Long Beach synagogue vandalized

Long Beach police are searching for a male suspect who threw a brick at the window of Temple Israel of Long Beach on Jan. 7. This was the second incident of vandalism at the Reform congregation, located at 269 Loma Ave., since the building reopened in October following a major renovation project.

“The reaction by staff was concern, frustration, that we had just moved back into a new building and this is the second incident of vandalism,” said Eric Shatzkin, executive director at Temple Israel. Shatzkin discovered the damage to the window while setting up for a staff meeting on the morning of Jan. 8.

Long Beach police have described the suspect as a “white male or Hispanic”; 20 to 30 years old; 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet tall; wearing light-color cargo or basketball shorts; a long-sleeved, light-color jacket with a dark collar; a white T-shirt and dark-color sandals or shower shoes. The incident took place at approximately 11:30 p.m., police said.

Footage caught by the synagogue’s surveillance video shows the perpetrator approaching the synagogue from the street, throwing an object at the building, then running back toward the street. Long Beach police posted the video on their YouTube channel on Jan. 17.

The brick hit the eastern wall — the synagogue’s front entrance — causing a spider-web break to a first-floor, double-pane window that has an additional anti-graffiti protective film, Shatzkin said. The brick did not make it through the glass to the interior.

An alarm did not go off since there was not any damage to the interior, he said.

In November, another act of vandalism involved anti-Semitic graffiti—a swastika painted on Temple Israel’s exterior—and was not caught on video.

In addition to notifying police about this latest incident, the congregation contacted the Anti-Defamation League of Orange County/Long Beach and sent out an email update to its congregants.

Shatzkin believes that the two incidents could be the work of the same vandal.

“[We’re] hoping this doesn’t become an ongoing concern,” he said. “Hopefully it’s one perpetrator that they are able to catch now that they have one video.”

Anyone with information is urged to call Long Beach Police Department Detective Jackie Bezart at (562) 570-7250.

Watch Temple Israel's Jan. 7 surveillance video below:

Student on track to become first black female rabbi

Alysa Stanton-Ogulnick isn’t particularly interested in being a standard-bearer.

She’s proud to be black, proud to be a woman and proud to be a 45-year-old single mother who raised her adopted child on her own.

And when she says that next year, following her ordination as a Reform rabbi, she will become the first black female rabbi, the huge grin on her face lets folks know she feels pretty good about that, too.

But Stanton-Ogulnick, who is studying at the Cincinnati campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), didn’t set out to be the first. It just kind of happened, like so much else in her life.

“If I were the 50,000th, I’d still be doing what I do, trying to live my life with kavanah and kedusha,” she said, using the Hebrew words for intentionality and holiness. “Me being first was just the luck of the draw.”

Stanton-Ogulnick — she’s still getting used to the second part of her hyphenated last name, the product of a recent marriage — was recently in San Francisco for a conference of ethnically and racially diverse Jews and Jewish communities sponsored by Be’chol Lashon, an organization that supports their efforts to enter the Jewish mainstream.

That’s something the future rabbi knows a great deal about — as a woman, as a convert and as a Jew of color. She’s had to fight for success and acceptance in a world that wasn’t always welcoming.

“At this conference there are people from all over looking for their identity,” Stanton-Ogulnick said. “Maybe I can help them on the path by breaking down barriers.”

That’s among her goals as a rabbi, she says: breaking barriers, building bridges and giving hope.

Like many rabbinic students now, Stanton-Ogulnick is on her second career. She came to the rabbinate as a licensed psychotherapist specializing in grief and loss issues.

Stanton-Ogulnick has worked with trauma victims in Colorado for the past 16 years, at the same time becoming more active in Denver’s Temple Emanuel. She has served the synagogue as a para-chaplain, religious-school teacher and cantorial soloist.

Raised by Pentacostal parents, Stanton-Ogulnick spent her childhood and young adulthood as a spiritual seeker, making the rounds of various Christian denominations before finding her home in Judaism. She converted more than 20 years ago.

