fbpx

The Kippah That Traveled the World

At a time when many observant Jews feel they must circle the wagons and keep outsiders out, let’s remember the power of an open door. 
[additional-authors]
December 8, 2022
FOTOGRAFIA INC. / Getty Images

The Old Jerusalemite shuffled into a tiny shul in Meah Shearim, one of the strictest Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Clad for Shabbat in a shtreimel and robe, he joined the other members of the minyan. On this Shabbat, there were visitors: Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz, rabbi of the Shul on the Beach in Venice, California, and his videographer and congregant, Drew Rosen. They were in Israel to participate in the annual charity bike ride for Jerusalem’s ALYN Children’s Hospital. They had sought out this shul because Rabbi Rubanowitz’s great-grandparents were among those who founded it in 1899, and he wanted to sponsor a kiddush in their honor. 

When Rabbi Rubanowitz introduced Rosen and mentioned that he made films, one of his hosts exclaimed, “Hollywood man? We have a Hollywood man, too!” Pointing at the regally attired Old Jerusalemite, he beckoned Rosen to meet “our Mr. Hollywood,” Reb Yosef Suker.

Rosen had brought several Shul on the Beach kippot, which he judiciously offered to people he met. During the kiddush, he and Reb Yosef were engrossed in conversation. Afterward, Rosen took Rabbi Rubanowitz aside, pointed to Reb Yosef, and said, “He has a Shul on the Beach kippah in his pocket!”

“Of course,” replied Rabbi Rubanowitz, “you just gave him one.”

“No,” exclaimed Rosen, “He already had it. He says he always carries it with him.”

Intrigued, they asked Reb Yosef to share his story. He said he’d been raised in a secular Israeli home. His only connection to religion were memories of his mother, a Holocaust survivor, taking him to stand outside the window of a shul in Haifa. Never entering the shul, little Yosef and his mother listened to the haunting tunes of “Kol Nidre,” the only religious song his mother seemed to remember. Reb Yosef grew up to be a television producer and filmmaker with no attachment to Jewish life.

Forty years ago, Reb Yosef found himself in LA after wrapping up a major Hollywood production. Wandering down Ocean Front Walk in Venice, looking out at the ocean, he thought, “What’s next?” He came to the open door of the Shul on the Beach in Venice, where he heard the familiar strains of “Kol Nidre.” Feeling he was dressed inappropriately, he did not enter the shul, but stood outside like he did as a child. But this “Kol Nidre” struck a chord. He had been so lost he had forgotten it was Yom Kippur, but now he remembered he was a Jew. That was the moment he decided to return to Israel and explore his Jewish roots. He returned, studied Torah and became the “Old Jerusalemite” whom Rosen and the rabbi met.

But how had he gotten the kippah?

Reb Yosef wrote a memoir describing his spiritual journey, highlighting the Shul on the Beach’s role in his transformation. Two years ago, his friend Rabbi Mota Frank, a prominent Breslov Rav, was traveling to LA. Reb Yosef asked his friend to carry his book to Venice. Reb Mota gave the book to Alan Danziger, president of the Shul on the Beach. Alan gave him a Shul on the Beach kippah. Rav Mota gave the kippah to Reb Yosef.

“I carry that kippah in my pocket all the time to remind myself where I started.“ – Reb Yosef

Reb Yosef said, “I carry that kippah in my pocket all the time to remind myself where I started. Every Yom Kippur, at Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb in Hebron), I wear it underneath my regular yarmulke. And I remember the Shul on the Beach every day of my life.” Rabbi Rubanowitz and Rosen were astounded. Of all the shuls in Jerusalem, Reb Yosef had chosen the one founded by the ancestors of the rabbi of the Shul on the Beach.

Every Shabbat, hundreds of people stroll by the shul in Venice. Many current members found their way back to Judaism in the same way that Yosef Suker did — walking by and feeling the pull of their tradition calling them from this unassuming synagogue amid the tumult on the boardwalk. Reb Yosef need not have felt self-conscious about his attire; the shul welcomes Jews from all backgrounds and levels of commitment.

At a time when many observant Jews feel they must circle the wagons and keep outsiders out, let’s remember the power of an open door. 

To learn more about the Shul on the Beach in Venice, visit www.shulonthebeach.com.


Elizabeth Danziger is the author of four books, including Get to the Point, 2nd edition, which was originally published by Random House. She lives in Venice, California.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Are We Going to Stop for Lunch?

So far, the American Jewish community has been exceptional in its support for Israel. But there is a long road ahead, and the question remains: will we continue with this support?

EXCLUSIVE: Inside Hollywood’s “Meeting of the Masters” Brunch

Guy Shalem’s Meeting of the Masters is more than just a dinner club; it’s a testament to the power of food, conversation, and community in bringing people together and creating a space where everyone, regardless of background or belief, can find common ground and friendship.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.