A Brief History of Temple Israel of Hollywood
In 1926, seven men, five of whom were prominent in the film industry, founded Temple Israel of Hollywood. They wanted to build a place to serve the needs of the Jews of Hollywood—more for social responsibility than for religious practice.
Today, Temple Israel of Hollywood delivers on the founder’s mission and then some. With nearly 950 families, TIOH is a thriving community fueled by love, caring and spirituality.
Even before our beautiful synagogue was constructed, the early members of Temple Israel met at Franklin and Argyle in the Temple House, a glamorous home rented from the famous Japanese actor, Sessue Hayakawa.
In 1930, when the First Methodist Church on Ivar moved to their present location at Franklin and Highland, Temple Israel launched a major fund drive to buy their building. This was reached in part, through the first annual Monster Midnight Show held at the Pantages Theater, starring Sophie Tucker, Ted Lewis, Benny Rubin and Gus Edwards.
To build membership, letters were sent to every Jewish person in Hollywood inviting them to come to services and send their children to our Sunday school. Most Friday night services drew 400 or more, including stars like Eddie Cantor and Hollywood legends Harry Wurtzel and Sam Briskin.
The congregation began to take shape with a special character—Jewish intellectuals with political and social awareness and close ties with the Hollywood artistic community.
In 1939, world tensions increased and the synagogue rose to action. As the President of the Temple, Sol Bischoff, chaired a spiritual demonstration appealing for “prayer and divine intercession on behalf of all the oppressed peoples in Europe.”
Despite the seriousness of the times, Hollywood-style fun continued as the 13th annual Midnight Show held at The Pantages brought Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Ben Blue, Burns and Allen and Ann Miller to the stage.
By 1941, the reality of the war set in and the Temple became a place of refuge to fearful members who were subject to possible blackouts in their homes. In keeping with Temple’s spirit of giving, funds were collected and an ambulance was presented to the U.S. Army. The Temple’s Rabbi became a military chaplain and a young Rabbi Max Nussbaum from Muskogee, Oklahoma took his place at the pulpit for the next 32 years. His influence was tremendous not only on the congregants, but in the community as a whole. By his side stood his beautiful wife, Ruth Nussbaum, known for her intelligence, strength and gracious hospitality.
Under Rabbi Nussbaum’s leadership, the Temple returned to more traditional Jewish values and fervent Zionist leadership. Born into a European Orthodox family, he instilled classic rituals and introduced more Hebrew into the services.
In 1943, Temple Israel staffed and supported a USO Service Club and opened a dormitory with 125 beds for soldiers. That same year a ceremony was held to burn the mortgage and dedicate a Torah Scroll rescued by Rabbi Nussbaum from the flames of a burning synagogue in Berlin. After the war, the Temple was overflowing with families clamoring for membership. Under the leadership of Irving Briskin, who acted as President for an unparallel six terms, the Temple decided to build a beautiful new building to serve the demands of a growing community. At the same time, members of the Temple’s board became nationally prominent in raising incredible sums of money to furnish Israel with the funds needed to ensure her future.
The early 1950s were a time of full activity for the congregation, which led to the construction of Miller Hall, the Briskin Building and Chadwick Chapel.
In October of 1957, Temple Israel acquired Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary after two years of negotiation. This purchase created a place “beyond stone, concrete or earth to provide a richer spiritual future” for the Temple’s founders and congregants.
In the late 50s and early 60s, the Temple stayed true to its Hollywood roots by staging its annual shows, starring Judy Garland, Danny Thomas, Shirley MacLaine, Lucille Ball, Alan King, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra and more. The Temple also hosted intellectually provocative speakers such as Leon Uris and Joseph Schildkraut who spoke about his role as Otto Frank in the Anne Frank Diaries. As the demographics of Hollywood started to change in the 1960s, young families moved north to the valley and west toward the ocean. During these lean years, the purchase of Hillside Memorial Park provided a steady flow of income to the Congregation.
In 1965, the Temple was honored to host Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who delivered a sermon from our pulpit, which was reported to be “on the highest spiritual level and with a message that stirred the Congregation.”
As The Golden Age of the Liberal American Jewry emerged in the late 60s and early 70s, Temple Israel’s political voice and influence grew. Rabbi Nussbaum met with Vice President Hubert Humphrey at the Zionist Organization of America National Convention, gave thought provoking lectures on subjects such as “Terrorism, Retaliation and Reaction— an Inquiry into the Morality of Our Times” and hosted Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir at a Gala Ball in her honor.
The times they were a changing and even Temple member Sammy Davis, Jr. gave a lecture on “Why I am a Jew” and Dr. Emanuel Honig spoke on “Sex in Judaism and Christianity: Is Marriage Here To Stay?”
Our beloved pre-school opened its doors in 1970 with nine students. Rabbi Bernat envisioned the day when Temple Israel could have a Day School that provided the necessary education for the next generation of Jewish leaders.
Later on in the 70s, Rabbi Bernat took the place of Rabbi Nussbaum who passed away suddenly, much to the sorrow of the congregation and the entire Jewish world. Rabbi Bernat’s rich Chassidic background signaled a transition to a new kind of leadership spawning a Havurah program and family retreats. Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom joined our clergy and introduced a new musical mode— encouraging congregational singing and the creation of a “Bicentennial Concert” featuring a Shabbat salute to the spirit of American folk music.