“People look at me and ask if I was born Jewish,” she said. “I say yes, but not to a Jewish womb. I believe I was at Sinai. It’s not as if one day I scratched my head and said, hmm, now how can I make my life more difficult? I know — I’ll become Jewish!”

Stanton-Ogulnick made her choice to join the Jewish community as an adult, well aware of the difficulties that might arise. Her daughter Shana, now 13, didn’t get to choose; she was dipped in the mikvah (ritual bath) as an infant.

The year they spent in Jerusalem, Stanton-Ogulnick’s first year as an HUC-JIR student, was the most difficult. Shana, then 7, faced daily prejudice at school.

“She was beat up, and once was literally kicked off the bus,” her mother said with quiet anger. “We’d been in Israel three months and her only friend was a cat.”

One day, Shana came home from camp beaming because one of the other children held her hand.

“‘Nobody ever holds my hand, Mommy,’ she said to me,” Stanton-Ogulnick recounted. “I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Because I’m shochor,'” or black.

“Ani lo tov, ani lo yafah,” the little girl told her mother, using the Hebrew for “I’m no good, I’m not pretty.”

Even telling the story now, six years later, Stanton-Ogulnick shakes her head.

“Sometimes I’ve been in tears with what I have put this child through,” she says.

Stanton-Ogulnick relates some of the difficulties of her life’s journey in a monologue she created last fall called “Layers.”

First performed at a conference of Reform religious-school educators in October, the piece opens with her standing on stage with her head in a noose, a shocking evocation of slavery. The monologue deals with her journey to Judaism and other major changes in her life, including a recent weight loss of 122 pounds.

Pulling out an old picture of herself at her former weight, Stanton-Ogulnick shakes her head again. Is she really no longer that person? Is she really about to become a rabbi?

It’s all so remarkable, she muses.

At the end of one performance, she says, a woman came up to her in tears, saying, “You told my story, thank you.”

“It’s those moments,” Stanton-Ogulnick said. “Even though the journey is long and the path difficult, if I can provide someone with a little hope and a sense of purpose, it’s worthwhile.”

It’s experiencing those moments that she is most looking forward to as a rabbi, whether she ends up in a pulpit, working as a chaplain or in some other position.

“That moment, that ‘a-ha, I’m not alone’ that comes when I’m talking with a congregant or an individual struggling with something and I’m helping them find a solution,” she said, “that a-ha moment is what it’s about for me.”

A pioneering minyan celebrates double chai birthday

Back in 1971, a group of young married rabbinical school graduates with small children requested a meeting with Rabbi Jacob Pressman of Temple Beth Am. Many of them had just moved back to Los Angeles after graduating the Jewish Theological Seminary, and they were looking for a meaningful prayer experience. Not only that, their children were being shushed for being disruptive in the main sanctuary.

Pressman proposed creating a separate, “parallel” service for the young Jewish professionals and took the concept back to his board, who did not like the idea at all. One man pointed his finger at Pressman and warned, “Rabbi you are going to create another shul that’s going to grow up and leave.”

Temple Beth Am library
In fact, the board member was half right. Pressman and the group did create another entity, what has become known as “The Library Minyan,” named for the downstairs library where the 15 families began to meet weekly to pray. Members organized and participated in all parts of the service (especially the weekly sermon), discussed all aspects of Judaism and debated the increasingly complex issues of the changing times. But even as the group grew — eventually eclipsing the main sanctuary in attendance — it stayed at Beth Am. In fact, it became a draw for new members, some of whom went on to serve on the synagogue’s board and who are now among the top Jewish professional leaders in and beyond Los Angeles.

Thirty-six years later, the Library Minyan, with its opportunities for engagement and intellectual rigor is seen as having helped to start a revolution — empowering lay leaders in the essential structure of spiritual leadership. It has become a model for many Conservative and Reform congregations seeking to create alternatives both within and outside the fold of conventional synagogue structure, and has allowed individual congregations to morph it into new and ever-changing incarnations.

