern for safety, that may be driving parents to the religiously oriented schools.

Cities and Religion: A View From the Past

The notion of linking religious faith and urban vitality goes back to great historians from the fifth century Greek Herodotus to the 14th century Arab ibn Khaldun but has fallen largely out of favor among contemporary urban scholars and commentators.

In the four months since my latest book, “The City: A Global History” appeared, the assertion that “the sacred space” has been, and continues to be, a critical element in the development of cities has perplexed, surprised and even infuriated many critics.

Most observers, like Alan Ehrenhalt, writing in Governing magazine, easily assented to my other two underpinnings of urban success — safety and commerce. But Ehrenhalt took issue with my third key urban component, “sacredness.”

It’s not that he doesn’t buy my argument through history, but he believes that applying this characteristic to today’s contemporary, decidedly secular metropolis may be problematic.

Others were less polite. One writer, an art critic in Dallas, thought my emphasis on religion was not only misplaced, but revealed a “longing for the old priestly class.” By even mentioning religion, I was violating the conception — popularized by urban theorist Richard Florida — that it is hipness, style and the arts that make cities great.

“It’s all about aesthetics,” this reviewer suggested at the end of his attack.

Such comments reveal precisely one critical issue for the urban future. Some see cities depending on creating hip, cool, aesthetically pleasing environments. Issues about moral order, and creating an atmosphere for raising children — things inevitably tied up with nonmaterial considerations — are left to the side as so much historical baggage.

This approach reflects the post-modernist interpretation of urban history, which sees humanity as shaped by largely predominant economic, social or environmental forces. Faith, moral order and religion — even in serious works like Peter Hall’s “Cities and Civilization” — have been all but blotted out as critical components of the urban narrative.

In contrast, in “The City,” I cling to the old idea that great cities, or regions, always have been inextricably connected to sacred spaces. The universality of this phenomenon is inarguable. It was expressed by the central location of temples in cities from Ur and Babylon, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the imperial shrines of ancient Chin, the mosques of Baghdad, the cathedrals of Medieval and Renaissance Europe and the Protestant churches in the heart of Amsterdam, London and Boston.

The moral content of these places — the statement they made about the relationship between the city and the universe — was critical to making those cities great. The ancient Judeans may have admired the architecture and fine detail of David’s or Herod’s temples, but it was the symbolic foundation of the place, not the aesthetics, that gave them transcendent importance. Similar things can be said of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral or the great mosques of Baghdad, Cairo or Istanbul.

As the commercial role of cities expanded with the rise of capitalism, this explicit religious role declined. Great cities, which had been primarily centers of government or religion, now arose largely on the basis of their commercial prowess.

In America, this was also necessitated by our founders’ correct desire to avoid any specific official religion. Still, over the past 150 years, churches and synagogues have played a critical role in pushing reform — from the abolition of slavery — as well as spearheading the progressive movement for urban sanitation and fair labor standards. More recently, it was churches, particularly the evangelical denominations — black and white — that did much of the heavy lifting for the hundreds of thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

The Modern American and European Experience

Today, the ill-effects of a declining religious component in cities are clearly evident. In many older cities, many once-great religious institutions lie empty and abandoned, as their middle- and working-class parishioners have fled to the suburbs.

Perhaps most tragic has been the decline of black churches in many major metropolitan areas. The “suburbanization of the black church,” notes Jacqueline Trussell, president of the Web site, has taken from some of our most troubled neighborhoods a critical bastion of security, stability, moral clarity and an important source of services.

Religion is also fading in many of the hip, cool cities so widely celebrated in the media, the political left and cultural communities. Attendance by parishioners at Catholic churches in greater Boston — once one of the bastions of religious observance in America — has dropped from 75 percent to less than half that today. Barely 5 percent of the people in San Francisco, once a largely Catholic city named after a saint, now attend Mass. Manhattan’s parishes, slipping in attendance, also appear to be experiencing a major downsizing.

Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas seem to be bucking this trend. This may be in part due to their high number of single-family homes. Or it may be one of the unintended consequences of a sprawled, multipolar city as people seek a center in a place without one.

