Mayor: Building inspectors need better training, sensitivity to block another Yom Kippur showdown

One year after an emotional incident in which city building inspectors sought to halt Kol Nidrei services for Orthodox worshippers at a Hancock Park service, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has followed up with a report with recommendations designed to increase sensitivity and prevent future problems.

The confrontation at the Yavneh Hebrew Academy in the Hancock Park area outraged the Orthodox community and its political supporters.

Triggering the incident was a series of anonymous phone calls from a neighbor of Yavneh, alerting the city Department of Building and Safety (DBS) to a probable violation, on Yom Kippur, of restriction governing the hours that Yavneh could use the facilities.

At 8 p.m., while Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was conducting Kol Nidrei services for some 200 worshippers, two inspectors walked into the lobby and told startled congregants that they had to vacate the premises immediately.

When told that worshippers would leave only if carried out by force, the inspectors left and the services continued.

The roots of the incident lay in a contentious nine-year feud between some residents of the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood and an influx of strict Orthodox families.

Villaraigosa, together with city councilmen, felt the heat from both sides and the mayor asked the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom “to independently review, pro bono, the events that occurred on Sept. 21, 2007…and to make recommendations.”

In a letter yesterday (Sept. 23) to DBS general manager Andrew A. Adelman, obtained exclusively by The Journal, Villaraigosa cited 12 findings and recommendations by the law firm and asked for a response by Nov. 7.

In general, the report found that DBS had not singled out the Orthodox community as such, but called for an improved inspection process within DBS, and better communications with the city planning department and with institutions, such as Yavneh, operating with certain restrictions under a conditional use permit.

Specifically, the report recommended continued “awareness seminars” for inspectors at the Museum of Tolerance, supplemented by a “cultural diversity” program, in addition to the following points.

Training to avoid conflicts while conducting building inspections.

Review of the policy under which DBS accepts anonymous complaints.

Avoid interrupting cultural or religious events.

Institutions operating under conditional use permits to appoint community liaisons, who would be notified of complaints before city officials take action.

Korobkin, the Yavneh spiritual leader, said he was very pleased with the mayor’s recommendations and that the fault for last year’s incident lay mainly in the way DBS was structured, as well as a certain lack ofsensitivity.

There is no chance that last year’s incident will be repeated, he said. For one, Kol Nidrei falls on a weekday this year, which allows for extended operating hours.

Korobkin also asserted that relations between Yavneh and its neighbors had improved over the last 12 months and that complaints came mainly from a hard core of seven to eight residents.

But future relations between Yavneh and the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which includes a fair number of Jewish families, will bear watching.

No spokesperson for the homeowners was immediately available, but in the past they have persistently accused Yavneh of violating the terms of its conditional use permit and have initiated a number of court actions.

Although Yavneh is not located within his district, City Councilman Jack Weiss has been a vocal champion of the religious school.

He said that in the dispute, “justice is on the side of Yavneh – it’s not even close.”

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Selma’s Sermon

This is a big time of the year for sermons.Last year at this time, I wrote a column called “Words of Awe,” comparing the different styles of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform sermons.I even previewed some of the sermons we could expect to hear here in the hood — and I discussed the Orthodox tradition called Shabbat Tshuvah, which is the biggest and most anticipated sermon of the year, on the Shabbat afternoon before Yom Kippur.

The thing is, though, all these big, important sermons are usually given by rabbis.

They’re not supposed to be given by young, pretty, career-driven single Jewish women with a weakness for Italian shoes and vintage Jaguars.

But that is exactly what happened four years ago, on Yom Kippur of 2003, when a rabbi’s daughter named Selma Schimmel got up to speak. She didn’t speak in a shul in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, but this is a story that can play in any hood.

Selma spoke right after the Torah reading, and just before Yizkor, in a Studio City shul called Beit Meier. Her sermon, as she recalled it the other day in my dining room with kids playing in the background, didn’t focus on High Holy Days themes like spiritual renewal, forgiveness and personal atonement.

Instead, she spoke about ovaries, genetic testing and the BRCA gene mutations.

You see, Selma had an announcement to make that day. A week earlier, she had undergone a seven-hour operation to treat advanced ovarian cancer, which no one knew except her now-late father, the founder and spiritual leader of the Beit Meier shul.

So she and her father had huddled together and decided she had to say something. This was a small community, and the Schimmel name was revered. People worried easily. Twenty years earlier, Selma had been diagnosed at an unusually young age with breast cancer, and three years before that, her mother, the rebbitzen, had died of ovarian cancer.