This weekend, the Library Minyan will celebrate its double-chai anniversary (two times “life”) with a Shabbaton Nov. 2-4 that will remember the past but also look toward the future.

So, what does the future hold for the Library Minyan and its members? Will they continue to be a creative influence on Judaism? Or is it time for them to step aside and let other younger people establishing new and innovative communities of their own take over? Has the revolution ended?

Not that the Library Minyan set out to be revolutionary. “We were looking for a place where we could daven,” said Rabbi Stuart Kelman, who worked at United Synagogue Youth, Camp Ramah and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion before leaving town in 1984 to work in Jewish education in Northern California.

“Since most of us were knowledgeable, we could create a service that was more informal, more intimate, more participatory. I think this minyan was an evolution and not a revolution,” Kelman said.

Pressman, for example, helped found Camp Ramah and American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism) and got the hotels in town to have kosher kitchens. Under his stewardship, Beth Am grew from 218 families in the 1950s to 1,300 by the 1970s. He recognized the need for something new: “It was unreasonable we could serve all these people,” he said, so he gave the green light to the group, which was soon to include Rabbi Eliott Dorff (now rector of American Jewish University), professor Steven L. Spiegel (now UCLA’s director of the Middle East Regional Security Program) and Rabbi Joel Rembaum.

“I wish I could call it an immediate success, but it was not,” Pressman said. “There was scarcely a minyan” in the early years. Not that that mattered to its attendees, who were happy to have a mixed-seating, lay-led, traditional prayer group where members read from the Torah, delivered parsha sermons and held weekly potluck lunches. They also debated issues: first, whether women could read Torah (they could by the mid-1970s) and then whether women could lead prayers and be counted as a minyan (they could by the early ’80s).

“In the late ’70s all these people started coming,” recalled Dorff, who joined two months after the start, in April 1971, and is now considered one of the driving forces behind its egalitarian spirit. The minyan is filled with rabbis — more than a dozen — but has no one rabbi. “There were more and more people who wanted this kind of service.”

There was another attraction: “Word came out that the Library Minyan was a good place to meet the opposite sex,” Pressman said.

The group relocated a few times, first into the youth building adjacent to the shul, and then to the old chapel (today it’s in a newly renovated chapel).

“The minyan also acquired a certain star appeal, with members such as the Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, the scholar of mysticism Jonathan Omer-Man, and the historian of ideas David Ellenson, a Reform rabbi who grappled with Modern Orthodox theology in his doctoral dissertation,” as described in a chapter devoted to the history of the Library Minyan by Samuel Freedman in his seminal book, “Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry,” published in 2000).

Freedman pointed out that the participants were “products of the Jewish counterculture, committed to applying the New Left’s ideal of participatory democracy to religious practice. Yet they did not throw out all convention: Ninety percent of services were in Hebrew, and most members were Sabbath observant.”

Other forces were also at work: In 1985, Pressman retired and handed Beth Am’s senior rabbi mantle over to Rembaum, one of the original members of the Library Minyan, which was now considerably larger, with about 130 individuals on a Shabbat morning, Rembaum said.

The complaints continued: “Why don’t you bring those people in?” some of the same Beth Am members now complained to the new rabbi.

“I’m one of them,” Rembaum replied.

Rebuilding New Orleans — With A Little Help From Each Other

One year after “the storm,” as New Orleanians refer to Hurricane Katrina, Jewish communal leaders describe the health of the community with certain expected terms — loss, trauma, devastation and challenge.

Unexpected is the word “blessed,” used repeatedly in reference to the outpouring from the American Jewish community of financial support, volunteerism and donations of everything from teddy bears to challah covers.

Funds from the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella of the North American federation system, and the national religious movements have kept New Orleans’ Jewish agencies and synagogues afloat this past year and are expected to do so through 2007.

To date, the UJC has contributed more than $17 million to the rebuilding efforts; the Reform movement has contributed some $800,000 to local Reform congregations, with another $800,000 available for recovery efforts not covered by insurance. Other movements have sent funds as well, although exact figures were not available.