This trend is even further advanced in Europe’s shrinking cities, where religion is now largely a matter of preserving the past as a tourist friendly museum piece. There, religious schools (except Muslim ones) are closing, while churches are converted to, among other things, discos, yuppie apartments and even carpet stores.

In both the old industrial bastions and the yuppie ephemeral cities, the waning of religious institutions signals a deep decline in civic culture, in part driven by the loss of the middle- and working-class families that once filled the pews. Whether the decline of religion is a primary cause or an effect can be debated, but certainly the erosion of spiritual centers — and the sustaining power of religious institutions for the sense of community — has contributed to the loss of population and, in particular, families in most of these cities.

Longer Term Implications

The interrelationship of the overall health of cities and religion should be a centerpiece in discussion of the urban future. Both sides of the political debate have politicized much of this.

Conservatives and many Republicans believe that churches could fulfill the needs of the poor and address deep-seated urban concerns better than public policy and government money. To some in the religious right, the city itself is seen as inherently evil and hardly worth the trouble of the divinely anointed.

Many liberals, on the other hand, fear that raising the role of religion in civic life suggests aligning with a kind of right-wing conspiracy. They consign religion, like suburbia, to the toolbox of the hated Bush, Rove and Cheney bogeymen, the secularist left’s satanic trinity.

On a policy level, liberal commitment to secularism is reflected in the anti-religious jihads conducted by groups like the ACLU. In Los Angeles, this was evidenced recently in the recent, ill-advised removal of an offending mission cross from the Los Angeles County Seal.

Yet in reality, it is difficult to pin a particular political cast on Los Angeles’ renewed religiosity. For one thing, the growth of affiliation in Los Angeles does not completely mirror national trends, which have tended to favor conservatives.

In Los Angeles, theologically and politically conservative groups like the Southern Baptists are losing ground just as badly as their more liberal Episcopalian, Methodist and Presbyterian counterparts.

The religious growth comes here instead from very diverse quarters. Certainly the charismatic churches and the Assemblies of God, both of whom appeal to immigrants, have grown handily. But the big winners have been among the oldest religions, including the Catholics, whose numbers swelled by some 800,000 in the 1990s, and, surprisingly, the Jews who picked up more than 60,000 adherents. Much of this is due to the growing immigrant populations.

In sum, Los Angeles’ religious revival reflects not right-wing politics but a city that is demographically changing and vital. In fact, the big gains among many Jewish congregations — outside of the Orthodox and Sephardim — and Catholic parishes may well be more liberal than conservative in their orientation, at least on some issues.

“Jews in the past have thrown out the baby with the bath water,” observed Temple Israel’s Rosove. “You have a reaction against religion that sees it as oppressive.”

The instinctive anti-religious notion, Rosove believes, is beginning to fade, at least among some Jews. More, he said, focus less on narrow political categories and more on larger issues of family, morality and spirituality.

Yet none of this insures that Los Angeles’ religious communities will continue to expand in numbers. Diamond suggested we might focus more on the “qualitative” as opposed to “quantitative” aspects of this shift. He looks to a growing core of committed Jews, as well as people from other faiths, as having the greatest long-term effects on the health of both religious institutions and the city itself.

Healthy, dynamic religious institutions, outside of the intolerant fringes, suggest a unique and enduring form of commitment far more lasting than that offered by companies or political organizations. There are also sure signs that families — and multigenerational communities — can continue to be nurtured in an urban environment.

Far more than celebrity architect creations or fancy museums celebrated by our civic elites, these new patterns of commitment represent the real hope of Los Angeles’ future. It is they who provide the clearest sign that ours can still become ever more a City of Angels.

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of “The City: A Global History” (Modern Library 2005).


Cool Songs? It’s a Miracle!

For all the nice Jewish boys looking for other nice Jewish boys, has come to the rescue.

The popular Jewish online dating site expanded its search capabilities this month to allow gay men — and also lesbians — to seek matches. The Web site now asks people for their gender and the gender they’re searching, allowing men to search for men and women to search for women.

When his sister didn’t marry a Jewish boy, Gary Pinsky was told by his mother that he had to. Pinsky, 32, joined JDate several weeks ago, after returning to New Jersey after living in South Africa for several years. He said he thinks he can find more serious suitors on the Jewish dating site.

