Acts of Faith – Farewell Service

After World War II, two Jewish GIs returned to Los Angeles and founded a synagogue in Westchester. Beth Tikvah, as it was called, finally found a permanent home in 1959 on the Westchester bluffs.

But last month, the Conservative congregation — known since 1968 as B’nai Tikvah after merging with the nearby B’nai Israel in Baldwin Hills — held its last service at the historic Westchester building, with its 204-seat sanctuary. On Aug. 20, about 100 people showed up for a final Havdalah service to say goodbye.

Because of dwindling membership and a lack of Jewish families in the area, the congregation decided to sell the property and look for a new location on the Westside.

“We got well over the appraised price, and about a half a million over the asking price,” said Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen, or “Reb Jason,” who did not disclose what the congregation received from a real estate company that plans to build condominiums.

At its apex in the 1960s, B’nai Tikvah had some 400 member families, said Rabbi Marvin Bornstein, who served as its leader from 1953-1984.

“It was humming day and night there,” he told The Journal.

But then white flight happened, and Jews began leaving Westchester and the nearby neighborhoods of Inglewood and Ladera Heights. The airport also needed more land and started buying up property.

“They cut our membership in half just by expanding the airport. It reduced us to maybe 150 families,” Bornstein said. “That was a big blow.”

But things are not over for B’nai Tivkah, said Van Leeuwen, who had been brought in a year ago to drive up membership.

The congregation will move its religious and nursery schools to the site of the former Montessori school at 8820 Sepulveda Eastway in Westchester, and will hold most services at the adjacent Westchester Christian Church. In addition, the congregation will share a location with Temple Beth Torah in Mar Vista, which has about 60 families.

Van Leeuwen said he hopes in the next three to five years to increase membership, cultivate a donor base and find a new site.

Bornstein delivered the keynote speech at the goodbye ceremony.

“I told them that the spirit of a synagogue is not expressed in the building that they have. It’s expressed in the hopes and dreams of the congregation, and that I hope they will continue to dream and rebuild. And someday, I hope they will invite me to put a mezuzah on their new building.”

“It must have been a pretty emotional speech,” he said, “because for the first time in my life, I got a standing ovation.”

For more information on services, schools or the Festival of Faith ceremony on Sept. 18 at 1:30 p.m. with the Westchester Christian Church, call (310) 645 6262.

100 Shofars to Sound

Michael Chusid was 10 years old when he first tried to blow a shofar, the traditional ram’s horn sounded on the High Holidays.

“I did not have a teacher, so I huffed and puffed until my cheeks hurt without getting even a small toot,” he said.

It was so difficult that he did not touch a shofar again for 30 years.

“During that time, I would go to synagogue on the High Holidays, but I felt alienated from what was going on there. When I would hear shofar during the services, I noticed everyone around me was excited, but I could not feel any connect with the ritual.”

But Chusid has come a long way. These days he is such an expert in the art of the horn that he teaches classes around the city for other amateurs who were once like himself.

How did he come so far?

In 1994, he began attending Makom Ohr Shalom, a Jewish Renewal temple in Granada Hills. There he discovered how to participate in all aspects of worship — including blowing the shofar, which was accomplished by many members of the congregation instead of just one leader.

“The sound they made was on a whole different magnitude, both acoustically and spiritually, from anything I had experienced before. When I heard the shofar, I felt a great relief, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from my spirit.”

Chusid went out and bought himself a shofar, learned how to play it — and started teaching others. Now, this Rosh Hashanah (Oct. 3, 4 and 5), he expects to hear the sound of 100 people blowing shofar at Makom Ohr Shalom. That’s a twist on the tradition that Jews are meant to hear 100 blasts of the Shofar throughout the holiday.

For anyone who wants to participate — or learn for their own synagogue — Chusid is teaching workshops this month around the city on the art and spirituality of shofar-blowing.

He compares it to “blowing raspberries,” except that the lips have to be curled over the teeth and pressed together. The sound is made by the buzzing of the lips, and when you force air through the pursed lips, they vibrate and make a sound.

“Many people know the shofar as a battle cry, like at Jericho,” Chusid said, noting that it can also be used to call the end of war, for teshuva or repentance, as well as a wake-up call for tikkun olam, the obligation to help repair the world.

“When I blow the shofar, I visualize my blast creating a vibration that travels throughout the community and around the planet to wherever healing needs to take place.”

Free shofar blowing classes: Monday, Sept. 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 788-6000, Friday, Sept. 16, 7:10-8 p.m., prior to Shabbat services, Makom Ohr Shalom, 5619 Lindley Ave. (at Burbank Boulevard), Tarzana, (818) 725-7600, To schedule classes, contact Michael Chusid at (818) 774-0003 or send an e-mail to


Say Hello to a Sane ‘Goodbye’ Brunch

The wedding was beautiful. Everything went off without a hitch. Now it’s time for the farewell finale — the "Goodbye, it’s been great to see you, thanks so much for coming" Sunday brunch.

Your mishpacha may have traveled from around the world to attend this wedding, and because it’s rare that they’re gathered all together for the entire weekend, it’s your pleasure to send them off well fed.

Ironically, this casual assembly — when everyone’s outfits and hairdos (to say nothing of their sense of humor) are a bit droopy — can be the most upbeat, emotionally intimate happening of the entire weekend.

When folks keep bumping into each other at one of the happiest events in a Jewish family’s life, friendships are forged, long-lost cousins have kissed and pledged an eternity of e-mails; maybe there’s even a shiddach or two in the offing.

This is the time when people want to linger — even though they’ve got to hurry. Suddenly everyone is aware the magic they’re feeling comes and goes in the blink of an eye.

