May 6, 2004
Never Too Late
As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, Eugene Brown recalls no fondness for the Orthodox shul he was expected to attend after school even though his parents were not members. Instead of showing up, Brown recalls playing baseball. The charade went on about six months despite numerous phone calls to his parents.
By the time the family relocated to Westchester and joined a Conservative synagogue, a teenage Brown spurned the humiliation of learning the Alef Bet alongside younger kids and skipped the bar mitzvah rite altogether.
Years later, when Brown's daughter-in-law converted to Judaism, they joked privately about never-too-late b'nai mitzvahs. "Sure, sure, some day," he told her skeptically.
Brown, 70, was in for a surprise when Pamela Honsberger Brown enrolled herself and her father-in-law in Temple Beth Sholom's adult b'nai mitzvah class last September.
"I was afraid I was going to be embarrassed and flunk Hebrew," said Brown, a longtime La Habra dentist and Santa Ana resident, who put aside his anxiety.
Classmates include a surgeon and the temple's custodian. Like Brown, several were longtime members of the Santa Ana synagogue who watched their children ascending the pulpit to read their Torah portion. Three of the five Brown children, including Pamela's husband, Gary, became b'nai mitzvah at Beth Sholom.
"I find it very interesting," Brown said of his studies. "There's a lot you don't know about religion." Even so, Brown admits Hebrew is proving a struggle. "I'm having a hard time of it." An unexpected bonus was seeking homework help from his daughter, Nancy, 45.
This time next year, the Browns plan a double b'nai mitzvah celebration.
The county's senior rabbi, Haim Asa, is recovering at home in Fullerton after a heart attack ended his ambitious Passover itinerary. Asa, who quit the pulpit of Fullerton's Temple Beth Tikvah, took a retirement job as a state prison chaplain. He planned a whirlwind of four seders behind bars at the four different institutions he visits weekly. Instead, Asa spent the holiday imprisoned by hospital tubing, plastic wristbands and ill-fitting gowns.
Mark Thompson, part-time cantor at Santa Ana's Temple Beth Sholom, is delving into unknown territory, looking for a film producer willing to gamble on an overlooked corner of Jewish history.
Titled "Spinoza's Web," Thompson's screenplay focuses on the 17th-century life and philosophy of Holland's Baruch Spinoza, whose search for religious relevancy made him a forgotten forerunner of contemporary liberal Judaism. Spinoza's parents were victims of the Spanish Inquisition and helped establish one of the first Jewish communities in Europe.
Even without assured financing, Thompson is proceeding with confidence, scouting locations in Amsterdam last summer and lining up a specialist in Middle Ages music from Los Angeles. "Now, I need money to get it produced," he said.
Rabbi Search Narrows
A dozen candidates, including four experienced rabbis, applied for the associate rabbi's position at Aliso Viejo's Temple Beth El, said Cindy Mirsky, the synagogue's president and a member of the rabbi search committee. The group narrowed the field to three serious candidates: Jeremy Master and Karen Deitsch, student rabbis that will be graduating from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York this month; and Johanna Hershenson, who preceded Michael Churgel as Beth El's second rabbi. The search committee was expected to make a final recommendation last month, Mirsky said, though a public announcement is expected soon.