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Jewish Journal

The Circuit

by Andrea Adelson

April 1, 2004 | 7:00 pm

Churgel Mulls Move

The first third of Michael Churgel's three-year contract as assistant rabbi of Aliso Viejo's Temple Beth El proved a personal and professional test. He started two months prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which redoubled interfaith efforts by Beth El's clergy. That November, the dedication of the synagogue's permanent home was tempered by shock when the congregation's president, Arnold Hahn, died of a heart attack the morning before the ceremony. Two months later, Churgel, assuming more responsibilities in the absence of a president, was injured in a car accident. His recovery took a year of physical therapy. That spring he married Shara Newman.

"Things turned around after that," said Churgel.

Churgel, 32, who grew up in Fountain Valley, expects to decide this month about his next job, which is likely to be an East Coast position nearer the family of his wife, who had difficulty finding legal work in the last two years. A congregant search committee last month commenced looking for a replacement rabbi.

Besides teaching and offering an intimate, alternative Shabbat service in recent months, Churgel often served as the synagogue's public representative, presiding over funeral services and civic events.

Like the senior rabbi, Allen Krause, Churgel also proved game for participating in synagogue levity, donning a leopard-spotted costume last month for Purim.

Goodbye, Hello

Joanne Mercer, the 13-year principal of Temple Bat Yahm's religious school, told parents of the Newport Beach synagogue she will retire at the conclusion of the school year, May 16. An educator search committee, chaired by Debbie Margolis, is already at work looking for candidates with teaching credentials, experience and Jewish background.

"The rewards are great," Mercer promised.

In March, Cheri Kessner agreed to chair the search committee seeking a successor for Rabbi Joel Landau, the 11-year spiritual leader of Irvine's Beth Jacob Congregation who intends to depart July 1. The committee and interested congregants received some guidance from visiting rabbi, Marc Levin, placement director of New York's Yeshiva University.

Love of the Lox

The "B" team softball players of Tustin's Congregation B'nai Israel say they stick together out of love for a post-game bagel and lox ritual. For several seasons, they never won a game. When one player was sick, another would tape the games to ensure no one missed infield mishaps that led to the team nickname, O.B.I. (One Bad Inning).

An infusion of younger players improved statistics, but not enough to earn a playoff spot in the eight-synagogue league. Their luck turned last month. The "B" team won its first league championship 12-9 against the JCC's team. Its most tenured members, Al Cohen (the winning pitcher), Arnold Raymon, Mort Israel, Don Fogh and Sheldon Pines, who had been playing together for 18 years, danced on the diamond just like Little Leaguers. The victory bash? Bagels and lox, of course.

Lessons in Democracy

Seven Hebrew Academy seniors sampled the electoral process first-hand on Election Day, volunteering to help explain the new computerized voting machines to voters in polling places near their homes. After an orientation provided by the Orange County Registrar of Voters, the students -- Devorah deVries, Doreen Kuriel, Debbie Mahgerefteh, Sarah Naparstek, Tova Shallman, Baila Tenenbaum and Chanya Winograd -- worked from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on March 2.

DeVries liked working with senior citizens, some who voted in every election since Warren G. Harding.

Kuriel felt privileged "to be one of the first to experience the new voting system."

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