“I’ve gotten three responses since I’ve joined,” said Pinsky, a production stage manager. “They’ve all been very nice and seem to have a good head on their shoulders.”

That’s a big difference from other gay and lesbian dating sites, he said, where potential matches are less serious, and largely not Jewish.

“I didn’t find a lot of Jews out there,” Pinsky said.

Gail Laguna, vice president for communications at Spark Networks, JDate’s parent company, said the Web site’s revision came at the request of many Jewish singles.

With more than 600,000 active members, JDate has become one of the standards for niche online dating sites. The profiles of two Jewish congressmen have even been spotted on the site.

JDate officials say the original Web site did not intentionally exclude gay searches, but there was not a demand for it when the site was unveiled in 1997.

The new site includes other requested features, including a better system for identifying non-Jews. The site has become popular with non-Jews seeking Jews, and non-Jews now can express a willingness to convert as part of their online profiles.

But the expansion to gay searches has had the most immediate impact. In less than a month, 700 members have registered for same-sex searches, Laguna said.

She added there are no plans to market to the gay community or to include gays and lesbians in JDate’s current media campaign.

The Jewish world’s policies on gay rights and gay marriage vary wildly. Reform rabbis may perform gay unions, and the issue has been a hot topic within the Conservative movement, which unlike the Reform movement, does not permit the ordination of openly gay rabbis.

Orthodox groups oppose homosexual acts. The struggle of gay Orthodox Jews was the subject of a 2001 documentary, “Trembling Before G-d.”

Straight people will not receive profiles of gay members or vice versa. But, alas, there’s not yet a filter for screening out members of Congress.

On Dec. 13, The Leevees ( open for Barenaked Ladies at 7:30 p.m. at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. For tickets, call (213) 480 3232. On Dec. 15, The Leevees play “Hanukkah Rocks!” at 8 p.m. at the Knitting Factory L.A., 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 209. $15 (21 and older only). For tickets, call (866) 468 3399. 

Where the End Justifies the Beans

Businessman Allen Gochnour is a regular at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on La Cienega Boulevard, and like many of the people who wait in the line that often stretches out the door, he’s not just there to grab a cup of java and run. Instead, the transplanted Pittsburgher hangs out to kibitz with the people behind the counter, who affectionately call him "customer of the year," answer the trivia question of the day and sip his Ultimate Ice Blended — a blended frozen slush of sweet milky coffee, before he continues with his day.

"This is what the world was intended for," said Gochnour, as he licks the whipped cream off his drink. "Kosher food, kosher coffee, a great place to sit down — Pittsburgh doesn’t have anything like this."

In fact, few cities do. In the battle of the bean, where chain stores like Starbucks and Peets compete to serve the strongest espressos and the frothiest cappuccinos to the hoards of caffeine addicts, Coffee Bean has distinguished itself — for the Jewish community at least — by its commitment to kashrut. Every drink, muffin, salad or sandwich is kosher.

Now, Coffee Bean is taking its relationship with the Jewish community one step further. In keeping with the company’s credo of opening community-friendly stores, the newest Coffee Bean store, in the heart of the Fairfax district, will be closed on Shabbat and will serve chalav yisrael milk (milk that has been supervised by a Jew) and pastries, to appeal to the ultra-Orthodox segment of the community.

Herbert Hyman opened the first Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Brentwood in 1963, which sold — coffee beans and tea leaves. Later on, as customers became more interested in the products, Hyman set up a beverage-sampling bar, and later on started serving a full line of beverages.

Hyman started opening more stores, and in the 1980s there were about eight Coffee Bean stores in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t until one Coffee Bean employee threw some coffee and ice into a blender in the mid 1980s that the store really started to become popular.

"That drink was responsible for the worldwide frappe craze," said Melvin Elias, Coffee Bean’s COO. "That is when the growth machine started. The Ice Blendeds became very popular and it made the [store] units profitable. It was an innovative drink, and it took a long time for an established player like Starbucks to realize that we were onto something."

