San Diego Jews taking root;
Four moments of history celebrated
San Diego Jewish Times, September 21, 2005
Donald H. Harrison.
I'm detecting a growing feeling of pride
and a sense of rootedness in the San Diego County Jewish community—as
indicated by the confluence of four events.
Solel dedicated a new synagogue following a mile long march of the Torahs
on Friday, September 10. On the same weekend, Congregation
Beth Israel unveiled a permanent history exhibit focusing on each of the
three homes it has occupied since 1889.
The coming High Holidays will mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of Tifereth
Israel Synagogue, and the congregation is planning an entire year of
commemorative events for the centennial. Meanwhile, the Louis
Rose Society for the Preservation of Jewish History has invited the public
to attend a 4-7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25 picnic at "Louis Rose Point"
Station (the fomer Naval Training Center) to see where a statue of San Diego's
first Jewish settler will someday be erected.
Happy, occasionally singing congregants— most dressed in special blue and
white T-shirts created for the occasion— escorted Temple Solel¹s
Torahs approximately a mile from the Reform congregation's old home at 552 S.
El Camino Real, Encinitas, to its new home at 3575 Manchester Avenue, Cardiff
by the Sea.
How many people participated? Myron Jucha, the congregation's president,
looked over the packed new sanctuary, which had been extended into the social
hall to accommodate the High Holy Day-sized crowd, and did some quick
figuring. "We set up for 500, and there is quite a bit of
overflow," he said. "I'd say somewhere between 600 and
700." Well, how
about making the official estimate 613 then?
Jucha and others on a bima that drew its architectural inspiration from
a kabbalistic story about the creation of the world smiled in agreement.
"Yes, exactly," one said. "Six-hundred and thirteen—the
number of mitzvot (commandments) found in the Torah."
David Frank explained the inspiration for the sanctuary's design in a
dedicatory pamphlet distributed to attendees. "The mystics, much
like our modern scientists, imagined that our universe began with a Big Bang.
God poured pure light, or the seed of energy, into cosmic vessels within
space. But the light was so pure and intense, that the vessels could not
"So the vessels exploded—and their fragments scattered throughout the
universe, with sparks of the light of creation clinging to the pieces.
Our job, said the Kabbalists, is Tikkun Olam—to recover those holy sparks of
light, and to repair the shattered vessels of creation which we do every time
we perform a mitzvah—an act of goodness, an act of holiness, an act of
justice or compssion.²
Above the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) is a biblical-looking vessel tilted in such a
way as to be pouring conceptual light from above. The doors of the Aron
Kodesh are covered with symbolic sparks—as are the new covers of the Torahs
inside the Ark. The theme is carried on throughout the sanctuary, and, noted
Frank, "from there it is carried outward to the mezuzot on all our
doorways and also on our signage, all the way down to the entrance at the
street. It is even carried on our new letterhead. Our Temple Solel logo
includes these words: 'Raising up holy sparks. Repairing the world.'"
As the temple's planners soared into the spiritual realm, they did not neglect
to provide for the pragmatic—most notably in creating the congregation's
very own coffee shop on the temple's campus. The coffee shop, to be open
during the synagogue's office hours, will provide a place for parents to mill
and schmooze while their children are at school. It will encourage
everyone to think of the synagogue not simply as a place where one goes to
pray, but as a social center as well. A large youth lounge below the
sanctuary equipped with various indoor games reinforces that feeling, as does
a commodious playground for young children.
Enthusiastic congregants accorded standing ovations to some of the people who
had labored so hard to realize the new buildings and campus for Temple Solel,
among them Rabbi Frank; President Jucha, Past President Scott
Goverman and Building Campaign Chairman Gary Woods.
Perhaps the most memorable ovation was for Robin Rubin, the congregation¹s
executive director, who typically had been attending to some details in the
rear of the sanctuary when her name was called. "Who me?" she
gestured in surprise. "Yes you," Jucha assured Rubin over the
public address system. As Rubin started the long walk from the back of the
sanctuary and social hall, the congregation spontaneously rose en masse to
acknowledge her work with sustained applause. It was a movie moment.
