LA's Original Entertainment Industry Synagogue

Lee Miller, SFTPA President's 2016 Kol Nidre Message

Good evening and L’Shana Tova,

Each year at the Kol Nidre service I try in few short minutes to let you know all that has happened to this synagogue in the preceding 12 months. This year it is particularly apropos because we have recently celebrated a milestone of 40 plus years existence. That's four decades….one short of half a century. Tonight we enter year 43. That's quite Amazing! Who would have guessed! Who knew?


When Charley Powell said to me we are going to start a Synagogue I thought he had gone round the bend. He said, “We are going to reintroduce Judaism to all the wanderers who have for whatever reason drifted away. It sounded good! Bu then Charley sold movies professionally and was hugely successful at it. He went on.. “On the plus side we have a rabbi. He is an ordained rabbi from a family of distinguished rabbis. He is also a standup comedian and an agent for comics. On the minus side, we don't have a sanctuary. We also don't have any books, or yarmulkes or taliesim. We don't even have a torah or an ark. We have no treasury. We also don’t have an administrative staff or even an office so we will use his dining room. And we are going to charge only $18.00 to join.”

What could go wrong?

And yet… here we are 43 years later.


We remain the founders of this idea and the concept that religion should be open to anyone who wishes to worship in an atmosphere of camaraderie and companionship.


We have survived 15 or more venues in locations all over the west side and the valley. Even this venue has been sold but appears to be a few years away from closing its doors so we are secure for now.


We have had 10 presidents 3 of whom are here tonight Susie Ross, Barry Rubin and Howard Fine. Their contributions to the life of this synagogue have been immeasurable.


Our longevity is a main reason of our success.


Our Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has been with us 25 years . Rabbi Telushkin is indeed unique. His past writings have made him known around the world and he is one of the leading Judaic scholars of our time. His wisdom and his humor have led us for all those years. He is a master among masters, and I love him dearly.


Cantor Judy Fox has been with us I think since she was teenager. Actually it is over 30 years but she doesn't want me to say that. So I won’t! She does so much for every service, helping with planning -- the writing – and the organizing -- and let’s face it, when she sings, she is awesome. Judy is also our first responder for most of the life cycle events that occur within our synagogue family. She is most dear to us and we treasure her.

I cannot think of any synagogue anywhere being as fortunate as we are to have this incredible spiritual leadership. 


We have the best Board of Directors right now that we have had in all the years I have been a member of this synagogue and served on its boards. They are hardworking and smart and creative and supportive. They still volunteer their time and energy to make it work. I would ask each to stand as I call their name so you get to know and appreciate the people that make this synagogue work:


Our Executive Director, Cookie Miller

Vice President of Ritual, Susie Ross

Secretary, Pamela Wise

Treasurer, David Wohlberg

And our board members:

Paula Brand, Howard Fine, Marcy Goldman, Eddie Goldstein, Nicki Goldstein, David Goryl, Stacey Goryl Barty, Richard Hoffman, Sheila Manning, Herb Mendelsohn, Andrew Robinson, and Sharon Weisz.

I urge you to get to know them. They are here at most services. So, if you have ideas that you wish to let us know about or even a complaint, please talk to one of the board members.

Though some have said we are not a full service synagogue, in most ways we truly are. We do provide life cycle services whenever there is a need. We do watch over and take care of the needs of our congregation. 


We have few tangible assets. That’s part of our original design. We don’t have buildings to support. Among the few valuable assets we have, you see in front of you, the ark, the torahs, the table, the podiums, the cabinet with the names in memoriam of past members, and inside the cabinet for all to see, stands our Holocaust Torah. I was asked about the torah at RH and though I have spoken of it before, some new facts have come to light that I feel might be of interest. Earlier this year in the Jewish Journal, there was a splendid article written by Eitan Arom on the origins of the Holocaust Torahs. Here are some of the facts that I learned from him.


On a morning in February 1964 in London England, a pair of trucks pulled up to the Westminster Synagogue while members waited anxiously in the damp air to unload more than 1000 scrolls, a collection believed to be the largest ever gathered under one roof.


One by one they were carried into the synagogue and placed on the checquered marble floor of the hall. Higher and higher the pile rose, spreading out across the floor like shrouded bodies, and treated with the reverence that such bodies deserved.