This was not a time for family secrets. So there she was, in her tailored suit and Italian shoes, recovering from surgery and groggy from pain medications, in front of a standing-room-only crowd that was waiting for its annual Yom Kippur sermon — and she was telling them about her second cancer.

She explained that about 10 percent of ovarian cancer cases have been linked to genetics, typically through susceptibility genes. As part of the genome project, the two BRCA genes, located on chromosome 17, were the first to be identified as carriers of a predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers. When a woman has a mutation in either BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, like Selma has, she is at higher risk of developing one of these cancers.

Then she got personal.

She explained how about one in 40 American Jews of Ashkenazi descent — who make up about 90 percent of American Jews — is believed to carry the mutant genes, compared with one in 400 for the general population.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, researchers speculate that the genetic mutations arose by chance among the Ashkenazim over several centuries, starting as far back as the 1100s. Under assault by ethnic attacks, millions of Eastern European Jews contracted to a group numbering in the thousands, then expanded again into a population of millions — a “genetic bottleneck” in which random mutations in the small, largely intermarried group are passed down to many descendants.

Selma was one of those descendants, and as she went on with her “sermon” that Yom Kippur day, she seemed to forget that she was in a shul and not a school of medicine. But she was going somewhere with her lecture on mutant genes.

She wanted the people of the community to open their eyes and start asking more questions. She wanted them to look more carefully into their families’ medical histories, and if they suspected anything, to immediately make the necessary appointments.

She also offered to help. As the founder and executive director of Vital Options, an internationally renowned nonprofit cancer support group she started during her first bout with cancer in 1983, she could help answer a lot of questions.

But still, what did any of this have to do with the Days of Awe, the Book of Life or the Day of Atonement?

Selma admits today that when she got up to speak on that day, she came with an agenda. She knew she was about to go in for long-term treatment. She didn’t like the idea of rumors flying around about the rabbi’s daughter. She wanted to put everything on the table, while also enlisting the community in her efforts to help others with cancer prevention and early detection.

In other words, she didn’t really have your basic High Holy Days sermon in mind.

If you ask me, though, I think Selma’s not giving herself enough credit.

Is there a better day than the one when we abstain from all physical sustenance to reflect on the sanctity of the human body and honor the Torah’s injunction that “You shall guard your being”?

During these Days of Awe, when we are instructed to reflect deeply on ourselves and seek personal rectification, is there a better time to be reminded that the miracles that God has given us — which include the human body — also include the gifts of human knowledge, and the obligation to use that knowledge to help care for God’s physical miracles?

We will all hear many sermons during these Holy Days, and I’m sure many will touch on our need to become better Jews and make the world a better place. In the middle of all these noble sermons, however, I hope we’ll remember a simple Holy Days message from a fearless Jewish woman with an antique Jaguar who’s just been diagnosed with her third cancer.

Take good care of what God gave you.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

Orthodox But Not Monolithic

The last place most people probably wanted to be on the morning of Dec. 25 was at a convention in a Beverly Hills hotel.

But for Orthodox Jews the time and the place, the Crowne Plaza, worked fine for wrapping up the Orthodox Union’s 15th Annual West Coast Torah Convention, called “The Polarization of Orthodox Judaism: Finding Harmony Within Diversity.”

The four-day conference highlighted the diversity — and at times the tension — in what might appear to be, from the outside, a monolithic community.

The most observant of the four main denominations of Judaism, Orthodoxy in the last decade and a half has shifted further to the right. The basis of Orthodoxy is an adherence to halacha — Jewish law as interpreted by Orthodox authorities — but Orthodoxy still encompasses a wide swath of opinions.

While Orthodox tensions might seem like insider baseball to non-Orthodox Jews, there is often a trickle-down effect on all Jewish denominations, especially on issues such as teaching creationism in schools and forbidding exposure to certain books. Another ongoing issue is how much dialogue should there be withnon-Orthodox Jews and how much engagement is the right amount with the world outside Judaism.

An ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox representative faced off in the first night’s “Fireside Chat” featuring two perceived “factions” of Orthodoxy. Representing the more “modern” faction was Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the national executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU); representing the more haredi, or “Ultra-Orthodox,” faction was Rabbi Avrohom Teichman Mora D’asra (head rabbi) of Agudas Yisroel of Los Angeles. The two erudite, bearded men expressed opposing positions on issue after issue.

