‘Booming’ Young Israel of Century City undergoing major expansion


The Pico-Robertson Modern Orthodox congregation Young Israel of Century City (YICC) is undergoing a $10 million expansion of its synagogue campus that will more than double its physical size, from 9,675 square feet to 20,700 square feet.

The project, expected to be completed by mid-August 2017, involves the renovation of the synagogue’s sanctuary; the construction of a youth library, classrooms, administrative offices and a beit midrash (house of study); and an expanded kitchen, according to synagogue officials. While construction proceeds, YICC is holding services at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and its clergy office is operating out of rented facilities at a nearby Citibank building .

YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin said the construction was necessary to accommodate YICC’s growth. When he was hired 30 years ago, the synagogue had fewer than 50 families, he said. Now it serves about 500.

“The shul is booming. The shul has grown in leaps and bounds. It’s a major center for Orthodox Jewry in L.A.,” he said. “We needed a new facility, an expanded facility to meet the needs of this continuously growing community. It’s right there at the heart of the community, and I think it’s going to meet that need.”

Muskin said that approximately 60 percent of the $10 million needed for the project has been raised so far. 

“We still have to do major fundraising within the synagogue. We are doing it now,” he said. “The shul is behind it. We’ll be able to, with God’s help, make this a real success.”

The need to raise more money has not stopped construction from moving forward. On a recent Monday morning, a Caterpillar tractor was parked inside the fenced-off property, construction workers in hard hats were operating another vehicle and an artistic rendering of the new campus was displayed on scaffolding facing Pico Boulevard.

The decision to expand wasn’t realized overnight. In 2011, YICC purchased a Supercuts hair salon at Pico and Rexford Drive, adjacent to its Teichman Family Youth Wing.

“We were always eyeing that piece of property that abutted our original building. Supercuts left in 2011. We took it over and used it for multipurpose [reasons]. We rented it out. We started using it, I would say, in August 2015, until we ripped it all down just a month and a half ago,” Muskin said.

YICC has demolished two buildings as part of the new project, also tearing down the Teichman wing. The only building still standing is the sanctuary, which is undergoing an interior renovation. 

“There will be a whole new sanctuary, an updated, beautiful new sanctuary,” Muskin said.

YICC hired Millie and Severson general contractors and the architectural firm Gruen Associates for the job.

The work already has unearthed some interesting finds, including several previously unknown, vintage advertisements painted onto the west-facing wall of the YICC sanctuary building. The ads are for Canada Dry Spur Cola, Madame Allue’s French Laundry and Leo’s Liquors.

“It’s really cool,” Muskin said of the discoveries, which are photographed in an album YICC is maintaining as a means of keeping its membership abreast of the construction effort.

YICC, affiliated with the National Council of Young Israel, an umbrella organization providing various services to more than 100 Orthodox synagogues, is one of several Young Israel synagogues in the Greater Los Angeles area. 

It is also one of several major modern Orthodox congregations in the neighborhood, including Beth Jacob Congregation and B’nai David-Judea. The growing Orthodox influence in the area is evident not just in the expansion of YICC but in a new synagogue, Adas Torah, being built nearby, at 9040 W. Pico. 

Additionally, YULA Boys High School, also located on Pico, is set to undergo a major expansion that will include the construction of a gymnasium, an underground parking facility and additional classrooms. Construction is set to begin this summer, according to Rabbi Dov Emerson, head of school.

At YICC, past president and current board member Mark Goldenberg is excited about what the congregation’s expansion bodes for the future of the shul as well as for the larger Pico-Robertson community. 

“It’s going to be a gorgeous addition to the Pico-Robertson area, a gorgeous addition to the community. And it will service the entire L.A. community and not just the Orthodox community, but it will be a place people can really use,” Goldenberg said. “I think it will be great for the neighborhood.”

Muskin echoed his enthusiasm. 

“It’s way overdue,” the rabbi said. “Anybody who’s had any connection with YICC knows it’s way overdue.” 

Inside critics win key amendment to Young Israel constitution


Young Israel-affiliated synagogues can now resign from the umbrella organization of Orthodox synagogues without fear of their assets being seized, thanks to an amendment to the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) constitution adopted by its members on Jan. 29.

The amendment approved overwhelmingly by delegates from Young Israel-affiliated synagogues nationwide during a meeting on Tuesday evening, marks the end of a two-and-a-half year struggle between the former leadership of NCYI and a group of more than 35 member synagogues seeking to reform the organization and make it more transparent.

The Young Israel Future Coalition, which included a handful of Los Angeles-area synagogues, formed in 2010 in the wake of a conflict between the NCYI and a member synagogue in Syracuse, N.Y. When that synagogue tried to resign its membership, it was informed that the umbrella organization intended to claim its assets, a power granted to the 100-year-old NCYI in its constitution.

