Wednesday, October 15, 2008

USA: More on Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Magnin and Hugo Ballin

USA: More on Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Magnin and Hugo Ballin

I'm happy that my blog entries and ISJM E-Report are beginning to draw responses - mostly positive and often informative. As readership expands, I hope that this will continue.

Historian George M. Goodwin (of the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Society and author of many significant articles on synagogues and other topics) contacted me about my piece on the upcoming restoration of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles and its murals by Hugo Ballin. I am posting most photos of the synagogue, some are mine, and some are by Paul Rocheleau, who has given permission for their use. Paul photographed the synagogue for our book
American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community (Rizzoli, 2003).

George Goodwin writes "...I grew up at WBT. Rabbi Magnin was my great-uncle (my mother's uncle). My siblings and I were very close to him. He and his wife Evelyn were almost a third set of grandparents. No doubt about it: he was a giant among congregational rabbis for much of the 20th century. I tend to think that his connections to Hollywood have been somewhat overemphasized, however. While the moguls provided some key gifts, they did not actively participate. Indeed, most WBT members had nothing to do with the world of entertainment. One of Rabbi Magnin's most important themes was the patriotism of American Jews. Unfortunately, in this regard, he was somewhat of a reactionary who supported a number of successful politicians, especially Nixon but also Reagan. Rabbi Magnin was a great orator, who also had a radio show and a newspaper column. Indeed, he was a celebrity among rabbis and other clergy. Part of Rabbi Magnin's success was due to his talented and loyal colleagues, many of whom remained at WBT their entire careers. The most obvious examples are his two rabbinic colleagues, but there were many others, including educators and camp directors.

Unfortunately, much of the recent publicity about the Temple has neglected Rabbi Magnin's immediate successor, Harvey Fields, who presided for about 20 years and only recently retired. He was responsible for the idea and construction of the new "campus" in west Los Angeles, which most significantly includes a day school. He was also the mentor of Rabbi Leder [the current rabbi].

As you know, the Wilshire Blvd. facility was never abandoned. Indeed, the western campus was built four or five decades after Jews had departed for the far suburbs. There was an unsuccessful attempt to merge with a Beverly Hills congregation. The first satellite was the summer and weekend camp in Malibu. Eventually a second camp was built nearby. I am not aware of comparable congregational facilities in this country.

It would seem that WBT has been thoroughly successful. Nobody knows how many younger generations have remained Jews, however. And of course Reform is no longer Classical. Indeed, there would be much about today's WBT that Rabbi Magnin would not accept. Indeed, my brother was not allowed to wear a kippah at his own wedding!

I have always loved Hugo Ballin's murals. Indeed, they always meant more to me than liturgy. I recently visited the Griffith Park Observatory and believe that his murals there are relatively insignificant. For the murals alone, WBT must be preserved."

To read more about Rabbi Magnin, see the series of articles by Reva Clar and William M. Kramer in
Western States Jewish History vols 17 (1984) and 19 (1986).

"Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin in Stockton (1914-1915: Rehearsal for Los Angeles; Northern California)" (17/2)

"Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin and the Modernization of Los Angeles Jewry; Part 1" (19/3)

"Rabbi Edgar Magnin and the Modernizing of Los Angeles Jewry; Part 2; Los Angeles" (19/4)

No comments: