February 21, 2020

Temple Beth Am Bids Farewell to Its Sanctuary

How do you say goodbye to a room that holds 63 years of special memories for generations of families?

The Temple Beth Am community gathered on March 21 to answer that question.  With a final Havdalah service, followed by presentations and a dessert reception, 300 attendees bade a fond farewell to their beloved sanctuary.

The Conservative synagogue on La Cienega Boulevard is in the midst of an expansion project that includes acquiring seven adjoining properties, constructing a new middle school building for its Pressman Academy, and remodeling the main sanctuary.

“The sanctuary is going to be completely redesigned, with a flat floor,” Beth Am’s Executive Director Sheryl Goldman told the Journal in an email, “We will be closing off the space at the end of April, with demolition beginning in May.” The Temple hopes to be in the new sanctuary for the high holidays in 2019.

“The sanctuary is being transformed into a space that is conducive to the style of worship that is meaningful, musical, engaging and spiritual,” Goldman added.  “Natural light in the round. Good acoustics. Where the clergy can fully engage with the congregation.” The style, she said, will be very different from the original 1950s design of the formal, front-facing, look-up-to-the-rabbi-on-the-pulpit model.

“The sanctuary is being transformed into a space that is conducive to the style of worship that is meaningful, musical, engaging and spiritual.” – Sheryl Goldman

A significant section of the sanctuary’s Holocaust Memorial Wall, designed by Holocaust survivor Perli Pelzig, will be preserved in the new Sanctuary’s Hall of Memories.

The Pressman middle school’s renovations will include a gymnasium for middle school basketball games and a large atrium for students to eat lunch. It will also double as a Shabbat Kiddush hall.

At the farewell event, members and staff shared memories and spoke movingly about what the sanctuary meant to them. Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld said his best memories were of the smiles on the faces of parents as their sons and daughters became bar and bat mitzvah.

In a video compilation, 30 Beth Am members, clergy and staff also shared their memories. Ira and Helene Swartz, celebrating their 53rd year of marriage, recalled being married in the sanctuary by the late Rabbi Jacob “Jack” Pressman in 1965. Another bride was proposed to in the sanctuary’s balcony. Several b’nai mitzvah memories were shared, along with many affirmations such as, “This room has cradled us, supported us and lifted us up.”

Rabbi Emeritus Joel Rembaum said of the sanctuary, “It’s not just a room. It’s a place of human interaction — with each other and with God.”

Guests were invited to bring a photo of their favorite sanctuary moment, and hand-write a note or memory on the back. The photos will be included in a time capsule to be preserved in the new space.

Kligfeld summed up the evening, saying, “I remember all the people of religious leadership who tried to convert this space into one of joy and meaning, substance and poignancy, and a connection to what we’ve come from as Jews, and where we are going.”

Mark Miller is a humorist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for various sitcom staffs. His first book, a collection of his humor essays on dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”