Congregation Kol Ami, the only Reform synagogue in West Hollywood, prides itself on being an alternative to the mainstream, an inclusive, nonjudgmental place where gays, lesbians, bisexuals and heterosexuals connect to a spiritual base, where what matters most is that you want to be there. But it seems the mainstream may be closing in on Kol Ami - or the gay and lesbian religious community in general. At a groundbreaking and consecration ceremony at the site of Kol Ami's future building, leaders of the Los Angeles and West Hollywood communities, as well as leading Los Angeles rabbis, offered support and congratulations.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky lauded the 250-member congregation, founded in 1992 with 35 members, for its courage, character and strength. Mayoral candidate and City Councilman Joel Wachs marveled at the distances crossed since he visited the first gay-focused church in Los Angeles 30 years ago, when gay Jews like himself had no spiritual home.
"We are performing the mitzvah of redevelopment," said Kol Ami's Rabbi Denise Eger. "We are here because of a lot of hard work and dedication by all of you, and your commitment to believe in a future for our community and our city."
Eger saw the steady rain and gloom of the day as a sign of cleansing, of fertility and renewal. The rain did little to keep away more than 200 people who huddled under the caterer's tent, made festive with a klezmer band and rainbow bouquets of balloons, which matched the rainbow-painted shovels used for the groundbreaking. Guests joined in the rousing "Halleluyah" and "Shehecheyanu" prayers led by the rich voice of Kol Ami's cantor, Mark Saltzman, who is also an opera singer.
The new $13.5 million building, expected to be completed in about a year, will stand in an 11,000-square-foot lot at the corner of La Brea and Lexington. Just inside the eastern edge of the West Hollywood city limit, the property was the last available vacant lot in West Hollywood and is in a planned redevelopment area.
"We are honored to have Kol Ami in the city of West Hollywood, because I think about Kol Ami in the same way I think about West Hollywood - welcoming to all and supportive of all," said West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem Paul Koretz. Mayor Jeffrey Prang said he hoped Kol Ami would serve as a "spiritual anchor" as the area develops.
Rabbi Lewis Barth, dean of Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, and Rabbi Mark Diamond, a Conservative rabbi who heads the Southern California Board of Rabbis, also offered congratulations and support.
Rabbi Alan Henkin, director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations on the West Coast, tied the day's events to an interpretation of the weekly portion of Beresheet. "God created beginnings," he said, "and left the rest for humanity to complete."