When Mark Firestone was searching for a shul to join, he didn't look for a shul that had a nursery school or Hebrew school attached. Nor did he fret about the services he'd be getting for his membership fee. Instead, he wanted a shul that was quiet.
"I wanted it to be very quiet, so you can hear yourself daven, and hopefully Hashem can hear it," said Firestone, a Pico-Robertson life insurance salesman who belongs to Aish HaTorah. "I have been to other shuls where you can barely hear the Torah reading, because people are talking so much. Aish has zero tolerance for people talking in shul."
For many Jews, the High Holidays is a time when they consider joining or renewing their synagogue memberships. However, what attracts them to synagogues, and what rabbis feel is important when choosing a synagogue, is not always the vast array of services that synagogues and temples provide.
Many members and rabbis feel that it is the intangibles -- the atmosphere in the shul or the feeling of community that really attracts people, not the Hebrew school, youth program or adult education that is offered.
There were three acts to the small luncheon held last Sunday in a private dining room at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The first act was the only pleasant one.
Ten Los Angeles Jews gathered at the invitation of philanthropists and activists Stanley Sheinbaum and Alan Gleitsman to share a meal and views with Syrian Minister of Expatriots Dr. Buthaina Shaaban, an adviser to President Bashir Assad, and Dr. Imad Moustapha, Syria's acting ambassador to the United States, on what was their first official visit to Los Angeles.
The meeting was arranged at the initiative of Dr. Hazem Chehabi, a nuclear medicine specialist who also serves as Syria's honorary consul general in Southern California. The doctor attended the lunch along with his wife and two aides. The idea was to have a frank, cordial and completely on-the-record interchange of views between two groups who rarely, if ever, interact: American Jews and Syrian Muslims.
The event, which was staged by Cafe Europa, a Jewish Family Service program that serves as a social outlet and offers financial assistance and emotional support to Holocaust survivors, allowed those who shared a common experience to also share the joy of Chanukah with one another.