What would become the Wilshire Boulevard Temple was founded in 1862 and moved to its current site in 1929. It was associated with motion picture industry moguls and famed Rabbi Edgar Magnin, sometimes called "Rabbi to the Stars," who served nearly seven decades.
The sanctuary seats 1,800 and has some 2,500 member families. The congregation has begun a multimillion dollar expansion and renovation project.
Senior Rabbi Steven Leder said he didn't know how much the project will cost because the details are evolving. But the Reform temple already has spent $20 million buying the five pieces of land it didn't own on the block that runs from 6th Street to Wilshire Boulevard and Hobart to Harvard boulevards in Koreatown. It expects to spend an additional $30 million renovating its sanctuary - and that is just a piece of the project.
"It's a massive job," the rabbi said. "It's not hard to run up a bill."
"The synagogue world has never seen a campaign of this magnitude," said David Mersky, a senior lecturer on Jewish philanthropy at Brandeis University whom temple leaders consulted. "If this campaign were to succeed, it will dwarf every other campaign by a minimum factor of two."
Leder hopes the project will turn Wilshire Boulevard Temple, still one of the largest congregations in L.A., into the center of Jewish life in the region, and especially for the eastern part of the city, an area mostly abandoned by other congregations as Jews have moved west and dispersed throughout Southern California.
"We will build the most vibrant center of Jewish life the city has ever known because we can and we must," Leder told the congregation in his Yom Kippur sermon last year.
The temple, according to its rabbi, notes the return of younger Jews to neighborhoods such as Silver Lake, the Wilshire corridor, downtown and Los Feliz. According to a survey it commissioned, from 1995-2005, the number of Jews increased by 28% (some 4,000 people) in an area approximately from La Cienega Boulevard to Glendale and from Hollywood Hills to the Santa Monica Freeway.
Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles head John Fishel says the temple is positioned to attract Jews who live east of Beverly Hills, including younger adults and younger families. Some 500,000-600,000 Jews live in Southern California, the second-largest US Jewish community after New York.
Plans include renovation of the listed historic building, a six-story parking structure, a K-6 day school, parenting center and a cafe. Overseeing the project is Brenda Levin, a temple member who has headed the restoration of the Griffith Observatory and other structures.
The congregation also has a $30 million campus in West Los Angeles, two summer camps and a 200-acre Malibu conference center.
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