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Jewish Journal

Staying Active at 50

by Wendy J. Madnick

December 10, 1998 | 7:00 pm

The state of Israel isn't the only Jewish institution celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. On Sepulveda Boulevard, in West Los Angeles, the renowned Leo Baeck Temple is celebrating its Jubilee, commencing with a series of events Dec. 11-13.

And like Israel, many temple members are finding it a struggle to maintain the activism of the temples early years.

Founded in 1948 by a group seeking to expand Reform Judaism in Southern California, the temple has gradually built a reputation for social activism. The congregation's founding rabbi, Leonard Beerman, was one of the first in his profession to speak out against the war in Vietnam. Beerman and then-Associate Rabbi Sanford Ragins later participated in the "no nukes" protests in the late 1970s -- a battle Ragins continues to fight, even making a point of commenting on the recent nuclear tests in India and Pakistan in his 1998 High Holiday sermon.

Ragins said he is simply following in the footsteps of the congregation's namesake. Rabbi Leo Baeck, one of the premiere rabbis of Berlin prior to World War II, spoke out not only against Hitler but also reproached the Lutheran Church for turning its back on the victims of the Nazi regime. Baeck survived the Thereisenstadt concentration camp and went on to teach in London and the U.S.

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