What will happen in 2008 and beyond is the worry that both drives many planning meetings during the day and keeps communal leaders up at night.

“Fortunately, the Jewish community has not had to depend on the help of government, given its failure at all levels,” said Allan Bissinger, president of the New Orleans federation. “UJC has taken the place of what the government should normally have done.”

Roselle Ungar, interim executive director of the federation, said, “What UJC and the many generous contributions from individuals across the country have given us is the opportunity to take a deep breath, step back and take the time to make the hard decisions that will be necessary, so that in 2008 we can stand on our own two feet again.”

A community-wide task force is in the beginning stages of implementing a recovery plan. The plan focuses on such issues as how to retain current residents while encouraging new ones to resettle in New Orleans. It also is determining how the organized Jewish community can work smarter to make the best use of limited dollars.

One of the positive outgrowths of the storm has been the burgeoning spirit of cooperation among all the New Orleans Jewish institutions. Beth Israel Congregation, the Orthodox synagogue that took on 10 feet of water, is now holding a Shabbat minyan at the Reform Gates of Prayer Congregation.

The Anti-Defamation League is sharing federation office space. Interagency programs are on the upswing, and a Hebrew free-loan program is in the works. The JCC is getting needed revenue by renting out its facilities to community groups.

Tackling the population issue will not be as easy. Current estimates are that the Jewish community will stabilize at about 65 percent its pre-storm strength of about 10,000 individuals.

Although there are no hard and fast data about the population exodus, the increasing number of “For sale” signs attests to residents’ continued impatience with the slow pace of recovery, frustration with the government and concern about the rising crime rate. And it would be difficult to exaggerate the impact another hurricane would have on people’s decisions to move.

Although all age groups have joined this exodus, one particular cohort — those in their 60s and 70s with grown children in other communities — has been leaving in large numbers.

Communal officials count the loss of these individuals particularly troublesome because these are the big machers — those with the money and the time to make significant contributions. Every institution has lost some of its biggest donors and officers.

At the same time, each of the five synagogues surveyed has reported new members, mostly young people drawn by the pioneer spirit of rebuilding and the opportunity to make a difference.

Indeed, despite the loss of members, synagogue attendance seems to have remained stable. As Rabbi Andrew Busch of the Reform congregation, Touro Synagogue, put it, “In their new lives after the storm, people have a greater need to come together in the synagogue.”

Rabbi Ted Lichtenfeld of Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation agreed.
“Though I have not had people battering down my door for pastoral counseling, in a sense, the storm underlines everything,” he said. “Fortunately, very few of my congregants lost family members to the storm, but most are rebuilding their homes and almost everyone’s job was affected in one way or the other. That is taking up so much of their energy. They come to synagogue to be in community.”

Undaunted by the storm, Chabad-Lubavitch of Louisiana has committed to build a new student center at Tulane University; the cornerstone ceremony is scheduled to be held Aug. 27, two days before the storm’s anniversary.

The New Orleans Jewish Day School, a community school supported by the federation, has been hit hard by the population exodus. From a pre-storm enrollment of nearly 90 children in kindergarten through eighth grade, it will begin the coming school year with 23 children in just two classes: a combined kindergarten-first grade and a second-third grade class. This precipitous decrease comes despite a halving of tuition, made possible by outside contributions.

Because the local Jewish Family Service (JFS) helps individuals cope with the challenges in their lives by providing counseling and financial support, it has been a lead agency in the post-storm year.

And it has transformed its way of doing business.

Although it had always provided small grants of $500 to $1,000 to individuals in need, that activity increased exponentially over the past year, when it distributed $900,000 in UJC funds directly to individuals affected by the storm, according to agency officials.

By requiring individuals to come to the JFS office to pick up their checks, JFS staff had the opportunity to see how recipients were doing, to hear their concerns and to offer help that went beyond the financial.