Ever a champion of the compelling cause of the day, in August 1979, Temple Israel participated with The Union of American Hebrew Congregations in a major effort for the Vietnamese “boat people.”
In February 1980, the congregation took on another cause when Cantor Rosenbloom and Sheila Siegel, M.S.W., discussed “The Feminist Revolution in Judaism: Is it Kosher to be a Feminist?” at a Shabbat service sponsored by the Women’s Group.
Rabbi Daniel Polish, who brought vision for the future of the Temple, succeeded Rabbi Bernat. He surmised that renovation of our 35-year-old facility was not a luxury, but a necessity. Based on demographic information, he was convinced that an upswing of young Jewish families would be moving back into the area. So, in 1985 a $2 million renovation of the entire building got underway.
Just after the rededication ceremony in 1988, Rabbi Polish announced his plans to depart and was replaced by our present Senior Rabbi, John Rosove. Formally installed on February 24, 1989, his first order of business was to preside over the dedication of the Finegood Family Early Childhood Center, which began to attract members with young children.
Jane Zuckerman, who was hired as Director of the Nursery school in 1986 was building a caring a place for pre-schoolers. She was greatly loved by many of the parents whose children are now grown and off to college.
There was a fund-raising frenzy at that time as the building project increased and the Congregation’s needs grew, the Temple celebrated a formal Dinner Dance as it “Launched into the 90s” in December 1989—raising money for the burgeoning schools. Following the Los Angeles riots in April of 1992, TIOH came forward and offered the Chapel for Sunday worship to members of the badly burned Messiah Baptist Church. The two Congregations joining together in a “Hands Across Los Angeles” march uniting the city’s citizens in a healing effort.
In 1994, Temple Congregants banded together again following the worst earthquake disaster in twenty years. The sanctuary became a safe haven for shelter, praise of God and hope for the future. With the riots and the “big one” behind us, TIOH flourished in its eighth decade. All three schools have experienced dynamic change and growth fueled by the passionate leadership.
Sherry Fredman became Nursery School Principal—establishing parenting seminars, programs and events, which have drawn more and more young families into synagogue life.
The Day School under Head of Schools Eileen Horowitz has become known nationally as one of the outstanding Reform Day Schools in the country. Each year the Day School places our 6th grade graduates in all of the best secondary schools in the city.
Laura Bramson Hyman became our Religious School Principal in 1997 and has continued to build and transform the school into a top-flight secondary Jewish school.
Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh expanded Adult Education offerings to include courses on Jewish cooking, panel discussions by congregant experts, book reviews, Hebrew, and the Rabbi’s Sunday morning and mid-week classes.
Donna Sivan Bishri, as Program Director acted as a sensitive and able community organizer— leading many programs including the Family, Adult, and Women’s Retreats (co-sponsored by the Women of Temple Israel of Hollywood), programs for Israeli Temple members, for young couples in their 20s and 30s and activities geared towards our empty nesters over the age of 45.
Jane Zuckerman’s move upstairs from the Nursery School to Executive Director enhanced the marketing of the Temple and our reputation as a congregant friendly place. Jane was recognized as one of the Reform movement’s outstanding Executive Directors.
In 2000, Rabbi Rosove seeded the establishment of a congregational band and the Chai Tones were born—enhancing Shabbat services and the Rosh Hashanah Morning Minyan. With a desire to enlighten and nurture a more mature adult spirituality and offer more diverse prayer options, the Temple published a new Machzor in 2002 with a second edition produced in 2005. Always a beacon of social justice work in Los Angeles, “Big Sunday,” developed under the leadership of David Levinson and many others stands as perhaps the Temple’s most visible contribution—growing to such an extent that the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offered to take “Big Sunday” city-wide, always the Temple’s goal. With 15,000-25,000 volunteers in more than 250 projects co-sponsored by more than 130 synagogues, churches, schools, and non-profit groups coming together for one day of good works, TIOH continues to be the primary organizer of “Big Sunday” as it becomes a not-for-profit.In addition, our Congregation has assisted the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, Hurricane Katrina victims, Japanese tsunami, and the victims of the Darfur Genocide. TIOH is also a proud member of Jewish World Watch.
In the 2006 World Zionist Congress elections, Temple Israel was among the highest percentage voting synagogues in the nation for the ARZA slate, which won 38% of the seats in the new World Zionist Congress.
Our Sisterhood continues its long term AIDS Lunch Program, and each year, our community continues to provide a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, as well as gifts of toys and new clothing to 1,500 poor members of our community on Christmas Day at the Hollywood United Methodist Church. With such a dynamic and inspiring past, all that stands before the Congregants of TIOH is a bright and beautiful future. Land purchased around our facility and a Capital Campaign underway to build a glorious architectural vision that includes gardens, a parking structure and more, ensures that we will continue to evolve and reinvent ourselves, while remaining the center of Jewish life in Hollywood for generations to come.
In 2008, we honored Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom after 32 amazing years at TIOH. She moved into Emerita status, and we welcomed new Chazzan and Music Director Danny Maseng to our clergy. After 10 years as the Principal of our Religious School, we said goodbye to Laura Bramson Hyman, as she made the move back to the East Coast and welcomed Rabbi Jocee Hudson as our new Religious School Director.