Rabbi Simon Dolgin, founding rabbi of Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills for 32 years, died in Israel on April 19 at the age of 89.
Both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic chief rabbis attended his funeral in Israel, as well as dozens of rabbis, dignitaries and government officials. Approximately 350 people attended a memorial at Beth Jacob last week, where Dolgin was remembered as a fearless advocate for modern Orthodoxy.
"Nothing could stand in Rabbi Dolgin's way in order to establish what he felt was a true Orthodox Judaism and education in this part of the country," said Manny Stern, a past president of Beth Jacob.
A native of Chicago, Dolgin was sent west by his rabbi at the age of 23 to establish a Modern Orthodox foothold in what was perceived as a spiritual desert.
When Dolgin arrived at Beth Jacob, a small, traditional congregation near La Brea Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard on West Adams Boulevard, he immediately took over the small Hebrew school and began the campaign to increase the observance of halacha among his congregants. His campaign to erect a mechitza, separating men and women in synagogue, would end successfully 20 years later.
Dolgin's vision of observance extended to the greater community as well. In the late 1950s, he worked with the Ambassador and Biltmore hotels to install kosher kitchens, and he pushed The Jewish Federation toward being more sensitive to Jewish law, while encouraging his congregants to support The Federation.
His appreciation of Jews of all stripes led him to teach with those from movements to his left and to help Chabad's Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin set up shop when he arrived in the early 1970s.
In 1949, Dolgin founded Hillel Hebrew Academy, which moved with the congregation to Beverly Hills in 1954. Dolgin worked tirelessly -- shlepping, teaching, mimeographing -- to establish the school, often forgoing his own salary to pay the teachers.
"He had total dedication and mesirut nefesh," selfless giving, said Rabbi Menachem Gottesman, who was principal of Hillel for 42 years before retiring last year. "If there is Yiddishkayt in Los Angeles, it is because of people like him on the front lines, working for it and fighting for it."
Today, Hillel is a school of 800 children and Beth Jacob has 700 families, the largest Orthodox congregation on the West Coast.
Dolgin moved to Israel in 1971. He built a synagogue in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood of Jerusalem and named it Beth Jacob, after the one in Beverly Hills. He was the first Western rabbi to hold the post of director general of the Israeli government's Ministry of Religious Affairs.
When Beth Jacob Cantor Binyamin Glickman, an Israeli citizen, returned to Israel to serve in the army for the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Dolgin spent Shabbat with him in a bunker in the Golan Heights, distributing candy and nuts to soldiers on the front lines.
"Rabbi Dolgin was a man passionately in love with all Jews," Sid Eisenstadt, a former president of Beth Jacob, said at the memorial. "Through his inner strength, he taught this congregation to be observant, modern, progressive and forward thinking American Jews."
Dolgin is survived by his wife of 60 years, Shirley; his children, Saralee, Sharonbeth, Michael and Jess; and many grandchildren.
Condolences or memories of Rabbi Dolgin can be sent to the family at email@example.com .
Donations in Dolgin's memory can be sent to Beth Jacob, 9030 West Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.
A fund has been set up to establish a yearlong internship for young rabbis in Dolgin's memory.