CONGREGATIONAL BEGINNINGS are not usually followed by the full realization of the founders’ visions and dreams. At times it takes a few decades or more for the hopes and visions of those who were the original founding members and visionaries to come to fruition. So is the story of Temple Beth David. It is a wonderfully positive story with many lessons having been learned and passed down.
Temple Beth David of the San Gabriel Valley was created as a way to build a liberal Jewish community for the San Gabriel Valley’s community in the late 1940s. With the help of both the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and Rabbi Alfred Wolf, Flora and Leon Kahn and Bernice and Isadore Richlin were able to begin their canvassing campaign and find like minded Jews who too were yearning to create a com-munity of Reform Jewish families. Our Valley then had 14 congregations established since the late 1940s. Though there are far fewer remaining houses of worship, the Jewish communal vitality has increased several fold. Our local Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys has increased the vitality and connectivity of our houses of worship, as well as the unaffiliated Jews to each other.
Proud moments for Temple Beth David have been many! TBD’s founders could never have contemplated the meaningful and dynamic generations that have crossed our portals, sat in the pews and studied Judaism. The liturgy has changed, there is emphasis on newest learning modalities of religious education, and our children and adults are keeping current with the latest trends, led by myself as Senior Rabbi, our Cantor, Lilah Sugarman and Education Director, Gal Kessler Rohs.
One of the many proud moments during my four plus decades as senior Rabbi at Temple Beth David includes our congregational sponsorship of “boat people”- refugees fleeing Southeast Asia. What a joy seeing the congregation rally to meet the needs of those who were stranded on their fishing boats with no place to go during the fall of South Vietnam and the Cambodian War. A small group banded to furnish apartments and provided the families with food, clothing and supplies. Soon after news of the first “boat family,” many more TBD families became enthusiastic about joining the original group of kind helpers, in their acts of Tikkun Olam. Temple Beth David’s community did not stand idly while there were helpless people in need.
Under the inspiration of Chuck Searls and Lorraine Bernstein (z”l), our catering for the homeless has resulted in over 30,000 pounds of non perishable food donated to those in need. We thank Jason Young for scheduling Sunday food preparations and feedings for underserved families at Union Station in the last four years. We are also grateful for Amy Pressman who piloted with me the original feeding plan back to 1985 at Union Station.
Our congregation went through turmoil during Chanukah in 1980, when our temple was broken into by self proclaimed neo-Nazis. It was descecrated and fire bombed in the middle of the night. Our Jewish community was devastated to think there were people who wanted to destroy our house of worship. The range of feelings went from paranoia, to moving Temple Beth David to safer part of the valley, to those who had the desire to seek vengeance toward the arsonists.
What evolved after the fire was a communal outreach by other houses of worship with their donations, letters of solidarity and consolation. In our lobby, just footsteps from our charred sanctuary and social hall, we proudly displayed the letters of our neighbors and the artwork of the young children who were embarrassed that hatred had de-volved into such a dastardly act. Some of our children cried when they no longer felt safe displaying their Chanukah Menorah in the front windows of their homes.
Two months later we were sitting in the sanctuary, on folding chairs with walls still blackened, while holding our Shabbat service in a room that was once a sacred space for us. This time we sat with Hollywood celebrities on a Friday night with Leonard Nimoy, Ed Asner, Peter Mark Richmond, Stephen Furst, Mariette Hartley and Richard Hillard. They brought notes from Gregory Peck and Walter Matthau in solidarity. We were not alone during those dark days.
The Knell family, from Ole’s Hardware, gave us an enormous credit at their stores to make our burden of rebuilding much easier. We mourned for what we lost, our holy sanctuary and the lost innocence. Eventually, we derived substantial strength be-cause we no longer felt like victims, and alone. The diverse backgrounds of members of our community standing up against violence and bigotry was powerful, and beyond our wildest imagination.
On alternate years, Temple Beth David has sent groups of our ninth and tenth graders to our nation’s capitol to lobby our Jewish values to those who will be voting upon upcoming legislation issues on the legislative calendar. We lobby for this because our young future Jewish voters need to have their voices heard on the crucial issues facing our destiny. We are a country full of past immigrants and compassionate people. I am indebted to the Kohl family for providing dozens of scholarships over these past 30 years for our students. Temple Beth David is additionally indebted to the Union for Reform Judaism and its Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. After decades of attending these seminars and workshops we have equipped hundreds of our youngest Jews to bring about progressive agendas.
We have developed a community of teachers both within and outside of our Religious School. Congregants teaching everything from Hebrew to cooking, to meditation for the adult segments of our congregation on Sundays. Our monthly adult education has been inspiring and challenging with an array of speakers who both challenge, and in-spire.
The next 70 years? We are poised to begin the next chapters with two progressive, well trained leaders who are my partners. Temple Beth David enters a new vital era of being Jewishly Warm and Relevant. Our youth oriented programs are growing under the director of our dynamic education director, Gal Kessler Rohs. Her charisma, dynamism and teacher mentoring has not only doubled our school, but also set the whole school on a new level of engagement and excellence. Gal has a Masters Degree from Columbia University and teaches PJ Library’s 0- toddler Gan Katan class at our local Jewish Federation.
The second new infusion to our community comes from Cantor Lilah Sugarman. Cantor Sugarman brings her beautiful voice, musical talent, yoga teaching, as well as de-sire to sit on the rug with our Pre-K students and make music for our youngest. She is a recently ordained Cantor from the Hebrew Union College Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music.
Hazak, hazak v’nithazek. May we go forth from strength to strength as we build for a brighter future ever mindful of the legacy we carry forward!
Written by Rabbi Alan Lachtman, DHL, MFCT, LTC Ret. Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth David since 1976, and “Best Rabbi,” as voted by the readership of Pasadena Weekly.