The lot of 1564 torahs had lately been discovered in a rundown warehouse in Prague. In the early 1940’s, the Nazi occupiers of what was then Czechoslovakia had forced Jewish archivists to bring together the scrolls from the districts of Bohemia and Moravia and catalogue them. Bohemia and Moravia are areas in the eastern part of what is now the Czech republic but no longer exist as independent states. At one point they demanded a showing for the SS and the Museum of the Jews was planned as an exhibit of an extinct race.


Many of the scrolls were partially burned or bloodstained and most were in dire need of repair and care. The soffers ( men who literally write the Torahs) spent the next 2 decades repairing the scrolls, readying them to be shipped for ritual use or memorial display around the world. The majority of the Torahs found their way across the Atlantic with several finding their way to southern California. It was Charles Powell who heard of the Westminster project and applied for the SFTPA to become a trustee. That's how this torah came to our being.


Here are a few interesting facts about these scrolls. As much as each Torah is identical with the same words and text, each one is also individual and has an individual sacredness.


The text in each one is identical down to the proportions. The lines on each panel are no longer than three times the length of the longest word. Ten letters are written larger than the rest, and each scroll has a unique set of blemishes and imperfections.

Since 1964 all but 130 scrolls have found new homes with congregations, schools, museums, synagogues and jewish organizations. The remaining 130 are held in a small museum in London. One scroll is in the care of Queen Elizabeth II, and lives in the Royal Library.


The scrolls were in various states of disarray. Some were tied shut with prayer shawls, two were secured with ladies corsets, seven had at some point been buried. When the Soffers began examining the Torahs in London, a note fell out of one that read, “Please God help us in these troubled times”.


The Torah that is in our care originated in Moravia and the scroll was written in 1880 – 136 years ago and long before anyone in the room was even born. It is in a fragile state. It is torn and abused on many pages and it is probably unable to be restored fully to a kosher state. The society who gave us this torah requires that the scrolls be displayed in a permanent way but we have been given a dispensation by them, since we don't have a permanent building, to display the scroll on the High Holidays and special occasions.


However, to me this scroll has always been a symbol, an icon that has touched me deeply. This Torah has seen and experienced things that most of us could not imagine. And yet, it still exists in its tattered state to inspire us and tell its story. To me it is one of the many reasons this synagogue exists, so that the message and story of this scroll won’t be forgotten.


It is the reason, that each year I reach out to implore you to help keep this synagogue alive and afloat. We will never be rich as that's not our charter. But to exist and serve our community - that is our prime purpose. It is not easy -- at least for me -- to ask each year that you contribute funds to help us. I don’t ever want to appear to be the boy who cried wolf. And if you don’t remember that fable from your childhood, it tells the story of a boy who cried wolf for the fun of it and each time the villagers stopped their work and raced to save the boy only to find him laughing and saying “just kidding” or the equivalent. Until the day there really was a wolf and the boy truly in danger cried out once again but no one believed him and no one came to help him.


So, I have been careful not to exploit our fiscal situation ever when I ask for help, but if you are very quiet and take a deep breath you might hear the wolf scratching at our door this year, and unlike the boy in the story this isn’t a joke.


This synagogue has always needed your help… Because our expenses rise in the normal fashion of expenses… Because things are more expensive each year… Because the phrase “non profit” is our lot in life… Because our investments don’t always return what they are expected to, and… Because our dues are held in check by the desire not to burden you, our congregation, with higher fees. This year for some reason, maybe because of all of the above, we are particularly in need of your help. We sit on the cusp of a great shortfall if we cannot reach our goal. We will really be in trouble if we don't make our goal. So I ask you this time round – this year -- to please find a way to donate to us great or small. Great would certainly be better but any amount and every donation will be truly appreciated. I would hope this dire state of affairs will not carry beyond this year. But it might. Our need will always be there but hopefully not as dire as we find ourselves this year. Please think about these services that we provide, how beautiful and inspirational they are.


Our board members will pass out envelopes as you leave. Please, please use them wisely. As I have said before, there is no other guy. YOU are the other guy and we need you this year more than ever.


L’Shana Tovah