More information on Temple Solel's new home may be obtained at (760) 436-0654.
* * *
Thanks to Stuart Simmons, the executive director of Congregation Beth Israel,
I was able to preview the permanent exhibit that has been placed in the foyer
of that Reform congregation¹s sanctuary building.
It takes three full display cabinets to house photographs and other
memorabilia of the congregation that is the oldest and largest in the county.
The first display case focuses on not only the first Temple Beth Israel (now
located in Heritage Park in the Old Town area), but also upon the earlier
history of San Diego Jewry, beginning with the arrival of Louis Rose in 1850.
The second cabinet deals with Beth Israel¹s second home, the historic
property at 3rd and Laurel Streets now owned by Congregation Ohr Shalom, a
Conservative congregation. Besides housing the Reform congregation's own
activities, the Temple Center hosted the meetings of many Jewish organizations
serving the entire community.
The third display case is given over to the current campus at 9001 Towne
Center Drive in La Jolla with considerable attention given to the children of
the congregation, who are its future.
I had only a few minutes to examine the cases before I had to go to another
part of the Beth Israel complex for an interview, but one could spend much,
much longer in front of any of the three exhibits. They were carefully
researched and documented by Stan and Laurel Schwartz and Bonnie Harris of the
Historical Society of San Diego. I suggested to Simmons that someday
his congregation might want to incorporate the images and text from the
exhibit into a souvenir book. I think many San Diegans would like to
have a copy.
For more information about the exhibit, please call Congregation Beth Israel
at (858) 535-1111 or the Jewish Historical Society of San Diego at (619)
* * *
Like Beth Israel, Tifereth Israel Synagogue is now in its third
"permanent" home—and a series of commemorative lectures along with
a 100th anniversary book will deal with memorable people and occasions
associated with each venue.
The lecture series begins with my own Sept. 24 discussion, (Selichot evening)
about the first facility, which had been located on 18th Street south of
Market Street, and had housed the congregation during the period it was
affiliated with the Orthodox
Leonard Rosenthal will deliver a centennial sermon during Rosh Hashanah
observances on Wednesday, Oct. 5. A concert in November and a
rededication service and congregational dinner in December will be followed by
a lecture in January by Raphael and Jerry Levens—sons of the late Rabbi
Monroe Levens. They will focus on Tifereth Israel¹s second home at
30th and Howard Streets—at which their father served as the
newly-Conservative congregation¹s spiritual leader.
In February, Ralph
Barnes, a former president of the congregation, will lecture about
Tifereth Israel's current home, located at 6660 Cowles Mountain Road in theSan
Carlos neighborhood of San Diego. For more detailed information
centennial programs, please call (619) 697-6001.
* * *
The Louis Rose Society is at the beginning of the process of raising money for
that Jewish pioneer and civic leader's statue. It will be located at the foot
of Womble Road in the part of Point Loma formerly known as
Lying along a pathway that parallels the Boat Channel and a portion of San
Diego Bay, the statue will be along what I like to call the "100-Year
Walk," that takes pedestrians from Spanish Landing—where ships of
Father Junipero Serra's expedition put down anchors in 1769—to a spot by
Roseville which Louis
Rose laid out as a town site in 1869.
The kosher picnic will reflect the area¹s 19th century Jewish and American
origins with characters in period costume, singer Colette Thomas performing
songs of the 19th century that are still familiar today, and even a visit by
the "Louis Rose" trolley that was named by Old Town Trolley Tours of
San Diego in honor of the pioneer. There will also be Balloon Utopia
creations and face painting for the kids at this $10-per-adult, $5-per-child
event. For more information, please call me at (619) 265-0808.
To all these organizations—Temple Solel, Congregation Beth Israel, the
Jewish Historical Society of San Diego, Tifereth Israel Synagogue and the
Louis Rose Society —a hearty mazal tov!