Congregation Mishkon Tephilo, the first and oldest synagogue operating continuously on the Westside of Los Angeles, celebrated nine decades in Venice Sunday, June 6th.
Referring to the history of the synagogue, an invitation to the celebration read, “Mishkon @90-Something — founded in 1914, or 1917 or 1918, we are at least 90 years old.” The existing building at 206 Main St. was completed and dedicated in September 1948.
Congregation members were invited to a fun-filled celebration of Mishkon’s success and to share memories and accomplishments. The event included a memorabilia display, photos and recollections that were collected from members who attended events at Mishkon over the years such as weddings, Hebrew School, bar and bat mitzvahs and holidays.
While Mishkon Tephilo had an initial core group in 1914 and was formally founded in 1918, members still referred to the June 6th event as the 90th birthday celebration.
“Honoring our past and ensuring our future” was the focal point of the celebration for its members, who say that the strong sense of community, respecting their history and remaining open to new ideas has been a major part of the synagogue’s success.
In September 1914 a group of local residents and vacationers from Los Angeles met to hold High Holiday Services in Venice.
This group went on to found Congregation Mishkon Tephilo, the first synagogue established on the Westside of Los Angeles as an Orthodox congregation in 1918, at a time when Los Angeles had at most ten full-fledged synagogues, according to Amy Shevitz — adjunct professor at Loyola Marymount University and California State University-Northridge, and wife of Mishkon Tephilo Rabbi Dan Shevitz.
Dan Shevitz has been with the congregation since 1996. Described as an “eclectic Renaissance man” by a member of the congregation, the rabbi is a Torah scholar, a musician, and a pilot who also rides a motorcycle.
Shevitz spent almost 20 years as a Hillel rabbi at MIT. He interned with the Car Guys (the Magliozzi brothers) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to become proficient as an auto mechanic.
His first pulpit after MIT was in Oklahoma City where he said he was involved spiritually in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. He has also volunteered with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as a spiritual guide.
Amy Shevitz is an essay contributor. She presented historical information to the congregation about the history of Jews in California and particularly those in the Venice area.
Ten founding families of Mishkon, including the Wassermans, Ginsbergs, Cherniss’, Kimells, Rabinowitz’s, Steinbergs, Kleins and Kasdons, had each pledged $100 towards the construction of the first building. The mortgage on the first building was negotiated by Jacob Kaplan, and was held by Santa Monica Bank.
The first building was at 201 Washington St. —later renamed Hampton Drive — and Mishkon’s office and school are at this location today.
Mishkon originally held services in a rented dance hall on Fraser Pier in Ocean Park.
The first recorded minutes of a Mishkon board meeting are dated November 18th, 1918.
The B’nai Brith Messenger of May 9th, 1919 records the establishment of the first Hebrew Congregation at 201 Washington St.
In 1943 N.N. Hurvitz was the rabbi at Mishkon Tephilo and he was present at the dedication of the new building in 1948.
Mishkon Tephilo joined the conservative movement in 1952 with the hiring of Rabbi Samuel Sachs, who continued as rabbi until 1964.
Dov Gartenberg, a Honolulu native who became Mishkon’s rabbi in 1983, was the first to allow women to read the Torah, initially to the consternation of older members.
In 1989, with the hiring of Naomi Levy, who graduated in the first class at the Jewish Theological Seminary to admit women to study for the rabbinate, Mishkon Tephilo became the first conservative congregation in the west to be lead by a female rabbi, congregation members say.
Betsy Goldman, a member of the board of directors of the Venice Historical Society, presented a history of Venice at the celebration from the days of founder Abbot Kinney to the current period.
A personal highlight for Dr. Jerome Helman and his wife, Sandra Helman, both members of the congregation — was the appearance of Dr. Harvey Raskind, who was bar mitzvahed in 1946, two years before the move to the new sanctuary.
In 1948, said Helman, Raskind had taken part in an old tradition of walking the torahs from the old building a few blocks south (from Santa Monica to Venice) to the new sanctuary.
Raskind, who still practices medicine at the age of 76, and Helman, were in a practice group together from 1975 to 1981 in Mar Vista.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th District includes Venice, presented a certificate of recognition from the city to the Mishkon Tephilo congregation in honor of the anniversary.
Rosendahl said he admired the congregates for their openness and ability to discuss and communicate on the diversity of ideas and issues that arise.