In Dec. 2010, the coalition submitted a petition to remove the so-called seizure clause from the NCYI constitution. The petition was denied, but one year later NCYI President Shlomo Mostofsky resigned and long-serving NCYI Executive Director Rabbi Pesach Lerner took a six-month leave of absence. Lerner is now affiliated with NCYI only in an advisory role.

In 2012, a new board was elected, and NCYI Associate Director Rabbi Bini Maryles took over as the professional leader of the 140-synagogue umbrella group.

Evan Anziska, a member of Young Israel of Century City (YICC) who was one of the leaders of the Young Israel Future Coalition, hailed the approved amendment as a victory.

“We’re very pleased with the amendment that was approved,” Anziska said. “We think that it addresses the core issues that we were concerned about.”

The original clause was initially drawn up to prevent Young Israel synagogues from becoming Conservative synagogues; while such transformations did take place in the mid-20th century, the NCYI leadership is less concerned about that possibility today.

As amended, the NCYI constitution now gives viable synagogues the right to resign their membership in the umbrella organization without having their assets seized. At the same time, the amendment ensures that no individual or entity can take over a failing shul, or synagogue.

“This only deals with issues of a shul collapsing and preventing a ‘last man standing’ type of situation,” NCYI President Farley Weiss said.

Weiss said the newly approved amendment addressed the most pressing issue brought up by the coalition, and would allay the concerns of an unspecified number of synagogues considering joining Young Israel.

Anziska said it was “ironic” that none of the coalition member synagogues who had pushed for the right to resign are planning to exercise their new power.

“No one, to my mind, is actively looking to resign its affiliation with the organization, especially now that there’s new leadership and the rules have changed,” Anziska said. “People feel that it’s a more equitable system.”

The new power of a Latino-Jewish coalition in L.A.


On a Shabbat afternoon in February, state Sen. Alex Padilla spoke on a panel at Young Israel of Century City (YICC), a large Modern Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson. The event was co-organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Padilla knew what message he was expected to deliver. The panel’s trilingual title — “Israel at lo levad! Israel ¡No estas solo! Israel, you are not alone!” — made that clear.

Padilla, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley in California’s state Senate, talked mostly about his two trips to Israel. He first traveled there in 2003 when he was president of the Los Angeles City Council on a trip sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. His went again on an AIPAC trip for Latino leaders in December 2009.

When it came time for questions, a white-haired man in a gray suit raised his hand. “How can we make sure that Latino youth don’t get incorrect information about Israel?” the man asked. A second man wanted to know why Israel isn’t more widely recognized — in all communities — as a democratic society that upholds liberal values.

Responses to these questions came from all over the room, not just from those on the podium. Even YICC Rabbi Elazar Muskin, from his seat in the front row, mentioned a program aimed at improving Israel education among the city’s Latino youth.

Among the 100 or so people in the sanctuary — most of them men, most of them in suits — Karra Greenberg stood out, and not only for her shoulder-length blond hair and her stylish yet modest green patterned dress. Unlike those who wanted to hear Padilla express his unequivocal support for Israel, Greenberg, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UCLA, asked what motivates the panelist’s friends and family.

Her question was simple: What can the Jewish community do to build an alliance with Latinos?


BRIDGE-BUILDING GAINS MOMENTUM

As the Latino population and its political influence have grown, the number of Jewish groups across the country working to build and strengthen Latino-Jewish ties has increased as well. The New York office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) held a meeting last week for Latino and Jewish leaders, and AJC’s Latino and Latin American Institute is planning a national Latino-Jewish leadership summit for 2012. In addition, in San Antonio, Texas, former mayor Henry Cisneros and local Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg are organizing a strategic dialogue between about 80 Latino and Jewish leaders later this month.

Since last December, leaders from some of Los Angeles’ most influential Jewish organizations have been meeting, coming together on two separate occasions with their Latino community counterparts. The exact outcome of this organizing effort is still to be seen, but it could lay the groundwork for an unprecedented level of Latino-Jewish cooperation.

In Los Angeles, Latino-Jewish relationships are not new. The communities’ leaders often point to the election of Ed Roybal, Los Angeles’ first Latino city councilman, supported in large part by Jewish and Latino voters in 1949, as the first great victory of the Latino-Jewish alliance. Some even credit the intercommunity connections with staving off a wider explosion of tensions in 1998, after the state Senate primary between Richard Katz and Richard Alarcon got particularly nasty.