By the late 1990s, there were 60 Coffee Bean stores, and Hyman sold the business to Debbie and Sonny Sassoon — Los Angeles-based Orthodox Jews. The Sassoons decided to invest in the brand on a more macro scale to set it up for more accelerated expansion. Now there are 240 Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores in California, Arizona, Nevada and in 10 different Asian and Middle Eastern countries. About a year after buying the business, the Sassoons also decided to make the products kosher.

Many in the community speculate that the Sassoons went kosher because they didn’t want to be responsible for Jews going into the stores and eating non-kosher products, although the Sassoons would only say it’s good for business.

"The market for kosher is growing tremendously," said Debbie Sassoon, who researches and develops the new drinks for the company. "Less than 50 percent of consumers for kosher products are Orthodox Jews. It’s because the kosher stamp means more supervision — a good housekeeping seal of approval, and [people think] that kosher is cleaner and purer. Also being that Los Angeles is the second-largest Jewish community in America, we thought that there would be a benefit to having kosher certification for our products."

However, experts disagree that selling kosher products has wider business benefits.

"I don’t think non-Jews think that kosher means healthier. I don’t think anyone really has a clue what it means," said Hal Sieling of Hal Sieling and Associates, a marketing company for the restaurant business. "There are obviously people who really care about kosher — but they are not gentiles."

Sieling thinks that the coffee craze has yet to reach its peak — he estimates that designer coffee drinking will continue to be popular until about 2010, and that Starbucks, a business with $4 billion in revenues and 7,000 stores (250 in Los Angeles), will carry on dominating the coffee store market, providing Coffee Bean with the staunchest competition.

"Starbucks is the biggest player by a long shot," Sieling said. "Nobody else is close."

Coffee Bean currently makes more than $100 million in sales, and while they are expanding into new neighborhoods, they say they are not interested in giving Starbucks a run for their money nationally.

"We have no plans to be No. 2; no plans to expand to the East Coast, although it might be a possibility since we have hundreds of customers that want us to do that," Elias said. "We focus mostly on the Southern California core market, and will continue to do so. We are born and brewed in California — that is our home."

The Beverly and Alta Vista Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf will have its grand opening on Nov. 2, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at 7235 Beverly Blvd.

Big-Screen King’s Legacy of Generosity

Paul I. Goldenberg avoided playgrounds and sports when he was growing up because he lacked athletic prowess. He spent hours in the cool darkness of a movie house.

In central Los Angeles of the ’30s, where his parents had little money to spare, Goldenberg scrounged for pop bottles, collecting enough deposits to pay for weekend film marathons. From Friday to Sunday, he lived vicariously, absorbed in the characters portrayed by Clark Gable and Groucho Marx.

Several cousins also lived in his parents’ modest home. Its backyard was shaded by fruit trees, enriched by a flock of 40 chickens. He was 16 when his father, Joe, a former attorney toiling as a shipyard accountant, died. During shiva, nearly every man in the neighborhood shared an anecdote with the teen-ager about his father’s generosity, that freely dispensed advice or a sack of surplus avocados.

His private passion for film would play a formative role in the financial bonanza created by his adult alter-ego, "the King of Big Screen." But his father’s powerful role model was equally influential, propelling Goldenberg into one of the state’s largest political contributors and a major donor to numerous non-profit groups.

The Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda honored Goldenberg, 75, owner of La Habra’s Paul’s TV & Video, as well as others at a gala last month. Goldenberg helped fund the home’s newest $14.3 million building, designed to reflect the latest research on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. He pledged another $2 million towards a $52 million nursing-home expansion, which is hoped will accommodate 40 percent of those on the facility’s 350-person waiting list.

"I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than the home in Reseda," said Goldenberg, whose cousin, Israel Murstein, is a resident, as was another cousin, the late Betty Klein.

"It is nicer than any hotel you’ve ever been in," he said of the Alzheimer’s home for 96 residents, known as the Goldenberg-Ziman Special Care Center.

"He gets it," said Molly Forrest, the home’s chief executive. "The elderly in our community have to have a quality facility," she said, adding that the Jewish home alone in Southern California was singled out in March by state licensing authorities for its perfect certification survey.

Goldenberg’s gold mine is Paul’s TV, located four miles from the nearest freeway exit. Far better known throughout Southern California is Goldenberg’s advertising boast as the self-proclaimed champion of big-screen television sales. "I am the king," he declares in newspaper, billboard and radio spots that tout big-screen sales of more than 100,000 units.