Anne Freedman, associate director of JFS, said of its clients: “All that some people needed was the chance to cry and tell their story to the staff, people who really understood them because they had gone through the same thing.”

“Many people were so used to giving to others that they were embarrassed about accepting aid,” she said. “I would tell them that the sooner they were made whole, the sooner they could be back to their traditional role of helping others.”

The traditional counseling role of JFS has changed as well. With many families now living with several generations while their homes are being repaired, more clients are coming in for family counseling. In Baton Rouge, which received many older evacuees, JFS plans social events that bring isolated older adults together; the JCC in New Orleans puts on similar activities.

The agency’s suicide prevention and education program, Teen Life Counts, is needed more than ever. One volunteer reported that pre-Katrina, when she would ask high-schoolers what they thought of teens who committed suicide, they would characterize them as selfish and foolish. This past year, the responses were much more sympathetic. She heard students say, for example, that peers who committed suicide “must be real sad because their parents were crying all the time.”

Yet, even against the backdrop of government incompetence and uncertain levees, many residents are buoyed by optimism.

On a recent Sunday, community members gathered in the afternoon for a chanukat habayit, a home dedication ceremony in which a mezuzah is hung, for Georgette Somjen, a physician moving to town. Later, a brit milah was celebrated for the son of Gary and Susan Lazarus, who are committed to remaining in New Orleans.

Dan Alexander, a fourth-generation New Orleanian, and his wife, Lazelle, also a native, attended both celebrations.

Katrina destroyed their home and surrounding neighborhood, where they had lived for 43 years. The house was bulldozed a few weeks ago.

An 81-year-old retired public schoolteacher, Dan Alexander, said, “When you lose your home, it is like losing a relative.”

Buying and moving into a new house was “the farthest thing from my mind,” he said. “But what’s the alternative? You have to move on and establish a whole new type of existence.”

Declaring that he and his wife are satisfied in their new home, he added: “I couldn’t have made these changes without the support of Lazelle and my family and the community. We just have to be strong and work together as a team.”

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The ‘Last Man’ Standing

Harry Ralston admits the scruffy Jewish intellectual in his neurotic comedy, "The Last Man," opening today in Los Angeles, is "the ultimate worst version of myself."

After an apocalypse, Alan Gould (David Arnott) thinks he’s the last guy on earth, so he’s making a video "bible" for future humans. Except he breaks his own moral code when his twosome with a babe ("Star Trek: Voyager"’s Jeri Ryan) is crashed by a charming stranger. "The minute he’s tested, he fails," says Ralston, who is himself a Jewish intellectual.

The 38-year-old director, who was bar mitzvahed at a New York Reform synagogue, made Alan Jewish, to emphasize his outcast-status. "It’s also amusing, because even when you get rid of almost everyone on earth, the Jew is still in the minority."

Ralston began "The Last Man" after communism fell, in 1992 — the year he quit a cushy ad job in Chicago to write screenplays in Mexico. He’d noted that the communists had sanctimoniously promoted Marxism, but human nature had corrupted the system. A less profound impetus: "I’ve found that people, including myself, have a profound need to be right," he says. "Everyone who drives slower than you is a moron. Everyone who drives faster is a maniac."

Ralston and his friend, filmmaker Tamara Hernandez, hardly thought they were right when they decided to make their respective directorial debuts — two films — for the price of one.

While the gambit had its advantages — including giving potential investors two chances to get their money back — it also required a breakneck-production schedule.

The two directors were rewarded when their movies earned kudos on the festival circuit; now Ralston hopes his post-apocalyptic love triangle offers a caveat post-Sept. 11. "I hope that [viewers] will take from the film that they don’t have all the answers," he says.

Cantors Sing a New Song

If Jewish Los Angeles seemed a more melodious place in late June, you can thank 250 of the Reform movement’s sweet singers of Israel, who gathered in Beverly Hills to celebrate Jewish music and share their knowledge, skills, and repertoire.