For one thing, while Modern Orthodox Jews support Israel as the Jewish State and hold as a goal aliyah, or moving to Israel, ultra-Orthodox Jews do not put as much focus on aliyah as a mitzvah; nor are they necessarily proponents of Zionism. Also, Modern Orthodox Jews support secular education, and unequivocally send their children to university while the ultra-Orthodox often view a secular education as presenting a danger to the religiosity of their children.

The discussion between Weinreb and Teichman remained calm and civil, but the discourse grew more impassioned at a panel the following night, after Friday night Shabbat dinner at B’nai David Judea.

“How Flexible is Orthodoxy?” featured four rabbis, but it was the two local ones who ended up most at odds, when moderator Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, of Kehillat Yavneh and the OU, asked, “How is Orthodoxy meeting the needs of the modern Jewish woman?

A woman’s role in the synagogue should not change, said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, of the Young Israel of Century City. Period.

But Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, of B’nai David reiterated his position that there are troubling issues regarding women that must be reconsidered. Kanefsky has drawn fire here for a number of his liberal practices, such as holding a woman’s-only prayer group. The interchange between the rabbis prompted a barrage of questions from the audience, blowing the lid off a volatile issue. The views of Kanefsky, who is currently serving as president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, represent the far left of West Coast Orthodox rabbis, and even cause controversy within the modern faction of Orthodoxy.

Another perspective on women’s issues was offered in a Sunday lecture by David Luchins, OU national vice president and chairman of the Political Science Department at Touro College for Women. He placed the matter in the context of Orthodox Jews’ broader view of engagement in the secular world, citing the example of secular education. Some Orthodox regard a college and professional education as an ideal; others accept this outside education as “necessary” for a professional life; and some reject it entirely. Rejection has long been popular among many Orthodox in Israel, and has become so among some American students who study at Yeshivas there.

On the matter of secular education, he said, the battle is now being fought. Not so, in his view, when it comes to support for Israel and women’s issues.

On the matter of Israel’s centrality, Luchins said, the Modern Orthodox have won. The ultra-Orthodox – who decades ago viewed Israel dismissively as a “Zionist entity” — now are as supportive as the Modern Orthodox.

But on the matter of women, he said, the ultra-Orthodox have prevailed. In 1976, he said, there were three women on the OU board. There are none today. The OU conference featured no women panelists, save for one all-women panel (“The Orthodox Women’s Influence on Her Community”) that was closed to men at the request of the women on the panel.

“Why have we relegated our women to third-class citizens?” Luchins asked. “We’ve done it for the tradeoff,” he posited.

The ultra-Orthodox accepted Israel as a central ideal, and in return, the Israeli community’s conservative attitude toward women has prevailed overall in most of the Orthodox world, he said.

“We’re so busy fighting over the form of where women sit in shul that I think we’ve lost the substance. There was a time that women were the pillars of the Orthodox community,” Luchins said. “We’ve lost on that issue, big.”

Off the record, one rabbi expressed concern about schisms within Orthodoxy. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think the movement is going to have to break into two.”

But OU President Steven Savitsky talked about such divides as challenges to be managed, rather than as a looming crisis.

“How do we find cohesiveness and harmony?” Savitsky asked, when he addressed the opening night dinner of 150 at Beth Jacob synagogue in Beverly Hills.

The short answer, Savitsky later told The Journal, is tolerance.

“We need to see the bigger picture: There are very few of us in this world, and we better find ways of working together,” he said.


The Circuit

Commending the Caring

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) has, for the past 150 years, been helping more families than you can count. On March 19, 5th District City Councilman Jack Weiss presented a JFS delegation that included Paul S. Castro, executive director of JFS, and Marcia Volpert, president of the JFS board, with a city commendation honoring the anniversary during a meeting of the City Council.

The commendation reads “Congratulations on the celebration of your 150th Anniversary! As the largest and oldest social service agency in the city of Los Angeles, it is an honor to commend you for your extraordinary commitment and unwavering service to the Jewish community and to the people of our great city.” In return, Volpert presented Weiss with a desk-sized replica of a bus bench featuring one of JFS’ anniversary advertisements that reads “Healing families in L.A. since before the Civil War.”

“Our organization has grown alongside the city since 1854, helping its citizens to meet the small and large challenges of life,” Volpert said. “We are proud of our great partnership, which provides vital services to all the people of Los Angeles, and look forward to another 150 years of successful service.”

Iranian Schindler

At the Yom HaShoah commemoration at Nessah Synagogue on April 18 and again at the Wiesenthal Center on April 19, the man who was known as the “Iranian Schindler” received commendation for his work — six decades after World War II.

