October 12, 2006
Go West, young Torah-observant Jews!
The wait is finally over for members of Young Israel of Century City, who were eagerly anticipating the theme of the annual program "brochure," which was kept secret until its publication last week.
It's ... Old West.
The Young Israel of Century Gazette is printed on antique-looking brown paper with sepia-toned photographs and illustrations, such as revolvers, spurs, snakes, lizards, playing cards, an animal skeleton and a pitched wagon (with the words "Torah to Go" written on the canopy). The main headline of the Gazette is "YICC Transforms the West! Read All About It," shown with a grainy, blurred-edge photo of the Modern Orthodox shul, located on Pico Boulevard in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
While many synagogues around the country offer adult education programs and brochures, Young Israel of Century City is one of the few to package it in a humorous, stylized brochure. Last year the brochure was designed as a National Geographic magazine. Past themes have included the National Enquirer, a museum tour, and "soul food," featuring a diner design.
"We felt that if you package your program in a sophisticated fashion people will pay attention," said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, who instituted the catchy brochures in the first years of his arrival, some 22 years ago. Not only do congregants anticipate the unveiling of the brochure (at Kol Nidre), but Muskin gets requests nationwide from other rabbis who are inspired by his design and by his programming.
The brochure -- created with Jeff Coen of JDC design -- is just one component of the process, which takes hundreds of hours, beginning with planning speakers, guests and events one year in advance.
The coming year's events range from the intellectual (Yaffa Eliach, a Holocaust scholar, and Gil Graff, a Jewish historian); spiritual (Rabbi Asher Zelig Weiss, a rosh yeshiva from Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, the "Disco Rabbi" who is chief rabbi of Migdal Ha'emek); political (AIPAC's Jonathan S. Kessler, and Rep. Henry Waxman [D-Los Angeles]); cultural (author Hallie Lerman, cultural critic on returning to modesty Wendy Shalit and musician Rabbi Shmuel Brazil).
Why put so much effort into adult education?
"It says in the Talmud if you learn Torah from one person you haven't learned Torah," Muskin said. The programs "generate an intellectual and spiritual excitement."
On the back page of the brochure is a photograph of the original founders of Young Israel of Century City standing in front of the first shul, which really does look like a log cabin, even though it was from the 1970s.
Which brings up the age-old question: Why is it called Young Israel of Century City when it's clearly not located there?
"I asked the same question when I came," Muskin said of his 1986 arrival as the first full-time rabbi, 10 years after the synagogue's inception. It turned out that the name Young Israel of Los Angeles was already taken. Ditto for Young Israel of Beverly Hills (Young Israel of Century City is Beverly Hills adjacent, anyway).
"They decided on Century City because you can see the Century City towers from the synagogue," Muskin said.