Family’s link to VBS is all relative

Sometimes the old adage really is true: The family that prays together stays together.
May 29, 2015

Sometimes the old adage really is true: The family that prays together stays together. The Braun family, whom Valley Beth Shalom is honoring at its June 7 “Living Our Legacy: Celebrating the Best of Valley Beth Shalom” ceremony, is a family whose relationship with VBS spans five generations.

Dick and Barbara Braun, 85 and 84 respectively, are the patriarch and matriarch of a family of doctors, lawyers, educators and amateur musicians. (Ethan Braun is a professional composer.)

There are many reasons VBS is honoring the Brauns, and not just because the family has been a member since Dick and Barbara joined in 1960 — although isn’t that a good enough reason? Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who is a personal friend of the third generation of Brauns — Dick and Barbara’s children, Jon, David, Robert and Sarah — pointed out that it is unusual for a West Coast synagogue to have a legacy family that stretches as far back as the Brauns. 

“When I lived on the East Coast and in the Midwest, you had multiple generations belonging to a synagogue, but it’s kind of unusual in California,” he said.

Dick and Barbara are members of the synagogue’s choir, and Dick also plays violin and viola. And all four of their children — all adults with children, and one grandchild — all play instruments, too. 

 “The whole family is very musical,” Sylvia Bernstein-Tregub, a VBS congregant, friend of the family and chair of the June 7 event, told the Journal recently. 

This is the second of two “Living Our Legacy” events at VBS; the first took place May 20, when the synagogue awarded former Congressman Henry Waxman its Harold M. Schulweis Humanitarian Award. That celebration, Feinstein told the Journal, was one of the late Rabbi Harold Schulweis’ final requests. 

The Brauns have used their love of music to give back to the congregation that is honoring them. Dick is the founding chairman of the Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles, established in 1982 as an outgrowth of his longtime friendship with the late composer Aminadav Aloni. Jewish musicians in Southern California credit Dick for his ongoing support — emotional and financial — of Jewish-themed music programs. 

Additionally, many members of the family — from its second through fourth generations — have been part of the congregation’s leadership. Dick has sat on the VBS board for 40 years, and Barbara was involved with the inaugural class of the shul’s social services programming. David, a neonatologist, has also served on the board. David’s twin, Jon, is chairman of pathology and laboratory sciences at UCLA and is married to Dr. Lynn Gordon, an opthamologist who has served on the VBS board. David is currently vice president-elect of the shul. 

Finally, Dick and Barbara’s grandson, Nate, and Nate’s wife, Effie, are active in helping Rabbi Noah Farkas develop programing for young couples — recently married or dating. 

And 2-year-old Eli, Nate and Effie’s son and Dick and Barbara’s only great-grandson, (although Effie is currently expecting) attends Saturday morning services regularly. 

“It’s amazing,” Dick said during a phone interview from his home in Encino. “There is a sense of continuity.”

Dick and Barbara, both from Cleveland, met in Sunday school. Dick said he grew up in a liberal Orthodox home and that his father encouraged him to become a physician. After going to the same college as Barbara, Case Western Reserve University, and eventually moving to Los Angeles, Dick went on to become chief of surgery at Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City. Barbara was an elementary school teacher. After Dick’s father died, Dick’s late mother, Elizabeth, relocated from Ohio to California. She was involved with VBS at the time of her death, in 1981. 

The Brauns’ membership at the synagogue predates Schulweis’ joining the synagogue’s clergy in 1970, but Dick told the Journal that Schulweis’ arrival — and the impassioned, inspirational sermons the rabbi delivered — was a large part of what kept them involved. They became close to Schulweis and his family, spending many seders at the Schulweis home, which, Dick said, always blended the intellectual with the fun. 

Dick said his children went on to become close with the Feinsteins, and now his grandchildren are close with Farkas. 

“So, it’s sort of spun along, generation by generation,” he said.

The twins, David and Jon, as well as Robert, who is an attorney, live in Los Angeles with their spouses, Ellen, Lynn and Sandra, respectively. Jon and Lynn are the parents of Nate, Ethan and Adam; Eric and Elisabeth are the children of David and his deceased first wife, Sherri — Schulweis, incidentally, officiated at David’s marriage to his second wife, Ellen (VBS’ leadership estimates that Schulweis played a role in at least 20 of the family’s life-cycle events); Benjamin and Jonah are the children of Robert and Sandra; and Sophia and Gabriel — at 17, the youngest grandchild — are the children of Sarah and Shai. Sarah, a psychiatrist, and Shai live in Philadelphia.

The family will unite on June 7 for the event, which begins at 5:30 p.m. World-renowned flamenco musician Adam del Monte is scheduled to perform a piece titled “Symphony,” which will unfold over, appropriately, five movements.

For more information about the event, visit vbs.org.



This article has been corrected to reflect that David and Ellen Braun are married, and Jon and Dr. Lynn Gordon are married. The article also refered to the Brauns as “amateur musician,” however, Ethan Braun is a professional composer. Addditionally, the photo caption accompanying the article has been corrected to reflect that there are only three generations of Brauns depicted in the photograph, not four. And the reporter has made an addition to the story to note that Sarah Braun is a psychiatrist and that Dr. Lynn Gordon is an opthamologist. 

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