During the war, Abdol Hossein Sardari was the Iranian Charge d’Affairs in Paris, under the Nazi occupation. Sardari took it upon himself to issue Iranian passports to non-Iranian Jews who were facing deportation, and saved the lives of thousand of Jews. Sardari died in London in 1981.

At the Nessah ceremony, Sardari’s nephew and the former Iranian regime’s ambassador to the United Nations, Fereydoun Hovedya, received a Plaque of Appreciation from the leaders of the Jewish community.

Let the Music Play

Pamela and Dennis Beck and Carolynne and Ze’ev Drori of Beverly Hills; Joan and Allan Burns and Leslie Vermut and Tom Weinberger of Brentwood; and Denise and Tom Decker of Bel Air were the co-chairs of the Music Center of Los Angeles County’s 16th annual Spotlight Awards gala performance and dinner on April 17 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. They watched 12 performing arts finalists compete for a $6,000 prize in categories of classical voice, nonclassical voice, classical instrumental, jazz instrumental, ballet and nonclassical dance in front of celebrity judges like Kevin Eubanks, Suzanna Guzman and Paul Salamunovich.

Read Up

It was a big night for the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) on April 7, when 270 people came to the Central Library downtown to watch writer Susan Sontag, philanthropist Caroline W. Singelton and The Boeing Company represented by Vice President William R. Collopy Jr. be honored at the library’s ninth annual awards dinner.

Sontag, an award-winning essayist, playwright and director, and the author of “Illness as Metaphor” and “Against Interpretation,” among others, accepted the LAPL’s Literary Award for her impressive contribution to literature. Singelton was presented with the Light of Learning Award for her significant contribution to the LAPL’s adult literacy services. Singleton’s gifts established a state-of-the-art literacy center in the central library and expanded the program into 12 branch libraries throughout Los Angeles. The Boeing Company received the LAPL’s Corporate Philanthropy Award for supporting a variety of programs for children and youth.

Great Big Gift

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles announced in March that it received the largest permanent gift in the organization’s history — a $12 million bequest from the estate of Werner and Ellen Lange. The gift serves as the cornerstone of the newly created Werner and Ellen Lange Endowment Fund, which is anticipated to generate $500,000 annually to support initiatives and new projects that will have a lasting impact on Israel and the local Jewish community.

Werner Lange came to America from Germany in the 1930s to escape Nazi persecution. He married Ellen in 1941 and the couple moved to Los Angeles after World War II where Werner established a substantial optical instruments business. The Langes never had children, and were described as “modest” by those who knew them, giving anonymously to a range of causes that supported the Jewish community here and in Israel. Ellen Lange died in 2000; Werner died in 2003.

“The Langes are true exemplars: for the humility they demonstrated during their lifetimes and for their commitment in leaving a legacy that stands to make a difference — a profound difference — in the lives of others who come after them,” said Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the Foundation.

To Your Health

The Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) sponsored an evening of cancer awareness on April 15 at Loews Beverly Hills Hotel. Dr. David Herber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, professor of medicine and public health and the founding chief of the Division of Clinical Nutrition in the Department of Medicine at UCLA, spoke about “Obesity and Cancer.” The evening was moderated by UCLA professor Benjamin Bonavida, president of ICRF.

In other cancer news, Dr. James Berenson, the former director of the Multiple Myeloma and Bone Metastasis Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and professor of medicine at UCLA, announced the founding of the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research (IMBCR) in March. The IMBCR is an independent research institute aimed at learning the causes and developing new treatments for common forms of cancer.

And on April 14, the The Wellness Community-West L.A, which offers support, education and hope to cancer patients and their families free of charge, honored Billy Baldwin on behalf of the Baldwin family, community leaders Stacy and Alberto Valner, culinary expert/cookbook author and philanthropist Judy Zeidler and Grammy Award-winning recording artist/producer Steve Tyrell with their Human Spirit Award. More than 400 people attended the gala dinner, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where Hollywood heavyweights Diane Keaton, Steve Guttenberg, Courteney Cox Arquette and David Arquette were honorary co-chairs.

Smart Teacher

The better teachers are educated, the better they will teach. In April, Lisa Ansell the world languages chair at the New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) was awarded a Fullbright Fellowship for a six-week study program in Russian language and literature at Moscow State University. Ansell, who is fluent in nine languages, and currently teaches Spanish, French, Arabic and Hebrew at NCJHS, hopes to use her fellowship to enhance all of the language courses at the school.

