Culver City Observer -

Temple Akiba Rededicated – L'chaim!


Rick Penn-Kraus

The Torah is presented for the first time in the new sanctuary.

By Sandra Coopersmith

Features Writer

The Jewish teaching, "According to the effort is the reward," was evident on Saturday, April 25 as an aura of community, joy, light and love enveloped Temple Akiba, a Reform synagogue at 5249 S. Sepulveda Blvd.

The time had finally come for a Rededication Celebration following the extensive renovation commenced in late 2013. The temple, a presence in Culver City for over 60 years and its only Jewish house of worship, now visually exemplifies its mission as a beacon of light, radiating the qualities for which it has long been known: warmth, inclusion, enlightenment and a sense of welcome.

During a preliminary interview and tour during construction last year Rabbi Zachary Shapiro, who came to Temple Akiba in July of 2006, described surroundings that had been "all gray, no windows in the Sanctuary, no sense of holiness for new people, with the old interior being dark and very unwelcoming. Just as people go through transformation, structures also have to adapt to changing needs. There is a Jewish understanding that a Sanctuary must have windows. Before this project began, when we were in the Sanctuary we felt embraced by peace, goodness and holiness, but you need to see out to understand there's a world desperately in need of that peace, goodness and holiness."

Describing the considerable renovation affecting areas including the lobby, offices and courtyard, he explained that "we needed to bring light in and create a sense of entry. First impressions are important. And we were in desperate need of better bathrooms, more efficient office areas and an elevator."

The temple's goal to build a better future took a literal turn approximately six years ago when the vision for surroundings that would more clearly reflect its principles and needs emerged.

Ongoing fundraising started about a year later when the members sat down in earnest and began to figure out how to implement those dreams.

The Campaign of Light was born.

Consultants were hired who said $1.8 to $2.4 million would be needed. "We raised approximately $3.9 million almost entirely from our wonderful congregation plus a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles," Rabbi Shapiro said. "We have pledges that will pay off by 2020. As time has gone on, the vision has been adjusted to the desires of the congregation and the funds available."

There is a Jewish saying to which anyone who has ever remodeled even a room can relate, regardless of religion: "Man plans and God laughs." The exhaustive renovation of the temple certainly qualified as a complex project utilizing the skills of general contractor Ron Badraun of Badraun Builders and requiring dedication and flexibility on the part of the members, board, special committees and staff, all of whom the rabbi praised for their patience and excellent efforts in tackling the challenges involved.

"We wanted to maintain the architectural integrity of the building," said the rabbi. "All the rooms had interesting angles. In the Sanctuary we essentially put a round hole into a square peg because we wanted to create a worship space in the round that would be more family friendly. We now have a dedicated space called the family room where, if a child is acting up, the parent can still hear what's happening in the Sanctuary through the piped in sound and see through the window slats. There's also a small memorial room off to the side for contemplation."

The Sanctuary, which is the heart of the building, now has several windows of clear glass set back within variously colored recessed areas, the exterior bringing to mind the aesthetic of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, known for the purity and jewel-like colors of his abstractions comprised of rectangles and squares.

"I was in here one night after the windows were installed, watching the moon rise," Rabbi Shapiro recalled, smiling.

Emphasizing that "it is people that make holiness, not space," he explained that while bar mitzvahs and other special events continued during construction, they were conducted under less than optimal conditions "in a special hall that was used as a prayer space and an 'everything' space."

With over 320 families and many children in preschool and religious school, one can only imagine what a daunting experience this must have been. But what an impressive result!

And it's not over.

"This is a phase," Rabbi Shapiro said, "and it makes us realize other needs here. When we can breathe a little bit, we will go to Phase II and Phase III and Phase IV."

There is a new courtyard entry with an elevator shaft Because the lower level has a preschool and religious school the elevator, which will be completed this year, was included in the plans in order to accommodate mothers with children in strollers and people with disabilities. A cascading wall of water will also be operative later this year.

But it was now time for the Rededication Celebration and The Goldene Medina Klezmer Band, led by Dave Winstone, joyfully ushered the Torah procession into the Sanctuary. Honored guests included Rabbi Emeritus Allen Maller, the temple's spiritual leader from 1967 to 2006; Rabbi Jonathan Freund of The Board of Rabbis of Southern California; and Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chaim Chadashim.

President Robert G. Knopf welcomed everyone and introduced Rabbi Shapiro, who called upon Abby Cregor, a fifth-grader and Girl Scout who had planted and dedicated a tree in honor of this new beginning, her action inspiring him to comment that "the seeds of newness exist in all of us."

Following the rabbi's invocation Campaign of Light Chair Michael Bauer spoke. Architect Steve Rajninger and Senior Project Manager Jonas Weber of Herman Coliver Locus Architecture then described intriguing design concepts, after which congratulatory certificates were eloquently presented to the temple by Culver City Councilmember Jim Clarke, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, and Jacqueline Hamilton, Field Representative for Congresswoman Karen Bass.

Rick Penn-Kraus

Rabbi Zachary Shapiro leads the Havdalah ceremony with the rededication committee.

A surprise was in store for the rabbi when Carol Diamond, board member and past president, declared that the congregation had a special presentation acknowledging his 18th year as a rabbi because the Hebrew word "chai," which means "life," is represented by two letters with a numerical designation adding up to 18, considered a very lucky number. To the amazed delight of the rabbi, who is an avid cyclist and musician, she then handed him a colorful metal sculpture depicting him on a bicycle with a guitar slung around his body.

Cantor Lonee Frailich led the congregation in song. The Havdalah, a ceremony that marks the conclusion of the Sabbath, followed, after which it was time for refreshments.

During last year's visit Rabbi Shapiro shared a memory of "bringing the seventh-graders into the Sanctuary after all the seats had been taken out, and they were very melancholy because this was their home." But on April 25 the children present, along with their elders, wore expressions of happiness and awe regarding their spiritual home, one that now visibly reflects the glowing welcome it has always extended.

Temple Akiba can be reached by calling (310) 398-5783. For further information regarding its many activities, visit Photographer: Rick Penn-Kraus.


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