January 21, 2019

Renovated Young Israel Reopens in Pico-Robertson

Just before sunset last Friday, Moshe Horowitz found himself at the best party in Pico-Robertson. Men, women and children were packing into the renovated and just-reopened Young Israel of Century City (YICC), rejoicing. Beneath a chuppah, marching machers carried Torah scrolls. Mark Goldenberg, a past YICC president, strummed a guitar.

Horowitz, visiting from Woodmere, N.Y., for the weekend’s Orthodox Union (OU) convention, was drinking in the excitement of a modern Orthodox shul returning home after 18 months of construction.

“I’m so glad to be part of this,” Horowitz said. “It’s beautiful.”

YICC has devoted plenty of resources toward making sure people feel that way about the three buildings comprising its new-and-improved campus on Pico Boulevard, between Rexford and Glenville drives.

The renovated sanctuary building, the only one of the three not newly built, features 12 blue glass windows, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, looking onto Pico. The sanctuary has a new ark and bimah as well as furniture — including shtenders (book holders) and seating for nearly 400 — from Kibbutz Lavi in northern Israel.

From left: Young Israel of Century City (YICC) building committee member Robert Rosenberg, YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin, building committee chair Joe Kornwasser and committee member Ron Bookbinder. Photo by Ryan Torok

The synagogue’s commitment to Israel is reflected everywhere, including in a 300-pound bronze menorah, a replica of the Israeli Knesset symbol, standing in the 4,000-square-foot courtyard behind the shul. The menorah is a tribute to families of the synagogue’s Lone Soldiers, those serving in the Israel Defense Forces without the support of immediate family there. (Five YICC members currently have that status.) Israeli artist Sam Philipe designed the sculpture as well as custom-made mezuzahs affixed to the doorposts.

YICC’s two-story building on the corner of Pico and Rexford houses a social hall on its first floor, while the second floor has offices for YICC Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin and Associate Rabbi James Proops. It also features children’s and teen facilities plus a library.

“One of the reasons we did this whole thing was the kids,” Muskin said as he showed off the shul. YICC had 50 families when Muskin became senior rabbi in 1986. That number has grown to about 500 families, including between 150 and 200 children.

YICC Building Committee Chair Joe Kornwasser said the synagogue raised more than $10 million for the project, which more than doubled its size to over 20,000 square feet.

“There is a lot to enhance the beauty of the shul and yet we managed to keep the warmth,” said Kornwasser, a shopping mall developer. “I am very, very appreciative of being able to accomplish that.”

Architectural firms Gruen Associates and Susan Narduli Studio, general contractor Millie and Severson and Joseph Kaplan, president of KCG Consulting, worked on the project.

The synagogue’s rotunda is the first room one sees upon entering through the glass entryway off Pico. It is a gathering area for receptions that will be held in the social hall to the left and is an entry point for worshippers entering the sanctuary to the right. Its walls feature the names of some 300 centers of Jewish scholarship — from Jerusalem to Frankfurt, Germany, to Tehran —  laser-written into the gray walls. Muskin calls the room “a rotunda of Jewish learning.”

During nearly 18 months of construction, YICC convened at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, Pat’s Next Door and in a storefront adjacent to the YICC campus. The shul saw a drop in Shabbat attendance but maintained membership levels, Muskin said.

Muskin was overjoyed as he took the bimah on Dec. 1. He said it was fortuitous timing that the synagogue reopened on the same weekend as the OU convention.

In attedance was expectant mother Chelsea Schames, along with her husband, Matthew. “We’re so excited for our children to grow up in this beautiful new space,” she said.

Muskin also noted that the shul’s reopening closely coincides with Hanukkah, which celebrates the rededication of the Temple.

“We’ve been exiled for 18 months,” he told the Journal. “It’s a long shlep.”