For the 19th straight year, Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corporation named Paul’s as the biggest single-store seller of its big-screen TVs.

"We love Paul," said Cayce Blanchard, a Mitsubishi spokeswoman in Irvine. Paul’s sells only two brands: Mitsubishi and Panasonic flat screen TVs.

"He does an unbelievable amount of business," said Brad Bridenbecker, city manager of La Habra, which perennially counts Paul’s among its top sales-tax producers.

How much, Goldenberg won’t say. The store’s modest size and appearance often surprise first-time visitors. Equally surprising is its staffing. On a recent weekday, five salesmen manned a showroom smaller than the typical suburban home. To keep its pledge of four-hour delivery, Paul’s maintains a 30-truck fleet for installers that travel from Ventura to Carlsbad.

"I’m very dedicated to the idea that customers should get what they pay for," said Goldenberg. "With a chain of five or 10 stores, it’s very hard to know what’s going on with customer satisfaction."

Knowing Paul’s pulse is part of Goldenberg’s routine, which also includes frequent travels responding to invitations, such as one received recently from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Although he occupies the store’s only private office, its desk and table are a neglected pile of papers in disarray. Customers, who often demand an audience with the "king," are more likely to see Goldenberg rooted to a desk reserved for customers filling out paperwork. Like petitioners approaching the throne, a procession of employees and visitors vie for his eye contact during an ongoing conversation that drags into hours due to the interruptions. He signs a proffered check; critiques a memo; explains required retouching to a painter; gives a deadline to a signmaker; criticizes a manufacturer’s warranty card; and imperiously calls employees for help answering questions.

Within Paul’s dominion, the ruler is a detail-oriented autocrat.

The late Jack Lawlor, who owned an advertising agency and believed Paul’s could attain regional prominence, created the trumped-up title.

"He was like an Olympic coach who pushed me to go farther than I ever would have," said Goldenberg, who got his start by borrowing $1,000 from his cousins to open a TV repair shop in Los Angeles.

In 1979, when Mitsubishi introduced the first big-screen TVs, Paul’s was one of the first takers, a confidence buoyed by Goldenberg’s own love for cinema. "I was among the first to recognize their potential for bringing a movie-like experience into the home," he said.

More than TVs are on display at Paul’s. A red velvet and gold crown is kept pristine under an acrylic cube. Nearby are photos of Goldenberg with former presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. It keeps company with the 138-page bound script for "Terminator 2," signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger; commemorative plaques for La Habra firefighters; a letter of thanks from Los Angeles’ Cardinal Roger Mahoney; and a signed Kobe Bryant jersey. More signed celebrity photos line two walls.

Goldenberg’s personal self-indulgences include a red Ferrari and Dodger season tickets behind home plate. He lives in La Habra Heights and is divorced. His son, Doug, is a botanist-biologist for the federal Bureau of Land Management. If there is a Paul’s succession plan, Goldenberg is unwilling to share it. "I wouldn’t have any challenger," he deadpanned.

"The store has allowed me to fulfill some of my dreams to help people who are less fortunate than I," said Goldenberg. He also contributed $209,210 to Democratic candidates and was the state’s fifth largest individual contributor to federal campaigns, the Los Angeles Times reported in January 1999.

He supports the California Highway Patrol 11-99 Foundation and chairs its scholarship committee, which awarded $1.2 million to 700 students this year.

"He has a big heart," said Pam Anspach Colletti, a counselor at La Habra’s Sonora High School, where Goldenberg personally hands out $500 student scholarships. He awarded 40 between two schools last spring. He also underwrites an annual trip for 10 students to Washington, D.C., from Los Angeles’ Dorsey High, his own alma mater.

"He has a wonderful spirit of giving in that he recognizes how blessed he is," said Juan M. Garcia, La Habra’s mayor. "It makes him feel good. He has more than he’ll ever need."

A recent recipient of Goldenberg’s charity is Duarte’s City of Hope, a cancer research and treatment center. Last year, he observed the facility firsthand during a friend’s illness.

