Jewish Journal


September 8, 2005

Acts of Faith - Farewell Service


B'nai Tikvah Congregation Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen joins a group of youngsters with stuffed Torahs as they help march the congregation's sacred Torah to one of its new homes at Temple Beth Torah in Mar Vista. Pictured are, from left, Anika Young (front), Rachel Poulson (back), Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen, Ashlyn Rubenstein and Hannah Nicole Rubenstein.

B'nai Tikvah Congregation Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen joins a group of youngsters with stuffed Torahs as they help march the congregation's sacred Torah to one of its new homes at Temple Beth Torah in Mar Vista. Pictured are, from left, Anika Young (front), Rachel Poulson (back), Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen, Ashlyn Rubenstein and Hannah Nicole Rubenstein.

After World War II, two Jewish GIs returned to Los Angeles and founded a synagogue in Westchester. Beth Tikvah, as it was called, finally found a permanent home in 1959 on the Westchester bluffs.

But last month, the Conservative congregation -- known since 1968 as B'nai Tikvah after merging with the nearby B'nai Israel in Baldwin Hills -- held its last service at the historic Westchester building, with its 204-seat sanctuary. On Aug. 20, about 100 people showed up for a final Havdalah service to say goodbye.

Because of dwindling membership and a lack of Jewish families in the area, the congregation decided to sell the property and look for a new location on the Westside.

"We got well over the appraised price, and about a half a million over the asking price," said Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen, or "Reb Jason," who did not disclose what the congregation received from a real estate company that plans to build condominiums.

At its apex in the 1960s, B'nai Tikvah had some 400 member families, said Rabbi Marvin Bornstein, who served as its leader from 1953-1984.

"It was humming day and night there," he told The Journal.

But then white flight happened, and Jews began leaving Westchester and the nearby neighborhoods of Inglewood and Ladera Heights. The airport also needed more land and started buying up property.

"They cut our membership in half just by expanding the airport. It reduced us to maybe 150 families," Bornstein said. "That was a big blow."

But things are not over for B'nai Tivkah, said Van Leeuwen, who had been brought in a year ago to drive up membership.

The congregation will move its religious and nursery schools to the site of the former Montessori school at 8820 Sepulveda Eastway in Westchester, and will hold most services at the adjacent Westchester Christian Church. In addition, the congregation will share a location with Temple Beth Torah in Mar Vista, which has about 60 families.

Van Leeuwen said he hopes in the next three to five years to increase membership, cultivate a donor base and find a new site.

Bornstein delivered the keynote speech at the goodbye ceremony.

"I told them that the spirit of a synagogue is not expressed in the building that they have. It's expressed in the hopes and dreams of the congregation, and that I hope they will continue to dream and rebuild. And someday, I hope they will invite me to put a mezuzah on their new building."

"It must have been a pretty emotional speech," he said, "because for the first time in my life, I got a standing ovation."

For more information on services, schools or the Festival of Faith ceremony on Sept. 18 at 1:30 p.m. with the Westchester Christian Church, call (310) 645 6262.

100 Shofars to Sound

Michael Chusid was 10 years old when he first tried to blow a shofar, the traditional ram's horn sounded on the High Holidays.

"I did not have a teacher, so I huffed and puffed until my cheeks hurt without getting even a small toot," he said.

It was so difficult that he did not touch a shofar again for 30 years.

"During that time, I would go to synagogue on the High Holidays, but I felt alienated from what was going on there. When I would hear shofar during the services, I noticed everyone around me was excited, but I could not feel any connect with the ritual."

But Chusid has come a long way. These days he is such an expert in the art of the horn that he teaches classes around the city for other amateurs who were once like himself.

How did he come so far?

In 1994, he began attending Makom Ohr Shalom, a Jewish Renewal temple in Granada Hills. There he discovered how to participate in all aspects of worship -- including blowing the shofar, which was accomplished by many members of the congregation instead of just one leader.

"The sound they made was on a whole different magnitude, both acoustically and spiritually, from anything I had experienced before. When I heard the shofar, I felt a great relief, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from my spirit."

Chusid went out and bought himself a shofar, learned how to play it -- and started teaching others. Now, this Rosh Hashanah (Oct. 3, 4 and 5), he expects to hear the sound of 100 people blowing shofar at Makom Ohr Shalom. That's a twist on the tradition that Jews are meant to hear 100 blasts of the Shofar throughout the holiday.

For anyone who wants to participate -- or learn for their own synagogue -- Chusid is teaching workshops this month around the city on the art and spirituality of shofar-blowing.

He compares it to "blowing raspberries," except that the lips have to be curled over the teeth and pressed together. The sound is made by the buzzing of the lips, and when you force air through the pursed lips, they vibrate and make a sound.

"Many people know the shofar as a battle cry, like at Jericho," Chusid said, noting that it can also be used to call the end of war, for teshuva or repentance, as well as a wake-up call for tikkun olam, the obligation to help repair the world.

"When I blow the shofar, I visualize my blast creating a vibration that travels throughout the community and around the planet to wherever healing needs to take place."

Free shofar blowing classes: Monday, Sept. 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 788-6000, www.vbs.org. Friday, Sept. 16, 7:10-8 p.m., prior to Shabbat services, Makom Ohr Shalom, 5619 Lindley Ave. (at Burbank Boulevard), Tarzana, (818) 725-7600, www.makom.org. To schedule classes, contact Michael Chusid at (818) 774-0003 or send an e-mail to shofarot@gmail.com.


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