A heated Facebook debate has broken out over whether the $120 - $150 million rennovation of Wilshire Blvd. Temple in Los Angeles is worth it.
A front page New York Times story on the campaign led by Rabbi Steve Leder to restore the grand synagogue in L.A.'s Koreatown neighborhood and turn its adjacent property into a community social service center promped Rabbi Charlie Savenor, director of congregational enrichment at the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, to post a criticism on his Facebook page.
"Intriguing article about a synagogue facelift," Savenor wrote. "While I respect their leadership's conviction and sense of purpose, $150 million can buy a lot of Shabbat dinners and hire an army of engagement/outreach professionals. What do you think?"
Dozens of Rabbi Savenor's Facebook friends weighed in, most of them equally critical of the project.
That prompted Craig Taubman, the Los Angeles activist and musician, to send an e-mail to rabbis and other Jewish professionals taking issue with the critics. Taubman, who requested his message be quoted in full, wrote:
From where I sit in sunny California - reading the critiques of Rabbi Steve Leder’s $150 million project…I read "envy".
From where I sit, I see a visionary man leading his flock, raising millions and inspiring a community to create a center of healing, hope and promise in the heart of Los Angeles.
From where I sit, I question how people can question whether the money can be used more wisely?
Some other thoughts:
1. It's his vision and charisma that has motivated his people to pony up. He’s banking on the future and I say Kol Hakavod - all honor to him and his generous trusting flock!
2. The USCJ by it's own admission “according to a financial audit obtained by JTA, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism reported back-to-back losses of $3 million in 2012 and $2.7 million the previous year” Assuming this information is accurate, the USCJ just might be bankrupt possibly before Wilshire Blvd completes it’s historic build out.
3. If I were an investor in the futures market, I’d bank on Rabbi Leder before the USCJ. He has a vision of the future and based on his portfolio it seems likely he will be in business for at least another 100 years (Since its founding in 1862 when Abraham Lincoln was President)
4. From where I still sit in sunny California, while I know the convention planner are working like dogs with nothing but the best intentions, I question the value of the USCJ hosting yet another “conversation of the century" Franky I think it's time we (us, you, me) take action and make gutsy "movement" that informs the future rather then yet another talk about the future.
Why? Because long after the newspaper articles and Facebook critiques have been written and read. Weeks, months and years after the "conversation of the century" has taken place, Rabbi Leder will have created a model and a foundation that will speak far more loudly than our words. He will have laid the foundation for his truth based in the conviction of his actions. A truth that reflects his spirit of hope, and his faith in the potential that we all have reverberate today, tomorrow and perhaps even into yet another glorious century.
Talk is cheap. Ought we not walk the walk?
(In sunny California)
Taubman's wasn't the first defense of the grand vision behind the rennovation (see this Jewish Journal column here), but it is definitely, judging by the numbers on Facebook, in the minority.
To quote Rabbi Savenor: What do you think?