With its sparkling 24-karat gold dome and Jerusalem stone exterior, the new 25,000-square-foot Southern California Jewish Center (SCJC) stands out more than just a little among the various stores and restaurants, many of them Persian-owned, that line Westwood Boulevard. A four-story building whose construction has been on-going for the past three years, it has turned more than a few heads because of its opulent, distinctive architecture.
âEveryone that drives by or walks by tells me it reminds them of Jerusalem,â said Rabbi Shimon Kashani, SCJC founder. âThis is not just another synagogue but a center where people can get recharged as far as Judaism is concernedâ.
After spending $2.8 million on the property and nearly $3 million for construction, Kashani has plenty to be proud of as the new state-of-the-art center includes an elegant and elaborate synagogue, Jewish school, summer camp, day-care center, menâs mikvah, womenâs mikvah, and a separate mikvah for utensils and cookware all under one roof.
âBefore the construction of the mikvahs, we brought in Rabbi Grossbaum who is a famous mikvah specialist as a consultant,â said Kashani. âThese are not your typical mikvahs they have nice marble floors, private showers and rooms, jacquzzis, and the mikvah itselfâ.
Kashani began the SCJC in Westwood in 1992 with only 80 students and a synagogue, but since then the organization has grown to include several hundred students and many more families. In 2002, the SCJC sponsored trips for 22 Israeli victims of terror to tour the U.S. and this year donated Jewish religious texts to Israeli soldiers fighting on the front lines in northern Israel.
âSupport for Israel is very important to us because weâre all connected to someone there,â said Kashaniâs wife Vered, who is also involved in many of the organizationâs outreach efforts.
But the SCJCâs aid has not been limited to Jewish causes alone. For Thanksgiving 2002, the group teamed up with the 98th Street Community Youth Organization to donate turkeys and cars to families in South Central Los Angeles.
While Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services will be held this year at the new SCJC location, Kashani said the centerâs official grand opening will not be until December. On September 10th, SCJC members danced down Westwood Boulevard and inaugurated a new torah specially made in Israel for their synagogue.
Even though Kashani and many of the those attending the SCJCâs orthodox services are of Iranian decent, he said his organization is not only for Iranian Jews but also welcomes Jews from various backgrounds.
âWeâre trying to bridge the gap between the affiliated and the non-affiliated Jewish community, between the Iranian Jews and Ashkenazi Jewsâwe want this to be a place where Judaism will thrive,â said Kashani.
Karmel Melamed is an internationally published freelance journalist based in Southern California
Portions of this article were originally published by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles: http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/searchview.php?id=16476