As late-afternoon sun poured over the Santa Monica Mountains and through the windows of an airy chapel at American Jewish University (AJU), Annette and Leonard Shapiro dedicated the David Alan Shapiro Memorial Synagogue Center in honor of their son, David, who died from diabetes 10 years ago.
The synagogue, which was at standing-room-only capacity with more than 200 guests for the dedication, will serve as a place of worship, classroom and life-cycle-event venue for those affiliated with the university.
“We are very proud that we were given the opportunity to build this synagogue,” Leonard Shapiro said. “It will be a place that everyone will remember and use.”
Annette Shapiro, who is the subject of a book about volunteering (“Annette Shapiro: Professional Volunteer,” by Goldye Harris, Rose Press), sits on the advisory board of the National Women’s Philanthropy and is heavily involved with the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, including being a former board chair. She said in a phone interview after the ceremony that AJU has a very special place in her family’s life.
“My family has a long history of involvement” with the university, she said. Her parents and grandparents were heavily involved in the Los Angeles Jewish community, and Leonard now sits on the AJU’s board. She’s been closely affiliated with the university, she added, “throughout my whole life.”
David became an active member of the university’s community toward the end of his life, finding a renewed sense of Judaism through adult education classes and worship. “David was a student,” Annette said. “He was in the continuing education program for many years.”
At the time the Shapiros were searching for an appropriate way to honor their son, AJU was looking to rebuild its synagogue. Rabbi Robert Wexler, president of the AJU, had known the Shapiros for more than 30 years and thought this might be the perfect match.
“We felt that this gift would touch a lot of lives, and it would be a lasting gift.”
Ground was broken for the synagogue in October 2008, and the building was completed earlier this year. Several b’nai mitzvahs are scheduled to take place in the coming months.
The chapel features three rooms, a main hall and two beit midrash. One of the study halls is named “Avi’s Room,” donated by Bernard and Rennie Shapiro in honor of their grandson, Avi Gesundheit. Several Los Angeles- and Israel-based artists were commissioned to create sculptures and hand-embroidered Torah mantels for the Synagogue Center.
Present at the dedication ceremony were Annette and Leonard’s other two children, Joel and Ilyse; most of their seven grandchildren; and their great-grandson, Max. Joel and Ilyse had each given David a kidney over the course of his illness.
“That’s the kind of family that we are very proud that we have,” Annette said.
As word of the synagogue reaches more people in the community, the Shapiros hope that it will be a focal point for Jewish life in Los Angeles.
“We are very proud to feel that it is a special, wonderful addition to the university,” Annette said. “It will bring a lot of people to the university and let [visitors] know how important the university is in the community.”