"He stepped up to the plate and said he wanted to help," said Richard Leonard, a senior development officer at City of Hope, where Goldenberg is funding an elevated walkway. "He’s got a sense of tzedachah; he knows what’s just in his heart."

Though he considers himself Jewish, Goldenberg acknowledges his synagogue attendance is irregular.

"In Torah, it says ‘God loves the just man.’ There’s nothing about God loving the man who goes to synagogue.

"I’ve tried my best to be a just man."

Emek CelebratesNew Growth Spurt

"I got my first mild concussion over there," Yehuda Pollack said with a sentimental chuckle, pointing to the new auditorium window at Emek Hebrew Academy.

Recounting his ninth-grade days and the perils of tackle football, the 33-year-old former student looks around the new facility in awe, as other alumni, parents, administrators and students mingle and gaze as well, during a Sunday brunch at the Dec. 8 dedication for Emek’s Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks.

Emek’s expansion includes a $1 million state-of-the-art gymnasium, auditorium-lunchroom, science and music labs and classroom wing.

Emek is the oldest and largest Jewish day school in the Valley, with 700 students currently enrolled. The Sherman Oaks school began with a small group of Orthodox families in 1959 and was originally located on Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood, currently the site of the Emek nursery school.

Beginning with a class of six children, the school grew steadily over the years to 250, at which point the Chandler building was filled to capacity. In 1973, Emek found a new home on a 5.5-acre parcel on Magnolia Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. As the student population continued to increase, the faculty decided almost two years ago to expand the main building to accommodate the growing enrollment.

Sol Teichman, Emek’s school board chairman for 25 years, donated $1 million to the project. Emek also received donations from parents and friends of the school.

With the funds, Emek embarked on the year-and-a-half project to add facilities for its 700 students. During the construction, many students spent their days in temporary trailer classrooms. Finally in mid-November, Emek students moved into their new home.

During the building dedication brunch, school board member Gary Finder announced that he was donating $250,000 to improve the school library.

At the dedication, 13-year-old Eliana Blinder, the Student Council vice president, expressed her appreciation. "Although I was never consulted," joked the eighth-grader, "[the new building] turned out beautifully." Blinder thanked school administrators and donors and talked about davening in the new auditorium and playing basketball in the gym for the very first time.

Besides the physical changes, Emek has also undergone a change in demographics. In the past, the school drew most of its students from the large Orthodox community in North Hollywood. Today, about half the students come from Tarzana, Encino and beyond.

"Emek was designed to accommodate kids from any background, not just an Orthodox background," said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, the school’s director of development for 18 years. "Great pains have been taken to not exclude and not differentiate over the years. By the blending of the different communities, it’s been a very successful thing."

Eidlitz said he has also noticed changes in the level of dedication and commitment in the student body. "The caliber of the kids has matched or surpassed the beauty of the new building," the rabbi said. "It’s become a high-class institution."

There will be other changes at Emek in the future. One is on the administration side, where Rabbi Yochanan Stepen, the school’s educational director, who has been at Emek for 31 years, will be retiring.

As the mezuzot were ceremoniously placed in the new doorways, students gossiped about their favorite addition at the school, which for most was the indoor gym. However, the teachers and parents were quick to point out the school’s most important things.

"Every part of this school is a part of Rabbi Stepen and Rabbi Eidlitz," said Gary Bregman, a North Hollywood attorney whose four children attend Emek. "They carry on a tradition of 3,000 [years], and they’ll make it last another 3,000 years. They give us hope and this school is a beacon of light."

Spontaneous Expansion

When Chabad decides to open new centers, Chabad opens new centers.

There are no planning committees and no market research divisions. Of the seven West Coast Chabad centers scheduled to open this week, five do not even have office space yet. Still, they open.

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, leader of West Coast Chabad, calls it “a leap of faith.”

Cunin made the announcement June 30, less than a week after returning from a visit to New York for the seventh yahrtzeit of Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. West Coast Chabad, the division of Brooklyn-based Chabad Lubavitch, which serves California and Nevada, already runs 93 Chabad centers and 28 schools or social service operations.

The creation of a new Chabad center involves two related projects — finding the site and bringing in the staff. Of the seven projects announced this week, two have sites in which to begin programming, and the other five have shluchim (emissaries), and the rabbi and rebbitzen team to run the centers. No center has both yet.