Heart of the Matter

UCLA heart surgeon Dr. Hillel Laks of Beverly Hills, professor and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of UCLA Medical Center’s Heart, Lung and Heart-Lung Transplant Programs, was presented with the 2004 Medical Honoree Award at the Camp del Corazon’s Gala del Sol event April 3 at Universal Studio’s Globe Theater.

The award, presented this year by Larry King, recognizes an individual who focuses their work on pediatric cardiology and/or congenital heart disease. This year’s inaugural award was given to Laks for his ongoing support of the camp as well as his role in the medical care provided to many patients who have attended the camp.

Camp del Corazon is a medically supervised residential summer camp on Catalina Island for children age 7-17 who have congenital heart disease. In was founded 10 years ago by UCLA’s Dr. Kevin Shannon, a pediatric cardiologist, and Lisa Knight, a UCLA cardiology nurse.

The camp presented its 2004 Corazon Media Award to actor Noah Wyle, who accepted the award on behalf of the NBC drama “ER.”

Nessah Seeks Younger Crowd

On a typical Shabbat morning at the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, there is seldom a free seat in the spanking new 1,200-seat sanctuary. At Nessah, like other traditional Orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles, men and women sit separately, men lead the services and they don’t use a microphone.

But don’t expect Nessah to be too familiar. Although it follows a traditional Sephardic liturgy, at this shul — now the largest solely Persian congregation in Los Angeles — if you don’t speak Farsi, you won’t know what the rabbi is talking about.

The Beverly Hills building is a new home for Nessah, which moved to the neighborhood from Santa Monica last March. This High Holiday season, firmly settled in their multimillion-dollar, 60,000-square-foot building, synagogue leaders are trying to reach out to a new generation of Persians, ones who might not be as comfortable as their parents with all-Farsi services.

For the first time in 22 years, this Rosh Hashana Nessah will have Hebrew services with English explanations and an English sermon together with their traditional Farsi services. "We want to attract the younger crowd that does not speak Persian," says Mike Cantor, 31, Nessah’s executive director. He said that both services sold out — with 650 people attending the English service and 1,170 attending the Farsi service.

As in the larger Jewish community, the Persian community is facing the challenge of attracting the younger generation to religion and tradition.

"This is a transitional generation," says Rabbi David Shofet, Nessah’s rabbi. "Kids who came here when they were 5 or 10 years old were educated in the education system here in this country, and they think like Americans, so you can’t talk the same language that you did back home. The new generation understands Farsi, but they don’t understand a high level of Persian, therefore, we have to talk in English to them," he explained. "The concepts are different, and while daily conversation in easy for them to understand, if you want to really talk to them, they are lost."

The English services are only one part of Cantor’s plan to make use of the new, neo-classical white edifice on Rexford Drive to attract the young Persian community, to "provide them with the latest in what is cutting-edge Jewish and particularly Persian Jewish." Buoyed by a recent private fundraiser that raised $6.5 million in one night, Cantor has plans for weekly social and educational gatherings where different Persian speakers will address topical issues. He also wants to institute cultural exchange programs between the East and West Coast where yeshiva students can come and learn with Shofet. "I am very keen on harnessing the young crowd for the sake of continuity in this community," Cantor says.

It is a community that is one of the oldest in the world. "Jews have lived continuously in Iran from year 722 B.C.E., and today, there are 32,000 Jews left there," Shofet says. " In Los Angeles — the largest community of Persian Jews outside of Iran — the assumption is that there are about 40,000 Iranian Jews."

According to Shofet, for most Iranian Jews, immigration to America was a blessing. "Jews in Iran were second- or third-class citizens, and there were always quotas," he says. "At the time of the shah, it was the best time for us, but still you were a Jew. We were very limited, so immigration to the United States was a very positive point for us. Religiously, it was a blessing to come here — the country of freedom."

Yet, the move away from the old country brought with it its own set of challenges. "The [Jews] came here and psychologically they wanted to free themselves from the political system and the pressure system of the Iranian culture and government, which indirectly impacts their religiosity," Shofet says. "We are worried about mixed marriages. In Iran, I don’t think that was even one percent, because Jews were so looked down upon. In the United States, the rate is much higher."

Nevertheless, Cantor is confident that Nessah has what it takes to keep Persian Jews in the fold. "This is an incredibly cohesive congregation," Cantor says. "They are passionate about attending synagogue, and are a superbly strong community."

Etz Jacob: The Shul that Could

Etz Jacob Congregation (above); President Bernard Abend (left)and Rabbi Rubin Huttler (right).


