I fell in love with Los Angeles on January 16, 1994. It was a Sunday morning and I had just flown in from Chicago to visit my father. It was 20 degrees, grey, and dreary in Chicago. This was my first time in Los Angeles. I was driving along the Santa Monica Freeway, listening to a song from my youth playing on the radio, and thinking that everything was possible in the warm Southern California sun. I flew to LA to visit my father who had moved to Los Angeles in 1971 after my parents’ divorce. I hadn’t seen my father since 1969. In future articles I will discuss my relationship with my father.
I would like to express my thoughts and feelings on the Synagogues I attended all the years I went to Los Angeles to visit my father. I davened at wonderful places and met great people.
March 3 and 4, 1995:
Friday Night – Congregation Shaarei Tefila:
I flew into Los Angeles to visit my father and run the LA Marathon. Friday night I davened at Congregation Shaarei Tefila at 7269 Beverly Blvd. My first reaction as I walked into the Shul was that I was home. I was in Los Angeles, didn’t know anyone, and had almost no food for Shabbos. It was comforting to walk into Shul. Congregation Shaarie Tefila was no different than Shuls in Chicago, New York, Israel, St. Louis, or anywhere else in the world. The people were all the same. There was a Rabbi, President, Baal Tefilah, retired people, professionals, singles, and others. A Jew walks into any Shul in the world and is home. I had the same feeling when I went to Washington and walked into Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown. I was invited to eat the Friday night meal at a beautiful couple, a doctor, his wife, and their beautiful children. We had many things in common, especially the problems in our respective schools.
Shabbos morning – Kehilas Yaakov
I davened at Kehilas Yaakov at 7211 Beverly Blvd. This minyan was a little more Yeshivish. I was invited by another young great couple. They just had their 5th child.
A few years later I met a good friend, Sheldon Burg, from high school at Kehilas Yaakov. Over the years I ate meals at his house, met his parents, and discussed old times.
March 5, 1995 – LA Marathon:
I ran the LA Marathon. The three Elvises in their white jumpsuits got me through. I first hooked up with them at mile 14 on Rossmore Avenue. It started to rain. I was freezing and had zero energy. The Elvises had a boombox tied to a baby stroller, playing Elvis songs. Shake, Rock, and Roll was still playing in my head as I crossed the finish line.
November 1996 – Congregation Bais Yehuda:
Over the years I davened numerous times at Congregation Bais Yehuda, 360 N. La Brea or as I call it, the Red Shul, due to its red brick exterior. Congregation Bais Yehuda is a New York Shul. It feels and smells like it belong in New York. Over the years I caught 9:30 AM prayers, davened Mincha (afternoon service) after Shikia (sunset), and met Mishullacim who I know from annual visits to my home in Chicago. It is similar to the Boat Shul in Toronto. Every city needs a Congregation Bais Yehuda.
July 31, 1999- Young Israel of Hancock Park
Flew into Los Angeles for a cousin’s wedding. My mother came in with me. We were wined and dined over Shabbos. Davening was at the Young Israel of Hancock Park, 225 S. La Brea. Over the years, the Young Israel of Hancock Park was my mainstay Shul. I would Daven there most of the time in LA. Young Israel of Los Angeles is the “big” Shul of the Beverly/Fairfax/Hancock Park area. People daven there that cover all spectrums of Orthodoxy. It is a very comfortable Shul. It does not make a difference how you are dressed. It reminds me of the Clanton Park Shul in Toronto. Over the years I had a number of invitations for meals.
However, I was a little put off when in 1997, I had flown in to see my father and run the LA Marathon. During announcements, the President did not mention anything about the upcoming Marathon that runs down the heart of Hancock Park. After Davening I told him of his oversight and he shrugged it off. I do not understand why, when there is a great citywide event in their neighborhood, the Synagogue decided not to participate in any way. What a shame. They could have performed a great Kiddush Hashem. I have the same criticism in Williamsburg. The NY Marathon runs down the heart of Williamsburg and the Orthodox community refuses to acknowledge the event.