The 47th annual convention of the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) and the Guild of Temple Musicians (GTM), the first to be held in greater Los Angeles since 1982, met June 25-29 at the Beverly Hilton. Participants included Reform cantors and cantorial soloists from across North America, plus a smattering of synagogue music directors and organists.

The programming covered the full range of musical styles now being offered in – or proposed for – Reform synagogues, with an emphasis on West Coast composers. “We wanted to let people know that this is where it’s happening,” said Cantor Sam Radwine of Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes, a member of the convention’s local planning committee.

Much of the week’s activities reflected the trend toward synagogue music that’s easily singable by congregants and that incorporates contemporary sounds, including Craig Taubman’s popular “Friday Night Live” music and Cantor Steve Puzarne’s Tish Tones, a instrumentally and stylistically eclectic ensemble that has proved popular at Puzarne’s synagogue, Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica.

Almost as strong a current throughout the convention as the musical character of Reform worship was attention to the role of the cantor, which has expanded, especially in how it’s perceived by rabbis and congregants, since many of the ACC members began their careers.

While many cantors have long worked with religious school children, helped prepare adolescents for Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and made hospital visits, it’s only recently that congregations have come to view cantors as educators and counselors as well as singers. “When I started out… I felt like a jukebox, where every time we needed a song, a quarter would be put in, and ka-ching, it was time to sing,” said Cantor Judith Rowland of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, a past president of the ACC.

“I think in today’s modern congregation, the cantor is more and more perceived as a partner in the clergy role of educating, moving, touching each and every member with his or her own individual expertise,” Rowland added.

The cantor plays a crucial role in Jewish lifecycle events and in healing rituals, said Anne Brener, a psychotherapist who has written extensively on caregiving and bereavement and who lectures at Hebrew Union College. “Cantors work with people at the most profound moments in their lives,” she said.In a workshop titled “The Cantor as Counselor,” Brener told participants of the need to create a “healing space” between themselves and the people to whom they’re listening. “More than just about anybody, I think cantors have the tool to create this space, which is your music,” she said.

Similarly, Arlene Chernow, Reform’s regional outreach director for the Southwest, led a workshop on the cantor’s role in welcoming mixed families and converts to Judaism. “Music is one of the places where the connection is made,” she told participants, adding that cantors are often seen by non-Jews in a congregation as more approachable than rabbis and therefore should have their radar up for people who need a supportive temple leader.

“I think the congregation sees their cantor now… as a person who they can come to for counseling, a person who they can come to for solace, who they can depend on in time of need and joy, someone who carries their prayer with [his] own,” said Cantor Scott Colbert of Temple Emanu-El in Atlanta.The 2000 ACC/GTM convention provided glorious music and collegial interaction, plus new tunes and ideas to share with congregations. As Cantor Linda Ecker of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley, another member of the convention’s local planning committee, said, it was meant to send participants home “refreshed, revitalized and ready to roll.”

No one expressed the role of the cantor better than Samuel Kelemer, cantor emeritus of Temple Beth Am and a founder of the ACC, who became a chazzan before he became a bar mitzvah and was honored at the convention’s Wednesday night banquet for more than 70 years in the cantorate. “I’m happy to say that I helped thousands of people feel closer to God,” Kelemer said. “It’s more than a calling – it’s a privilege.”

Trying to Make a Merger

For three decades, Temple Solael has sat on Valley Circle Boulevard, perched above the westernmost crest of Woodland Hills. Over the years the Reform synagogue gently competed with Temple Aliyah, a Conservative congregation, just up the road. Then, in the mid-1990s, Temple Aliyah membership began to skyrocket, and the subsequent establishment of a second Conservative shul, Shomrei Torah, also built on Valley Circle, placed the Reform congregation in a precarious position.

Despite its well-regarded preschool and the arrival of Rabbi Ron Herstik a few years ago, Temple Solael has found its membership dwindling. Temple officials won’t say how low the numbers have fallen, but it is serious enough that the synagogue must either merge, find new funding or close.

