Wilshire Blvd Temple Closes Its Main Sanctuary — Will Its Congregants Notice?

Only 2% of Wilshire Blvd Temple’s membership of 33,000 attend services there weekly so the overwhelming number of its Jews won’t be affected by this closure.

Synagogues tend to be built and maintained by the money of those who rarely attend while those who regularly attend rarely donate big.

Why should the temple spend $100 million to rebuild its main sanctuary when the place is located in an area where white people rarely go voluntarily?

Brad A. Greenberg writes:

Julie Miller walked a fine line when she delivered her annual president’s message to the congregation of Wilshire Boulevard Temple on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

She focused on the history of the illustrious synagogue, talking about the century of influence and communal relevance that has stemmed from visionary leaders, about the temple’s present state and about plans to revitalize the historic Magnin campus in Koreatown in hopes of expanding programs for Jews returning to the city’s historic core.

Despite the fact that the building campaign clearly needs much more — tens of millions of dollars more — than the $71 million Miller said had been raised in cash and pledges, she didn’t ask congregants to get out their checkbooks.

"When you are raising money, you go through two phases: You plant the seeds, and you reap them. Right now we are just planting," Miller said in an interview. "With people so freaked out about money, it just feels wrong. So we are just building, building on relationships. That way they’ll feel better about donating when they can."

The economic downturn has been bad for just about everybody. The Dow Jones is down by about 40 percent from its peak in October 2007 and is acting more erratic than usual — vacillating up or down by 5 percent on any day for more than a month, leaving everyone, even Los Angeles’ wealthiest, watching helplessly as stop-losses fail to stop the bleeding.

And for a handful of L.A. synagogues, the timing has been particularly poor.

Building campaigns that began in the go-go years are now running up against fears among donors — some rational, others irrational — about what the future holds for the U.S. economy and what it’s going to mean for their own pocketbooks.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which a decade ago spent $30 million to build its Irmas Campus in West L.A., is now focused on its historic home to the east — hoping to raise upwards of $100 million to restore its sanctuary — a national historic landmark — and reinvent the campus with a Hebrew school, parking structure and community center.

…Wilshire Boulevard, for one, is faced with the decision of restoring and renovating its historic campus or eventually abandoning it altogether. The 79-year-old sanctuary is structurally unsafe and last month was closed indefinitely after a foot-long chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling 60 feet above.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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