Shabbos, January 22, 2000 – Kehilla of Westwood
I took three kids to LA for winter break. Shabbos we stayed by my aunt in Westwood. We davened with my cousin, the great Martin Brody, at the Kehilla of Westwood. Kehilla of Westwood is a special, special place. The Rabbi is a powerhouse. Kehilla of Westwood is a model Shul that should be copied in every city in the world. The Shabbos we attended was a Shabbaton featuring “Swartzy”, a holy Jew. An old time Lubavitcher who has made thousands of Ba’ali Teshuva. The Shabbos was memorable.
Over the years, I davened a number of times and spoke with the Rabbi of Kehilla of Westwood. He is a visionary. He has brought in a Kollel and works very hard for the Jewish people.
My cousin runs the LA Marathon every year in his Kehilla of Westwood T-shirt. Say hello as he jogs by on Pico.
October 2001 – Atzei Chaim Synagogue – 8018 West Third St., Los Angeles, CA:
My father had a stroke and was in a rehabilitation center on La Cienega. Over Shabbos my siblings and I stayed at a hotel on La Cienega. Shabbos morning we davened at the Atzei Chaim Synogague at 8018 W. Third St. As soon as I crossed the threshold of the Shul, the passage in the Bible came to mind, “… remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground”. I sensed that most of the members in the Shul were Holocaust survivors. I had the merit to daven with these Kiddoshim. I was in for a special treat. The Baal Korah (person who reads the Torah), Rabbi Einhorn, Lained (chanted the Bible portion) exactly as my grandfather. It is a sweet, effortless sound. I hadn’t heard my grandfather Lain since 1975.
November 23 and 24, 2001 – Chabad of Greater Los Feliz – 1930 Hillhurst Avenue • Los Angeles, CA 90027-2712
I had flown into Los Angles on Thanksgiving Day to be with my father, who was admitted to the Kaiser Permanente Hospital at Sunset and Edgemont. The entire weekend was difficult, watching my father suffer in tremendous agony and pain. He was reliving the horrors of the Holocaust. It was like he was going through a purification process for the next world.
I assumed that there would be not Minyan or anywhere to stay for Shabbos. I did not think there was another Jew this far West of La Brea, until Denver, Co. Was I wrong! I found out that there was a Chabad house within four blocks of the hospital. It was the Chabad of Greater Los Feliz, at 1727 N. Vermont. At 11:00 AM, Friday morning, the Rabbi and his wife invited me over for Shabbos to sleep and eat. I spent a special Shabbos at their home. Each meal had numerous guests. We made small talk, talked Divrei Torah, sang, and all felt part of the Jewish people. I saw the embryo of a future Jewish community. The Rabbi and his wife are what Lubavitch is all about. I would only wish the entire Klal Yisroel learn from this exemplary couple, who have dedicated their lives to helping Jewish people. I joked with him, “can you imagine, I am eating Cholent in Los Feliz”. I wanted to be part of this community, to be there as it grew. I sensed the Achdus (togetherness) of the members.
If I had money, I would have Lubavitch open a Chabad house on Hollywood Boulevard near La Brea. This is where my father lived.
March 3, 2002:
I was running the LA marathon. My niece’s brother-in-law along with others from his Synagogue was handing out orange slices. The Shul is located on Robertson, just south of Pico. It was gratifying to see Orthodox Jewish people, associated with a Shul giving aid to the runners. The slice of orange was delightful.
August 17, 2002_– Ahavas Yisroel Synagogue – 731 North La Brea Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90038 USA – Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron
My father passed away on June 21, 2002. My sibling and I were in Los Angeles to close up my father’s apartment. We stayed at the Holliday Inn Express on La Brea. We had about a 1.5 mile walk to the Ahavas Yisroel Synagogue, 731 N. La Brea. It is a Lubavitch shul. It is another special Shul. It reminded my of the Synagogue I pray in Chicago. There are no Machers (bigshots) in the Shul, only regular working people. The Rabbi is a teacher in the nearby Lubavicth Yeshiva. The Rabbi is a Talmud Chachum (Torah Scholar). He spoke Friday night and Shabbos morning. Both speeches were like honey. I was greatly rewarded for the 1.5 mile walk. The best speech is one that the listeners can plagiarize. I spoke over his Friday night speech at our Friday night meal. It was on the Haftorah of the Sedreh. Shabbos morning was an excellent analysis of the Torah portion that discusses the Mitzvah of honest weights and scales. He brought in various commentaries, analyzed them, compared this portion dealing with honest weights and scales to the other Bible portion that discusses the Mitzvah of honest weights and scales, and offered his own insights.