Los Angeles will host three of the new centers, in Beverlywood, Larchmont Village and Pacific Palisades. The Beverlywood and Larchmont Village centers will be housed in nearby Chabad-owned properties to start, then move to their own sites as programs and communities develop. In the Palisades, a full-time teaching rabbi and rebbitzen have arrived to start the Yeshiva of the Westside, (which had no official space at press time). Other new programs announced this week are Chabad centers in San Mateo, Davis and Stockton, and an on-campus outreach program at UC Berkeley. Shluchim are currently searching for temporary space to begin offering services in those areas.

With no official planning system, Cunin picks new locations by poring over lists of donations from the annual Chabad telethon, held in late August. When donations arrive from zip codes not served by a Chabad center, Chabad builds one.

“We used to think of Stockton as a place where you find rabbits,” said Cunin, but telethon records showed many donations flowing in from the area. “We get donations from non-Jews, sure, but most of the telethon support comes from unaffiliated Jews, the kind of Jews we serve with Chabad centers,” Cunin says.

“What’s really exciting about the new centers is so much uncharted territory, like in Larchmont Village where these young, yuppie Jewish people are living,” he added.

All seven centers will be fully operational by Rosh Hashana, Cunin said.

For more information, call West Coast Chabad at (310) 208-7511.

Skirball at Five

When the Skirball Cultural Center opened in April 1996, its founding president and CEO, Rabbi Uri D. Herscher, didn’t buy the philosophy “If you build it, they will come.”

“My theory was, ‘If they come, then you build,'” the rabbi said. “Prophesy is for fools.”

Not long before the Skirball’s fifth anniversary, Herscher acknowledged that the community response has exceeded his wildest dreams. Fifty thousand visitors were anticipated in 1996; some 300,000 showed up. Half of the adult visitors have been non-Jewish, far more than expected.

Herscher has since taken his own advice: People came, so the center built. At the fifth-anniversary celebration April 21 and 22, Skirball leaders will dedicate Ahmanson Hall, phase two of a massive expansion program.

Located on the north end of the 15-acre campus, the building features an airy, 20,000-square-foot domed hall, Cotsen Auditorium, reminiscent of New York’s Lincoln Center. The auditorium can be transformed from a banquet and conference center to a tiered theater seating up to 515. A wall of floor-to-ceiling windows opens onto a courtyard of pale gray stone and an informal outdoor stage. The $45 million structure, designed by renowned Skirball architect Moshe Safdie, includes a three-floor, subterranean parking garage with 600 spaces.

The hall will allow the Skirball to expand its programs to include “every aspect of literature and the performing arts,” Herscher said. It will also help further the center’s mission to explore “the connections between 4,000 years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of democratic ideals” and to “offer hospitality … to every ethnic and cultural identity in American life.”

“Our goal as an institution is to use the instrument of discovery called culture to bring diverse people together in a safe home,” Herscher told The Journal.

The mission has earned high marks among leaders in the multicultural megalopolis of Los Angeles.

“The Skirball has established itself as a thriving cultural organization within the community,” said Stephanie Barron, a Los Angeles County Museum of Art vice president and chief curator of modern and contemporary art.

“In an amazingly short time, the Skirball has proven to be crucial to the cultural life and health of L.A.,” noted Barry Munitz, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Skirball’s neighbor in Sepulveda Pass. “Its broad range of programs serves as an adhesive in a city that is physically spread out and ethnically diverse. The Skirball helps to bring people together when the natural momentum of the city is to spread apart.”

When the Skirball quietly opened its doors five years ago, the goal was to host community and arts activities and to provide a new home for the Skirball Museum of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) — a collection of 25,000 pieces of Jewish art and Judaica previously hidden away in HUC-JIR’s basement. Herscher, HUC-JIR’s former executive vice president, intended the opening to be without fanfare. “I was never quite secure that we would finish it, so I didn’t want to disappoint anyone,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1995.

