Wilshire Boulevard Temple pledged $30 million by Erika Glazer

Wilshire Boulevard Temple has received a pledge of $30 million from Los Angeles philanthropist Erika Glazer to assist with its ongoing restoration and redevelopment.

The funds will be paid over 15 years to put in place tax-free bond financing for the next phase of the historic campus, which has been located at its present site in Koreatown since 1929, said Rabbi Steven Z. Leder.

“This puts us across the finish line for the second phase,” he said.

Currently, the congregation is restoring its sanctuary at a cost of about $50 million. The temple also paid $20 million for land in order to own the full city block. This phase is expected to be finished by Rosh Hashanah.

“The next phase will be renovating the school buildings, building the parking structure, the rooftop playground, and the tikkun olam (“healing the world”) center, which will be the largest tikkun olam center, I believe, of any synagogue in the country,” said Leder, who has been senior rabbi at the temple since 2003.

The tikkun olam center will be a place where, among other things, congregants can volunteer. These renovations are expected to come with a price tag of $36 million, Leder said.

The congregation’s board is scheduled to vote on the project’s second phase on March 12. Its targeted completion date would be June 2016, Leder said.

The rabbi said that Glazer, the daughter of a real estate developer, grew up at the temple.

“I’ve been close with her for many years,” Leder said. “She was an early backer of the entire project.”

A third phase of work at the congregation, which will require an undetermined amount of funding, will be the construction of a banquet and administration building at the corner of Harvard and Wilshire boulevards.

“We currently do not have everything we need to fund that, and that’s what I’m working on next,” Leder said.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple was built to be the fanciest building money could buy for the denizens of the silver screen’s Reform Jewish congregation. Its dramatic, quasi-Byzantine-Moorish design by architect A.M. Edelman (son of the congregation’s first rabbi, Abraham Edelman) was constructed over a span of just 18 months, at a cost of $1.5 million, under the leadership of Senior Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin who presided from 1919 to 1984. It was made to compete with the cathedral-scaled churches and ornate office buildings that were lining up along Los Angeles’ grandest new street.

Moroccan PM celebrates restoration of 17th century synagogue

About 200 people reportedly celebrated the completion of the restoration of a synagogue in the city of Fes in Morocco.

The ceremony on Feb. 13 marked the conclusion of a two-year project undertaken by Mohammed VI, the king of Morocco, the website of the magazine Jeune Afrique reported.

Among those attending the rededication ceremony of the Slat Alfassiyine synagogue in Fes were many Moroccan Jews but also the president of the Bundestag, the German parliament, Norbert Lammert. Germany contributed much of the funding for restoring the building, which dates back to the 17th century.

Representing the king was Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane of the Islamist Justice and Development Party, who said the event was a celebration of “the richness and diversity of the spiritual elements” that make up Morocco. He reportedly pledged to restore all of the kingdom’s synagogues.

Situated in the center of the city in the El Mellah quarter, the synagogue was “the epicenter of Jewish life” in the city, according to Jeune Afrique. The small synagogue now boasts cream-colored walls with traditional Moroccan decoration.

Spurred on by a succession of pogroms, including in Oujada and Jerada, some 250,000 Moroccan Jews left the North African country between 1948 and 1967. Many settled in Israel, although Zionism was outlawed in Morocco in 1959 and defined a “serious crime.”

Morocco ended that official animosity in the late 1980s and has maintained ties with Israel since then. Today, only some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Family-focused stories at forefront of Israel Film Fest

It’s springtime in Los Angeles, which means raising the curtain on the 26th Israel Film Festival, this year displaying a colorful palette of more than 30 feature movies, documentaries, TV shows and student shorts.

The March 15 opening-night venue is the main theater on the Paramount studios lot, where celebrities, honorees and film buffs will view the award-winning feature “Restoration.”
Subsequent films will be shown through March 29 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Fallbrook 7 in the San Fernando Valley.

“Restoration” is a tightly focused film, both in its examination of family relationships and its setting in a rapidly disappearing south Tel Aviv of old-time craftsmen in shabby shops.

Yaakov Fidelman (Sasson Gabay), his face permanently etched by a deep frown and three-day beard stubble, has been restoring antique furniture in his little store for decades, while his partner, Max, runs the business end of the operation.

When Max dies suddenly, apparently from over-exertion with a neighborhood prostitute, Fidelman discovers that the shop is in deep debt.

He starts waging a desperate and futile fight to obtain a bank loan, and then against his lawyer son Noah (Nevo Kimchi), who wants to tear down the shop and erect an apartment building on the property.

At this point, a mysterious young man, Anton (Henry David), shows up and is hired as a helper by Fidelman.