My daughter asked me why I did not write about the Synagogues of Chicago. I paused to consider her question. There are two reasons. One reason is that I go to LA as a tourist, so I have no preconceived ideas of the Rabbis and the congregations. I am able to be the beneficiary of each Synagogues’ graciousness. The other reason is that I think Los Angeles is a special place. Hollywood has many successful artistic and talented individuals. These types tend to look for more meaning in life and tend be more Spiritual. I believe that this is a major contributing factor to the highly successful Ba’al Tshuvah movement in Los Angeles. Chabad is huge is Los Angeles.
Post my Fathers Death:
2005 – UCLA Hillel – 574 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles
Came in run the City of Angels half marathon with Martin Brody. We davened at the UCLA Hillel, with the College kids. Friday night the Chazzan sang Carlbach, Always appreciated. Shabbos morning had the pleasure to pray with the Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller. Great speech. He mentioned a beautiful Rabbi Yonasan Eibshitz. Please look at this video about Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, http://vimeo.com/13195592
I am related to Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller. His first cousin is married to my first cousin from Edison, NJ.
2007-2011 – Village Shul of Westwood
Martin Brody, my LA cousin, and the author of a weekly Torah thought on the Bible changed Synagogues and became a regular at the Village Shul of Westwood and a sometimes Rabbi, when Rabbi Weiss is away for Shabbos.
Very pleasant Shul. I attended when the Shul was on the UCLA campus. I liked it there because two doors in the back opened up to some benches outside the Shul. It was nice walking out into the beautiful LA weather with your Talis on. They are now on Westwood Boulevard above a Peats Coffee.
Rabbi Abner Weiss is from South Africa. His speeches in Shul are excellent. Each one is a gem. I have repeated his speeches numerous times, I also attended Rabbi Weiss’s Shabbos afternoon Talmud class. I have learned by many Rabbis, however, Rabbi Weiss explains and makes each word of the Talmud and Rashi jump out with meaning. It grabs the students.
Pacific Jewish Center – Summer 2012:
I finally made it to the Pacific Jewish Center, Look at the picture of the Shul. I miss it. For years I have walked past this iconic Synagogue along the Venice Boardwalk, hoping one day to attend services. I was in LA for my nephew’s wedding and had the chance. We were staying at the Crown Plaza at Pico and Beverall. I walked 7.5 miles each way to attend the Pacific Jewish Center. I met two obviously Orthodox people on the Boardwalk while I was leaving after services. They were headed to the Kiddush. I stopped to say hello and said, “wow, meeting Frum people on the boardwalk in Venice Beach on a Shabbos, on a beautiful day in LA. It does not get any better than this”
As I was leaving a member gave me a great piece of advice. He walked the 7.5 miles route and said that I will get very thirsty, and that in the Westwood Shops, there is a water fountain. He was correct. I was starting to fell dehydrated and I began looking for water. I finally made it to the Westwood shops and had sweet water. I made it back to the Auf Ruf lunch right after the first course.
Congregation Ner Maariv – Encino, CA:
This is the only non-Orthodox Synagogue I attended. I went for my cousin’s kids Bar Mitzvah’s. I have great stories and times from the two Shabbosim I spent in each Shul with my cousins. However, it is tragic as the Temple Ner Maariv shrunk down to only 65 families and merged with Temple Ramat Zion.
The shame is that Ner Maariv is in a beautiful building, many members are traditional, and who came from the east coast and wanted a Shul. However, the conservative movement cannot hold its youth. They do not have the dynamic Rabbis as I listed above.
I called the OU to see if they would purchase the Shul, bring in a dynamic Rabbi and see what happens. Would he be able to build up a Shul like BRS in Florida. They would have done it, had I purchased the Shul.