Food For Thought

Make sure to include a separate invitation to the brunch, as well as all other events, with your wedding invitation. A clear map will make everyone happy. Invite guests for a flexible time, open house, giving them space to relax or pack before coming over. Do not run out of food so stragglers are greeted by an empty table.

Give guests a "bracelet" (purchased at a party store) or colored ribbon to put on their glass or coffee mugs so they won’t get them mixed up. Since people will be grazing, use luncheon-size paper napkins instead of cloth. The only silverware you will need on the table is forks.

Let There Be Lightness

Since you’ve done the formal and traditional, now is the time to get whimsical: kick back, take off your shoes and thank yourself for the memories you’ve created. Decorate your living room with a banner: "Thanks for the Memories." "Perseverance is Healthy for Parents of the Bride and Other Living Things."

Create a fanciful centerpiece for the table. Include props from the wedding — extra invitations, wedding books, photos of your daughter growing up. Make original bouquets of bright flowers such as daisies or daffodils sticking out of oatmeal boxes. Take an egg carton; place a small amount of dirt in each of the 12 holders, then put a tiny, flowering plant in each one. Line up containers of seasonal flowering plants and invite guests to take them home.

Fruit and Nut Granola

Store granola in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

4 cups assorted flakes (oat, wheat, rye, triticale, millet)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup dark molasses

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup wheat or rice bran

1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

3/4 cup raisins or mixture of dried cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple

Mix flakes with honey, molasses, oil and salt. Spread thinly on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 300F, until lightly browned. Stir frequently while baking to prevent burning. Remove from oven. Mix in wheat germ, almonds, seeds, raisins and dried fruit. Serve with fresh fruit, yogurt and milk.

Makes 4 cups

Scrambled Eggs Topped With

Tomato and Basil

8 large, firm tomatoes, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

2 cups basil, sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil or more, as needed for sautéing tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, chopped fine

2 tablespoons butter for frying eggs or more as needed

2 dozen eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup yogurt

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sauté tomato, basil and garlic in oil in a large skillet for one minute, just to heat through. Remove from pan. Whisk eggs and milk together in bowl. In same skillet melt butter over medium heat. Pour in eggs; reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until soft curds form. Stir in yogurt, salt and pepper and remove from heat. The eggs should be soft and creamy. Transfer eggs to serving platter, top with tomato mixture and serve immediately. Garnish with sprigs of fresh basil.

Serves 12.

Grilled Potatoes

Olive oil for frying

4 red potatoes, sliced very thin

1/2 cup onions, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup red peppers, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil on grill or non-stick skillet. When pan is hot, add potatoes, sauté until golden, about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn potatoes to other side, add onions and peppers; cook two to three minutes, until golden. If desired, add salt and pepper. Place in chafing dish to keep warm.

Serves eight.

Banana Pineapple

Breakfast Bread

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup wheat germ

1 cup ripe bananas, mashed

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened,

or canola oil

1/3 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup dried pineapple

1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350F. In large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Stir in wheat germ. In another bowl, mix together bananas, eggs, butter or oil, yogurt, sugar and lemon juice. When mixture is smooth, gradually stir in dry ingredients. Add raisins, dates and nuts; stir until combined. Pour into a buttered loaf pan and bake at 350F for 50 minutes or until a toothpick plunged into the center of the bread comes out clean.

Makes one loaf

Let There Be Food

In addition to the wedding brunch menu:

A basket of hard-boiled eggs: Boil organic eggs with tea bags or beets, giving them a natural, understated glaze. Or go to your local farmer’s market and buy naturally gorgeous eggs. Some varieties of chickens lay eggs of blue, aqua, green, grey and various shades of brown, tan and off white. Place a bowl of French salt and a pepper grinder nearby.

A basket of organic oranges: Set the oranges next to an electric or a hand juicer. Let guests squeeze their own juice. Place bottles of champagne in ice buckets nearby; some people might want to make their own mimosas. Include a breadboard of whole-wheat challahs, a bread knife, a dish of butter and homemade jams, jellies or marmalades. Place butter and jam spreaders in appropriate places and set a toaster nearby.

Coffee and Tea Service: Set up a separate table or use the end of your buffet table for the hot drinks. Don’t forget sugar, honey, cream and teaspoons.

Lemon Tart

Pate brisee sucre (sweet tart pastry) from French-trained Los Angeles resident, Tamara Rowland. Filling from Petra Nettelbeck, who recommends Belgian Vergoyse sugar for the filling.

For The Pastry

Pate Brisee Sucree

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1/2 cup cake flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch bits

2 eggs

Set oven at 375F. In a food processor equipped with steel blade, work the flour, cake flour, sugar and salt for 30 seconds, just long enough to combine. With processor running, add butter and eggs. Work them into the dry ingredients in on-off motions until the dough forms large, moist clumps. Remove dough from work bowl, place in middle of 11-inch tart pan. Using your fingers, press dough lightly into bottom of pan to evenly cover base. Trim off excess dough. With your thumbs push dough up into sides of tart pan to create a decorative edge. Pierce bottom of pan with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Set it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Set tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Press a piece of foil directly onto the pastry. Transfer pastry to hot oven and bake it for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool. Turn oven temperature down to 350F.

For The Filling

Zest and juice of two lemons

2 tablespoons heavy cream

3 tablespoons blanched almonds

2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, browned, for garnish

1 dozen thinly sliced lemon pieces

In a food processor or blender, combine zest, juice, cream, almonds, sugar, eggs and butter. Blend until smooth. Pour into cooled pastry shell. Bake tart for about 25 minutes or until set.

Allow tart to cool completely. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, slivered almonds and lemon pieces.