Even so, the number of efforts by Jewish organizations in Los Angeles to “reach out,” to “build bridges” or to otherwise connect with Latinos has soared in recent years. There are projects that create curricula about Israel for teachers in the city’s Catholic schools, whose students are predominantly Latino. There are Spanish-language courses about Judaism for Latino Pentecostal pastors. For years, film producer and civil rights activist Moctesuma Esparza has worked with Jews on various projects, including his effort to increase and improve the representations of Latinos in film and TV. Bilingual pro-Israel programs regularly take place in Latino-dominated Evangelical churches, and dozens of Latino leaders from the L.A. area have taken part in leadership delegations to Israel.

In just the past two years, Los Angeles’ most prominent Jewish groups have led the effort:

In October 2010, the AJC’s six-year-old Latino and Latin American Institute presented the third annual Gesher Award to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Gesher is Hebrew for bridge; the award honors Latino leaders who work to build bridges between the Jewish and Latino communities.

The Latino-Jewish roundtable, an initiative of the local office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), was founded in 1992. The roundtable has held 13 separate events in the past two years, including a 2009 seder focusing on immigrant experiences and a celebration of Sukkot and other autumnal festivals in 2010. Most recently, in January 2011, 25 members of the roundtable participated in a daylong trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In 2009, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Consulate General of Israel co-sponsored Fiesta Shalom, a celebration of the 61st anniversary of Israeli independence in the formerly very Jewish — and now overwhelmingly Latino — neighborhood of Boyle Heights.

High-level representatives from each of these groups — ADL, AJC, Federation, AIPAC and the Israeli Consulate — have been involved in the latest round of meetings between the Jewish and Latino leaders.

No agenda for these meetings has been made public, or perhaps even agreed upon internally. There have been talks about the 2013 Los Angeles mayoral election and about this year’s redistricting process, but the primary focus of the meetings has been to plan a citywide Latino-Jewish leadership summit in Los Angeles this fall.

“It’s going to be a convening of leaders and organizations,” said David Ayón, senior fellow at The Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. Ayón, who has been the most active Latino advocate for the Latino-Jewish summit, hopes that it will encourage leaders from both communities to “[get] to know each other’s agendas and for the purposes of discussing what we want from the next mayor of Los Angeles.”

Those on the Jewish side of the table were, without exception, reluctant to speak about these discussions on the record.

“We want to have meetings of substance, meetings where we can talk about the issues openly and honestly. We all agreed that the best way to do that was to have these meetings held in private in one another’s confidence,” said AJC Los Angeles Regional Director Seth Brysk.

Brysk is working with ADL Pacific Southwest Regional Director Amanda Susskind to set the course for future meetings. Susskind emphasized just how undefined the agenda is. “It’s been a really ad hoc, really organic thing that’s been developing,” Susskind said. “It is so inchoate right now.”


WHAT ABOUT ISRAEL?

Since its founding in 1982, more than 5,000 people from around the world have taken part in an AJC Project Interchange seminar, including a group of prominent journalists from across Latin America, seen here in the Old City of Jaffa in February 2010. Each participant costs AJC $4,500 to $5,000.

Perhaps most unclear is the degree to which these conversations are about Israel.

ADL, AJC and Federation have multifaceted missions that include both Israel advocacy and Jewish intercommunity relations in Los Angeles. The Israeli Consulate and AIPAC, on the other hand, are much more specifically focused on maintaining one international relationship — the one between the United States and Israel.

“AIPAC is a 501(c)(4) corporation,” said Steven F. Windmueller, a professor of Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who served as executive director of the Community Relations Committee of Federation from 1985 to 1995. He was referring to AIPAC’s status as a tax-exempt nonprofit that can actively lobby government. “They’re not in the traditional community relations business,” he said.

Windmueller has written extensively about Latino-Jewish relations in Los Angeles but was neither aware of nor involved in the current talks.  “If they [AIPAC] and the Israeli Consulate are seated at these meetings, then Israel must be the agenda,” Windmueller said.

The Latino leaders, many of whom have traveled on leadership delegations to Israel sponsored by one or more of the five Jewish organizations involved, disagreed.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and a veteran of Latino-Jewish dialogue, hoped that the agenda for these talks would center on the prospects for a city on the West Coast rather than on the future of a certain country in the Middle East. “What can Latino and Jewish leaders in Los Angeles agree on in terms of the future of our city?” Vargas asked. “And what can we do together to improve life in Los Angeles?”

Catherine Schneider, Federation’s senior vice president for community engagement, has also been involved in these meetings. Federation, Schneider, said, has “a strong commitment to the Jewish community and the Jewish future, a strong commitment to the State of Israel, and a strong commitment to the City of Los Angeles.” No single issue trumped the others, Schneider said, but neither could any one issue be left out of the conversation.

“If the story runs, ‘Jewish Community Engages Latino Community Just on Support for Israel,’ ” Schneider said, imagining a possible headline. “It’s not true, and it could be damaging.”

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