Attention,anyone who was ever married or bar mitzvahed at Etz JacobCongregation at 7659 Beverly Blvd.: The shul wants testimonials,photographs and memorabilia for an exhibit honoring its 80thanniversary. The temple is the oldest in Beverly-Fairfax, and,according to Rabbi Rubin Huttler, it’s in large part responsible forcreating the Jewish enclave around Fairfax Avenue.

Today, it perseveres despite the changing demographics, as Jewsare moving to the Valley or the Westside. Huttler struggles to makeends meet with the help of his elderly president, Bernard Abend, “whohas taken us out of crisis after crisis.”

The Orthodox shul’s history begins at the turn of the century,with its founding rabbi, Jacob Bauman, a brilliant scholar fromRiseshitz, Poland. When his son fell ill, the rabbi sought a postoverseas so that he could pay the hospital bills; ultimately, he paid$60 for a steerage ticket to New York and packed kosher food for thefive-day train ride to Los Angeles.

To earn a living, Bauman worked as a shochet, a ritualslaughterer, and in 1918 he founded a congregation in a grandVictorian home at 947 Arapahoe St.

Prohibition brought a bit of drama to this precursor of Etz JacobCongregation. Shul leaders had a permit for the use of ritual wine,but one delivery was stolen when trucks burst into the winery andcrooks tied up the government inspector. The robbery made thenewspaper headlines, the Internal Revenue Service demanded exorbitanttaxes, and it was only after a landmark court case that the rabbi wasexonerated.

Bauman moved the congregation to the Fairfax area almost byaccident. In the early 1930s, he rented a house at 127 S. Martel be closer to his grown daughters; he needed a home near thestreetcar line that could get him downtown early for his supervisionjob at the kosher slaughterhouse. Before long, the area’s scatteredJews, who had moved west from Boyle Heights, began to join him for aminyan in his home. The numbers grew so fast that a businessmanpurchased the shul’s current property, a foreclosure at BeverlyBoulevard near Stanley Avenue, for $5,000 in 1933.

A Talmud Torah (religious school) ensued, as did a variety ofJewish services. “I believe Beverly-Fairfax became Beverly-Fairfaxbecause Etz Jacob offered everything a Jew could need, from thecradle to the grave,” says Huttler, who arrived at the shul when itwas still in its heydey, in 1970.

There was a successful Sisterhood and crowded luncheons for whichthe balabustas cooked all day in the synagogue kitchen. Two thousandpeople frequented High Holiday services at three sites.

But by the 1980s, the neighborhood was changing, becoming lessJewish as yuppies moved west and observant Jews moved east to HancockPark and the conservative Orthodox shuls along La Brea. “As amiddle-of-the-road Orthodox synagogue, we’re too modern for a lot ofpeople, and that makes things more challenging for us,” saysHuttler’s wife, Miriam.

Then there was the matter of Etz Jacob’s day school, which Huttlerbegan in 1989 to offer affordable Jewish education to the Russians,Iranians and needy families moving into the area. The problem wasthat most of the children were on scholarship, and the school oftenran hand-to-mouth.

Nevertheless, Etz Jacob persisted, and today it is proving itselfThe Shul that Could. Young couples are enrolling their children inthe Talmud Torah, the only one left in the neighborhood, “which wedecided to keep open no matter what,” Huttler says. A benefactorhelped the day school, which moved from its shabby old premises toits new location on Beverly, six blocks west of the synagogue.

Huttler continues to perform circumcisions and bar mitzvahs forRussian youths, and a successful Iranian minyan endures at the shul,which has about 200 members, half elderly, half young families withchildren.

“We’re reaching out to whomever we can in the area, includingthose who can’t afford expensive synagogue dues,” Huttler says.”We’re challenged to help these people, who don’t seem to have aplace in any other area shul.”

Huttler does not want Etz Jacob to become “another Breed StreetShul, abandoned and boarded up.” Thus, he came up with the idea forthe 80th-anniversary celebration, which will start with a Chanukahdinner on Dec. 28, honoring Judge Bruce Einhorn, and continue with amuseum exhibit, a year’s worth of programming and, most importantly,an endowment fund drive. “We’ve been fighting hard, and we’re stillhere,” Huttler says. “Our goal is to preserve the shul, and we feelwe have an important role to play in keeping Fairfax a traditionalJewish area.”

If you have photos, memories or memorabilia for the shul’s 80thanniversary, call Rabbi Huttler at (213) 938-2619. He’s interested intaking down your oral history.