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San Bernardino’s Old West synagogue is leaving town

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 15, 2008 | 12:03 pm

The bad news is that San Bernardino County’s oldest Jewish congregation, Congregation Emanu El, which has to have the most common moniker for Reform congregations, is packing up and moving out of San Bernardino. The good news, at least for those involved, is that they are leaving San Bernardino.

The 117-year-old congregation isn’t headed far, maybe just a few miles east to the greener, less gang-infested grasses of Highland, Redlands or Yucaipa. (I’d vote for Redlands, but they already have a Conservative synagogue and, let’s be honest, the majority of Jews in San Bernardino work for my old paper, The Sun. OK, that’s not honesty; it’s hyperbole. But still ...)

I was always a big fan of the Congregation Emanu El’s straight-shooting retired rabbi, Hillel Cohen, but I imagine that then, as now, most of their members lived outside of San Bernardino. The temple was in city’s north end, which before the late ‘80s was full of the well-to-do, but now most of San Bernardino, at least south of the university, which is at the far-north tip, is full of ne’er-do-wells. The move, led by Rabbi Douglas Kohn, makes sense, though, as you would imagine, some longtime members are worried about a schism.

But let’s not get too dramatic. The sale and relocation of the congregation was a long time coming. If it was up to me, I would have gotten out of San Bernardino a few years ago. Come to think of it, I did.

And, no, contrary to what was suggested, the plagues are not soon to follow.

“Now, I know my Bible, not to mention my Charlton Heston movies,” Sun columnist John Weeks wrote recently, “and the last time there was a big exodus of Jewish people, the results were dire for everyone involved.”

Aside from the fact that we are really talking about a small synagogue here—250 member families—there have been some 8,746 big exoduses of Jewish people since the Exodus—and that’s just the involuntary journeys caused by expulsions.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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