But in record time, the institution flourished, drawing national attention for exhibits of prominent Jewish artists such as George Segal and Larry Rivers and a controversial show on Sigmund Freud, among other exhibitions. Angelenos of all types crowded Magnin Auditorium in the main building for lectures, movie screenings, readings, dance recitals and live performances of the L.A. Theatre Works radio series. “Conversations” sold out with famous personalities such as TV giant Norman Lear and playwright Neil Simon.

A concert series inside the center’s Zeidler’s Café grew so popular that it was forced to move outdoors to the Taper Courtyard adjacent to the main building in 1998. Today, the world music, jazz and classical concerts draw some 2,000 people per show.

With the advent of Ahmanson Hall, the large performance events will no longer be seasonally limited to summertime concerts on the courtyard. Dance programs are in the works, and a classical concert series by the L.A. Philharmonic Chamber Players is slated to begin this fall.

But don’t expect art for art’s sake. “The Hebrew word for rabbi is rav, which means teacher,” Herscher said. “So every single event must offer an educational experience.” Herscher envisions youth and family concerts like the ones the late conductor Leonard Bernstein used to host.

Indeed, children have become a crucial target audience for the Skirball, which pays to bus in L.A. Unified School District students weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. “The field of psychology has taught us that if you want to infuse ideals, you’ve got to start as young as possible,” Herscher explained.

The 30,000 youngsters who visit the Skirball each year learn about Jewish and American values, for example, in two unique gallery “classrooms,” built during the center’s extensive redesign and renovation last year. One of the classrooms depicts a cheder, a Jewish classroom from Eastern Europe; the other suggests a turn-of-the-century American public school.

When the Skirball dedicates its $34 million Winnick Heritage Hall in 2003 — phase three of its building program — the primary focus again will be upon young people. There will be an outdoor amphitheater for the performance of children’s programming. And two 3,500-square-foot children’s galleries will feature a core collection relating the biblical story of Noah’s Ark to multiculturalism today. “It’s the loveliest way to teach children about the immigrant experience,” said Herscher, who hopes the new building will help to bring 20,000 more children to the Skirball each year. “Because every pair of animals is different, it’s perfect to show how we can all get along. It’s a great message for a city like L.A., where people have settled from a variety of cultures around the world.”

While the Skirball is generally lauded as a cultural center, its art exhibits have generated mixed reviews from at least two prominent Los Angeles art critics. “The Skirball has made a big contribution to the total cultural picture of this city, but I don’t think visual art is their strongest suit,” said Suzanne Muchnic, art writer for the Los Angeles Times. “I have yet to be bowled over by an exhibition there.”

“The Skirball has fulfilled its role in [enhancing] the pride and morale of Jewish constituents, but if we’re talking specifically about art-related exhibitions, it hasn’t hit its stride yet,” concurred Edward Goldman, the art critic for National Public Radio. “It seems like they are narrowing their scope to Jewish themes and subjects…. Now that the Skirball has such visibility, and they’ve built up such a prominent space for themselves, I’d like to see them launch a much more ambitious program embracing a much wider range of subjects and themes. That’s what this city needs. I’d like to see something to slightly rock the boat and upset a bit the status quo.”

Herscher said he appreciates the constructive criticism. He noted that the Winnick building will feature an 8,000-square-foot gallery that will provide the necessary space for more ambitious changing exhibitions. It’s hoped that the inaugural show, tentatively scheduled to originate at New York’s prestigious Museum of Natural History, will focus on the life and work of Albert Einstein.

Nevertheless, Herscher insisted, the Skirball’s mandate is to be a cultural center first. “We have an important museum component, but we’re not a museum in the classical sense — we never have been and we never will be,” he said. “When we display art, we have a message about how we can enrich communal life.”

Herscher clearly knows how to enrich communal life, both on a public and personal level. On the second night of Passover, he hosted a seder that read like a Who’s Who of cultural leaders: “He invited me, as well as the presidents of CalTech, USC and the Huntington Library,” Munitz told The Journal. “Some of us are Jewish, some not. It [was] intercultural and interinstitutional work at its absolute best.”

Why does Herscher believe a Jewish institution should further civic life in Los Angeles? “No one people can live in health unless the total community is healthy,” he said. “That is what [the patriarch] Abraham taught us when his first act as Jew was to welcome three strangers to his tent and to give them shelter.”

For information about the Skirball, call (310) 440-4500.