From left: Lior Ashkenazi as Uriel Shkolnik and Shlomo Bar-Aba as Eliezer Shkolnik in “Footnote.” Photo by Ren Mendelson, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Things look up when Anton discovers in the cluttered shop an 1884 Steinway grand piano, worth a fortune if it can be restored properly.

On the other hand, the scene darkens as Anton falls in love with Noah’s pregnant wife, Hava (Sarah Adler), and she with him.

The film owes its emotional veracity mainly to veteran actor Gabay’s affecting portrayal of Fidelman, and to the unhurried, well-paced direction of Yossi Madmoni, a versatile director, writer, actor, producer and editor, who has worked mainly in the TV medium.
There are some interesting similarities between Madmoni and his “Restoration” and Joseph Cedar, director of “Footnote,” Israel’s 2011 Oscar entry.

Both men are in their early 40s, grew up in deeply religious homes, and in their respective films this year have forgone broad themes of war, ethnic divisions and deep social divisions to focus instead on intimate family confrontations.

Speaking from his home in Tel Aviv, Madmoni was asked about a possible shift by Israeli filmmakers toward smaller, personalized movies, perhaps reflecting a growing preoccupation by Israelis with personal, rather than national, problems.

“It’s too early to define a trend,” he replied. “Even our war and social films tend to be personalized … and I do see a widening gap between the Israeli public and its leaders.”
In Hebrew, the film’s title is “Boker Tov, Adon Fidelman” (Good Morning, Mr. Fidelman), but that sounded too much like a comedy, Madmoni was told by the Sundance Film Festival, which conferred its screenwriting award on Erez Kaf-El for “Restoration.”

“Dolphin Boy.”

Earlier, the film was nominated for 11 Ophir awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Also on the festival’s screening schedule are “My Lovely Sister,” a triple love story within a poor Moroccan-Jewish family; “My Australia,” a look at the struggles of a Jewish family in Poland during the 1960s; “Man Without a Cell Phone,” starring an Israeli-Arab slacker; and “2 Night,” about a guy and a girl “looking for the impossible” — a parking space in Tel Aviv.

Documentary titles include the well-received “Dolphin Boy” and “When Israel Went Out,” chronicling the arduous journey of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Additional presentations are “Viva España,” on the life of Israeli singer Hannah Aharoni, and “Schund,” a mock documentary on the Yiddish theater.

Honorees at the March 15 opening night will include actor Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”), David Nevins, President of Entertainment, Showtime Networks Inc and producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa for the Showtime television drama “Homeland,” based on an Israeli hit show.

“Footnote” will open at Laemmle theaters in West Los Angeles, Pasadena, Encino and West Hills between March 16-30, leading Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of Israfest Foundation Inc. and the Israel Film Festival, to observe that “outside of Israel itself, never before have there been so many Israeli films playing at one time in so many theaters.”

Tickets can be purchased online at www.IsraelFilmFestival.com or at Laemmle theater box offices. For information, call (877) 966-5566.

Synagogue restorations garner awards in Poland

Restoration projects on two synagogues in Poland have garnered awards.

The mainly European Union-funded restoration of the twin-towered synagogue in Ostrow Wielkopolski in south-central Poland was awarded the top prize in the fourth edition of the Facade of the Year contest, the Polish news agency PAP reported Wednesday.

Earlier this month, The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland won the 2011 Conservation Laurel for the recently completed restoration of the Renaissance synagogue in the town of Zamosc. The annual award is granted by the regional authorities and monuments conservator in eastern Poland’s Lubelskie Region, where Zamosc is located.

The synagogue in Ostrow Wielkopolski, built in the late 1850s, was designed by the German-Jewish architect Moritz Lande. It will be used by the city as a cultural venue for concerts, exhibitions and theatrical performances.

The $2.1 million restoration project was financed primarily by the European Union, in cooperation with the municipality. The city obtained ownership of the building in 2006, when it paid about $75,000 to the Jewish community of Wroclaw in exchange for the community withdrawing its claim on the building and for the city to create memorials at the sites of the town’s two destroyed Jewish cemeteries.

Restoration’s Silver Lining

Silversmith David Friedman has the unique ability to trace the origin of almost every antique that comes across his desk. “People ask me all the time, ‘How did you know that? How did you know that goblet was actually made in India?'” Friedman said. “We just know from experience. We see a lot of pieces and a lot of metal.”

The founder of Friedman & Co., an antique repair and restoration service, Friedman has been working with metal since he was 17. Trained in the apprentice style in southeastern Wisconsin, he began making his living repairing musical instruments. But when his clients urged him to expand his business further, Friedman discovered the world of antiques.

“I found this work much more interesting and stimulating,” said Friedman, who runs a store in Beverly Hills and a plating facility in North Hollywood. “Musical instrument work, although it’s very rewarding, can be somewhat repetitive, because once you’ve overhauled a clarinet and you’ve overhauled 1,000 clarinets, a clarinet is still a clarinet.”