Enter Temple Judea of Tarzana. Reluctant to see a sibling Reform synagogue pass into history, officials at Judea are struggling to find a way to merge the two congregations.

The move is being made not solely out of charitable motives; according to Judea’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Don Goor, about 36 percent of his temple’s growing membership now resides in Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Woodland Hills and West Hills, making Solael an excellent choice for a satellite site. The temple already maintains an off-site Hebrew school at Indian Hills High School in Agoura, which is enrolled almost to capacity.

“Our real problem is our growth. We’re wearing a size 6 shoe and we’re a size 9 foot,” Goor said. “In the last three years we’ve gained 240 member families, with a good portion of that from the West Valley. Our long-range planning before Solael came to us included looking at expanding our staff to better meet congregants’ needs and addressing the westward movement of our congregation. So when Solael came to us, it was almost a dream come true.”

Members of both temples took a vote on the proposed merger March 21, with the resolution passing unopposed at Solael. At Judea, more than half the voting membership supported the merger, but supporters lacked the required two-thirds majority to pass the resolution.

Goor and other temple leaders have not given up hope that the merger may yet pass and have formed a committee to see if it is possible to mitigate the opposition’s concerns.

“Most of those opposed (to the merger) felt there wasn’t enough information yet, so the process is continuing as we attempt to answer their questions more clearly,” Goor said, adding that opponents hoped to avoid the lingering financial problems that had haunted other synagogue mergers in recent years.

Goor said the committee at Judea hoped to be able to make a decision by early May.

“Obviously both sides have serious reasons to consider this move,” he said. “Solael had come to the end of its road, and I think that was a very brave thing to admit. It’s not easy to ask for help, and they did it with such integrity. The congregation has such a devotion to Jewish life that our merger talks began with the question of how to continue Jewish life at that site.

“No one wants to see a congregation go under,” Goor said.

Casting their Differences Upon the Water

Four West Valley synagogues representing three different denominations — the Calabasas Shul (Orthodox), Temple Solael (Reform), Temple Aliyah and Shomrei Torah (Conservative) — will join together for a Tashlich ceremony Sunday, Sept. 19, at the Westlake Village Marina.

“The goal was to find a mitzvah where we could stand united before God as we approach the end of the High Holidays,” said Rabbi Yakov Vann, spiritual leader of the Calabasas Shul. “We’re well aware of our differences, but the beauty of performing this mitzvah can bring us together.”

Tashlich is a custom that takes place between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which Jews visit a flowing body of water, e.g. a river, lake or ocean, and symbolically cast away their sins by throwing bread crumbs into the water in accordance with the Biblical commandment, “You will cast [tashlich] your sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:10). Once relegated to the traditionally observant, the ceremony has seen a resurgence in popularity among Jews of all denominations and even the unaffiliated.

“It’s a perfect ritual in that it expresses for all of us the notion that we want to rid ourselves of behavior that estranges us from other human beings, God and even ourselves,” Rabbi Ron Herstik of Temple Solael said. “These are the relationships we need to consider during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

Herstik credited Temple Aliyah’s Rabbi Stewart Vogel with coming up with the idea for the shared ceremony. Vogel and the three rabbis from the other synagogues have been making an effort to meet periodically for lunch at a local kosher restaurant.

“I knew all the rabbis but they did not all know each other,” Vogel explained. “Rabbi Camras [of Shomrei Torah] is new to the community, and Rabbi Herstik and Rabbi Vann have only been here a few years. So we decided to get together at Tiberias and share our experiences in order to better understand and appreciate each other. We wanted our congregations to experience that type of sharing and this [tashlich] naturally lends itself to inclusion by everybody. It was a natural.”

Vogel said he hopes to see such joint programming grow among Valley synagogues.

“We are all working for the same thing and each congregation has something unique to offer,” he said.

Sunday’s ceremony will take place near the Sail Club at the Westlake Marina in Westlake Village. For directions or further information, call Temple Aliyah at (818) 346-3545.