As real estate prices rise in the West SanFernando and Conejo valleys, many Orthodox Jews are returning to theNorth Hollywood area, one of the oldest Jewish communities in LosAngeles.
Not everyone has $400,000 to buy a home,and hereyou can still afford to find a house for $150,000 to $200,000 andstill live in a Jewish neighborhood.
Bernice Zachariash, director of the Emek NurserySchool on Chandler Boulevard, has worked at the school for 24 years.She said she loves the close-knit North Hollywood community, whichshe calls "a mini-Fairfax."
"If you have no children going to school over thehill, you never have to go there, " Zachariash said. "There iseverything here you need [to be observant]: lots of little shuls, themikvah, kosher butchers. Even the supermarkets in the area arecarrying major kosher items. Hughes Market, for example, has kosherchicken fresh. You were lucky to find frozen Empire chicken there afew years back. And as for kosher bakeries, seems there's one onevery other corner."
The only thing missing, Zachariash laments, is anupscale kosher restaurant.
"We have nothing with ambiance here, no Pats or LaGondola, where you can go out and have a quiet evening without thekids," Zachariash said.
David Bitton, owner of Le Market, a glatt koshergrocery store on Burbank Boulevard, said he sees a diverse clienteleof immigrants and Jews from other large cities like Chicago and NewYork.
He agrees with the "mini-Fairfax"assessment.
"It is like Fairfax but with more parking, lesstickets and faster service," he said.
Surrounding Le Market are a kosher pizzeria and akosher bakery, in an area reminiscent of parts of Jerusalem as wellas Los Angeles. Nearby, there are several kosher butchers, a glattkosher Chinese restaurant, even a Jewish bookstore (House of David onVictory Boulevard). Area schools include Emek Hebrew Academy inSherman Oaks and Valley Torah's two high schools (one for girls andone for boys).
Allen Ramer reads with his son Ezra at a father and son Torah study event last year.
As for religious facilities, two of the largestsynagogues, Shaarey Zedek and Em Habanim, are undergoing renovationsthat will nearly double their size. At Shaarey Zedek, thecongregation has held their services in a trailer for the past yearwhile waiting for the new building to be completed. The expansionwill add 200 seats to the main sanctuary, making for a capacity of550, thus enabling the shul to hold holiday services there ratherthan renting space from a hotel. The new sanctuary has a skylight toallow for indoor weddings and women's sections on either side of thecentered men's section. The building also houses a study hall forminyans; new offices; a professional-level kosher kitchen; and asocial hall which can sit 400. Shaarey Zedek has also been home tothe oldest mikvah in the Valley; that, too, is getting a faceliftwith four additional dressing rooms and a redesignedaccessway.
Rabbi Aron Tendler, associate rabbi for Shaarey Zedek, said the primary reason for rebuilding the shul is that thesynagogue can hardly keep up with requests for new classes. Inaddition to his job as an assistant principal at Yeshiva UniversityHigh Schools of Los Angeles, Tendler gives about five community lectures a week.
"There's no question we're benefiting now from the'settled' ba'alei teshuvah movement, those who have [become Orthodox]and are now looking for a community for their kids," he said.
Tendler characterizes Shaarey Zedek's congregationas "eclectic": "Here you'll see black hats, knitted kippot, the newlyobservant and the converted all sitting together. We have a realemphasis on maintaining open lines; we're not into judgingpeople."
At Em Habanim, growth has been gradual but steady,according to congregation President Joshua Bittan. The Sephardiccongregation began meeting in December 1973, moving from a smallstorefront to a house built on the present property, which was inturn torn down in order to build the current synagogue. That buildingis now being expanded to include what Bittan calls "a SephardicJewish Community Center," which the administrators of Em Habanim hopeto open this fall.
"We're very keen on preserving our Sephardicheritage," said Bittan.
In addition to Em Habanim, there are also fivesmaller Sephardic congregations within walking distance. The largestof these is Adat Yeshurun. Hidden away in a quiet, residentialneighborhood, Adat Yeshurun is the spiritual home of 150 families ledby Rabbi Amram Gabay. According to Gabay, in the last six months thecongregation added 22 of those families, and growth continues at sucha fast pace that the shul is looking into building a school where theadjoining daycare center currently sits.
Gabay, born in Morocco, speaks several languagesbut conducts services primarily in Hebrew, the common language amonghis diverse congregation.
"We have people from Cuba, Argentina, Panama,Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia, and Libya," he said."You get 20 people for a morning minyan, and if you ask you'll find18 different citizenships."
In an effort to build a bridge between thedifferent factions of the community, Sephardic synagogues in the areaoften share programs with the Ashkenazi Orthodox community, such as afather and son studying program, that has been going on for threeyears. Each Saturday evening, fathers and sons from the neighborhoodmeet at Em Habanim for 45-minutes Torah study sessions together,followed by a brief talk by one of the local rabbis, and pizza foreveryone.
"It helps everyone start the week off right,"Bittan said.
The Orthodox community's expansion has filteredout to Conservative and Reform congregations as well. After years ofsteadily declining membership, Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogueon Burbank Boulevard, added more than 50 families to their membershipin the past year, according to Rabbi Moshe Rothblum.
"A lot of [the growth] has to do with our dayschool and our early childhood center, but even the number ofstudents in our religious school has increased this year," saidRothblum. "I think there is greater awareness of the importance ofspirituality in life. Also, the economy has improved, so people aremore willing and able to affiliate. There are costs obviously inproviding schools and classes for members, so having more people jointhe synagogue enables us to do more."