Friedman prefers antiques because each one tells a story. He often sees pieces that have been passed down through generations or have sentimental or historical significance.

“I remember repairing a tray once that was buried before or during World War II,” Friedman said. “Jews often buried their possessions so that they would not be confiscated. When the owners dug up the tray after the war there was a pick ax hole through the middle of the tray, which they brought to me all these years later to repair.”

While Friedman often hears such stories because much of his clientele is Jewish, he insists that those who use his services are as diverse as the art itself.

“Silversmithing is an ancient art and there were Jews that were silversmiths. It’s part of Jewish life and Jewish history, but silversmithing covers the entire spectrum of humanity and it’s associated with all religions … our door is open and welcome to anybody to come here. Whoever comes to our counter we treat them with respect and try and help them.”

Shanghai Shuls 2nd Wind

Shanghai resident Seth Kaplan got tired of celebrating the High Holy days in rented hotel spaces while the city’s oldest intact synagogue sat empty, deteriorating just a few miles away.

So along with others in his congregation of expatriates, Kaplan, 34, began advocating for the restoration of Ohel Rachel, which the Chinese Communists had turned into a warehouse.

Their efforts came to fruition recently when the World Monuments Fund added the synagogue, built in the 1920s, to the 2002 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. The fund, which publishes the list to bring attention to threatened cultural sites around the world, revises its list every two years. The 2002 list includes one other synagogue, Subotica Synagogue in Yugoslavia, built in 1902. The list includes well-known sites such as the Great Wall of China as well as more obscure ones such as a Gothic church in Poland.

According to Henry Ng, the fund’s executive vice president, Ohel Rachel was chosen because it symbolizes the long history of the Jews in China. "This is really the only active synagogue left in all of China that’s authentic," he said.

Ohel Rachel is urgently in need of repair.

For nearly 50 years, the building has been used by various state and local governmental bodies. Reoccurring leaks and vegetation growth threaten its structural fabric.

Perhaps the most important factor in the fund’s decision to include Ohel Rachel on the list was the energy and commitment of Shanghai’s Jewish community. The synagogue "has that local, on-the-ground group that’s willing to be advocates for the building and to basically ensure its long-term future," Ng said.

While inclusion on the list will likely draw international attention to the site, there are no immediate financial rewards.

Kaplan, who was born in New York, said his community plans to undertake a campaign to raise money for the repairs.

Ohel Rachel is one of only two remaining synagogues in Shanghai. The other, Ohel Moshe, has been turned into a museum.

When the Ohel Rachel Synagogue was built, Shanghai had a population of approximately 1,700 Jews.

It was constructed to accommodate a community of approximately 600 Jews from Baghdad living in Shanghai at the time.

With a seating capacity of 700, the Sephardic synagogue had a walk-in ark that once held 30 Torah scrolls. The synagogue is part of a small compound that at one time included a Jewish school, library, playground and mikvah.

Sir Jacob Elias Sassoon, a Baghdadi Jew living in Hong Kong, endowed the synagogue in memory of his wife, Lady Rachel.

The first major wave of Jews, arriving primarily from Baghdad and Bombay, came to Shanghai after the city was opened to foreign traders in 1842, following the Opium War.

A second wave of Jewish emigrants came from Russia in the decades following the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The third wave of Jews moved to Shanghai from Central Europe in the 1930s and during World War II. Because the city was the only place in the world not to require a visa for entry, approximately 20,000 Jews escaped to Shanghai between 1938 and 1945.

After the Communist takeover in 1949, Shanghai’s Jewish community dwindled.

The new government confiscated Ohel Rachel in 1952, removing its furniture and decorations.

During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Ohel Rachel’s windows, chandeliers and ornaments were smashed, and the building was then used for a variety of government functions.

Most recently, the Shanghai Government Education Commission used it for offices and storage.

In 1993, the city of Shanghai declared Ohel Rachel a historic landmark, which granted it some protection, but continued to use it as a municipal building.

After then-U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of State Madeline Albright asked to visit the building during a 1998 visit to China, the city cleaned up and painted the building, but little structural repair was done.

Ohel Rachel is still owned by the city government, which lets Shanghai’s Jewish community of approximately 300 — which is served by a Lubavitch rabbi — use it only a few times a year.

Kaplan and the rest of his congregation hope that the Monuments Fund listing will encourage the city to return the building to his congregation.

He said he wouldn’t mind if the city used it as a museum — as it has said it wants to — as long as the congregation is able hold services there.

"It’s a symbol of Jewish-Chinese relations," Kaplan said. "It’s also a symbol of what the Chinese people have done for us in the past, such as for the refugees during the war," he added.

"This synagogue represents the past. It represents the future. It needs to be restored."