History of University Synagogue

 

Early 1943 Five families break away from a Santa Monica traditional synagogue to form a Reform congregation, and by the fall, seven additional families join. 
1944
Services are held at YMCA on Hilgard Avenue. Rabbi Samuel Chomsky and Cantor Corney serve part time.
1945

Services are held at First Congregational Church of Westwood with a portable ark.

  
1947 First permanent home purchased at 11806 Gorham - formerly a church. Transformation of the building ensued
May 23, 1948 First service is held in Gorham building.
Sept. 1948
The Gorham building is dedicated. Rabbi Julian Feingold is engaged as first full-time rabbi. Maurice Goldman serves as part-time cantor. A young adult league is established at the temple along with a Mr. and Mrs. Club for young married couples.
1949 Nursery school begins and a parent-teacher association is formed.
1950
Membership includes 300 families which put a strain on the Gorham facility. Cantor Sam Broude serves full time and becomes one the first cantors to study at Hebrew Union College to become a rabbi.
1951
A building campaign is launched to raise $650,000 for a new building that would meet the needs of a rapidly growing congregation. The campaign is chaired by Reginald Robbins. 
1952
A day camp is established. Additional developments in the early 1950s: 2.5-acre lot is purchased at corner of Sunset Boulevard and Saltair Avenue for $65,000. City of Los Angeles Planning Commission rejects proposed plans to build a synagogue at the site. 
1953 City council overturns the planning commission’s decision after it hears an impassioned plea from Rabbi Feingold and receives letters of recommendation from Rabbi Edgar Magnin and others.
1954
Architect Arthur Froelich unveils a scale model of a planned 33,000 square-foot building with a sanctuary, wedding chapel, classrooms, social hall, kitchen, offices and gardens. 
Sept. 1955 First service is held in the synagogue building. It was just a shell with folding chairs and portable ark. First executive director was Jerry Berg.
1956
Youth groups are launched. Rabbi Harvey Fields and Rabbi Sanford Ragins were early advisors of the youth groups known as UNISTY and JUNIOR UNISTY. First president of UNISTY is Don Singer and the first president of JUNIOR UNISTY is Steve Robbins. They both later become rabbis. 
1957
Membership is at 622 families. Social hall is dedicated to Bert Klein who spearheaded the building completion fund. 
1960's
After a booming growth spurt, tensions developed between rabbinic and lay leadership. By 1963, the synagogue was without a full-time rabbi and many congregants had left.
1964 Harry Essrig becomes the next rabbi and Max Roth becomes cantor. Max is the second cantor who goes to Hebrew Union College to become a rabbi. 
1965 The social hall is dedicated to the Seigel family which included four brothers who are all active in the life of the congregation. One of the brothers – David Seigel – also serves as president. 
Late 1960's
Rabbi Don Singer sets up a coffee house event on Friday nights for teens and plays his guitar. Thirty to sixty teens attend instead of the regular service held upstairs. Musical programming is coordinated by Judith Berman with Barry Hyams serving as cantor part time. Synagogue membership is declining. Rabbi Essrig invites radical activist Angela Davis to speak at Shabbat evening services. The controversy sparked by this move nearly splits the congregation one more time.
1971
Rabbi Essrig leaves and a series of guest rabbis follow for nearly two years. Membership has now dwindled to less than 250 families and the synagogue nearly goes bankrupt. President Henry Rose, the Seigel brothers, and other leaders step forward to pay the electric bills. A decision is made to keep the synagogue afloat and find a dynamic new rabbi. 
1972 Rabbi Allen Freehling is elected as senior rabbi after serving as associate rabbi in Toledo, Ohio.
1973 A new period of growth and activity is heralded by a successful original theatrical production "Love Is Harry Shapiro." 
1974 Cantor Jay Frailich begins a long tenure following his graduation from Hebrew Union College Cantorial School.
1975
Membership is up to 500 families. Cantor Frailich begins an ongoing series of commissions that make University Synagogue a leader in new liturgical music. Membership and activity levels increase. 
1977 Debby Raboy is elected as the first female president. 
1980 The 35th Anniversary Fund is launched to raise funds to refurbish the social hall and kitchen, build a new chapel, reconfigure the back entrance to the building, and add air conditioning.
1982-1986

Rabbi Joel Oseran serves as assistant rabbi and a religious school educator.

 
March 1983

The chapel and entrance plaza are dedicated. The 1980s were marked by great prosperity and activity for University Synagogue. The synagogue budget had been in the black for more than five years. Social justice contributions included AIDS project, Soviet Jewry, Sova food drives, and Rabbi Freehling's work in AIDS awareness. Adult b'nai mitzvah classes are started by Rabbi Freehling and Cantor Frailich. Theatre arts and sisterhood groups are thriving, and membership is growing. 

1986-1990 Rabbi Scott Sperling serves as assistant rabbi and religious school educator.
1991
Sanctuary is remodeled to its current configuration. First service is held in March 1991. The 1990s are marked by a relative stability in the congregation. Membership hovers between 800 and 850 families. 
1997
Rabbi Zachary Shapiro is engaged as the synagogue’s assistant and later becomes associate rabbi. During his eight-year tenure he launches many activities for young families, singles and children. 
2000
The year 2000 begins with the premiere of a new composition by Michael Isaacson for the cantor and youth choir. A synthesizer-based accompaniment CD is conducted by the composer and it is simultaneously performed by 39 other congregations around the country. It is the largest commissioning of Jewish music ever undertaken and is coordinated by Cantor Frailich. A small but very influential group of lay leaders begins the process of looking ahead to the future of University Synagogue.
Sept. 2001
Rabbi Freehling announces that he will retire on June 30, 2002. 
April 2002
A gala event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel honors Rabbi Freehling for his 30 years of service to the synagogue. Elie Weisel is the evening's keynote speaker. 
July 2002 Rabbi Morley Feinstein begins his service as the congregation’s fourth senior rabbi. His tenure begins an era of increased adult learning opportunities, a commitment to Israel, a new style of services, new leadership, cooperation and consensus building, and a renewal of vision. 
June 2005 A capital campaign - started in the late 1990s - is reinvigorated to refurbish the entire building and is officially launched.
Sept. 2005
Student Rabbi Jessica Oleon begins two-year internship.
  
July 2007
Demolition of existing administration center and lobby occurs. Membership is at 715 families.
Sept. 2007 Student rabbi Joel Thal Simonds begins a two-year internship. He is elected to become assistant rabbi, later becomes associate rabbi.
2009 The renovated building is dedicated during Hanukkah.
2011 The Joshua Project is undertaken as an opportunity for synagogue transformation. It results in an expansion of Havurot - groups of families and individuals who study, celebrate and socialize together, more focused programming from social justice to Israel to spirituality, an intense look at our schools, growing our membership, better communications and a greater use of social media in synagogue life.
June 2014 Cantor Frailich retires after 40 years and Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro becomes the new cantor.
 

Educators who have served at University Synagogue

Religious School Principals (since early 1970s) - Ruth Rose, Dr. David Bidna, Rabbi Earl Kaplan (z'l), Rabbi Joel Oseran, Cantor Jay Frailich, Rabbi Scott Sperling, Ben Shifrin, Janice Tytell, Rachel Margolis, Tami Weisman.

Early Childhood Learning Center Directors (since middle 1970's) - Sandy Cohen, Fran Waldman, Adrienne Gun, Hilary Steiniger, Elaine Rosenfield.