|“The founders were indeed a strongly intellectual and motivated group of people which prompted Rabbi Vorspan to hold the very first of the now-famous Brandeis Institutes with our congregation in the mid-50’s.
During 1952, our founding rabbi, Abraham Winokur was hired. In 1954, the sixty-five family congregation broke ground for a first building, located on the current site of Kehillat Israel. A picture of that groundbreaking can be seen outside the sanctuary of KI on our “Wall of History,” dedicated in memory of Morrie Liebowitz, KI’s first president. The actual construction was done mainly by volunteer congregants and friends.
First the name was changed to the “Jewish Congregation of Pacific Palisades,” and then to Kehillath Israel under Rabbi Winokur’s guidance, and finally within the last ten years to Kehillat Israel, to more closely reflect the Hebrew pronunciation of our name.
The first assistant rabbi hired was Rabbi Neal R. Weinberg who came to the growing Kehillat Israel in 1978. A member of the 5th class to graduate from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, he later went on to become the founding rabbi of the new Reconstructionist congregation in Malibu in 1980.
In that same year, Rabbi Winokur was succeeded by Rabbi Abner Bergman, who came to us via Salt Lake City. He was in turn succeeded by Rabbi Jack Bemporad in 1983 who had been Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Dallas, Texas.
In June of 1986 Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben joined Cantor Chayim Frenkel, who had become KI’s cantor the year before to create a dynamic clergy team. Over the years both have emerged to place leading roles in the larger Jewish community as well. Cantor Frenkel is not only the beloved hazzan of Kehillat Israel, but is respected throughout North America for his ability to create inspiring world-class musical events that have showcased Jewish music and the role of the cantor in Jewish life. A California native, Rabbi Reuben was ordained from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1976. With his unique rabbinic style and ability to make Judaism seem accessible to all, Rabbi Reuben is known for his passion for teaching adults and children that who they are really matters. Rabbi Reuben has taken the leading role in growing Reconstructionism on the west coast, through his books and articles has spread our philosophy and message world-wide, and will have an even greater impact on the Los Angeles Jewish community as the newly elected President of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.
As Kehillat Israel continued to grow and flourish, our new award-winning synagogue and spiritual home was built through the remarkable generosity and commitment of our members. With world-class architecture, our spiritual center reflects the themes of openness, inclusion and community that are hallmarks of the Reconstructionist philosophy. It was dedicated in September of 1997 and continues to be a source of visual inspiration to our growing congregation which has now grown to over 900 households.
With the dramatic growth of our community came the need to add a second full-time rabbi, so in 1998 Rabbi Sheryl Lewart was invited to become part of the Kehillat Israel family. In the same year Shelly Rosenberg retired after serving KI first as president and then as Executive Director for eight years, and our first professional Executive Director, Betti Greenstein joined our staff.
Rabbi Lewart brought a new dimension to the clergy team, since she was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and along with her teaching experience at the college, served as Director of Outreach for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. Her depth of knowledge, masterful ability to make 4,000 years of Jewish civilization exciting and inspiring, and her warmth and love of the Jewish people has been a remarkable blessing to our entire congregation. . In addition, through her leadership of our our growing Jewish Learning Institute, hundreds of adults each week are discovering the joy and added sense of purpose and meaning that comes from serious continuing adult Jewish study. In so many ways, Rabbi Lewart is a daily reminder of the importance of our connection to the national movement of the Reconstructionist community and our ground-breaking role within it.
Kehillat Israel is proud of the diversity of its membership, the broad range of spiritual, educational, social and communal activities that we offer each year. We are nationally known for our outstanding series of Tikun Olam “Heal the World” Task Forces. Whether feeding the hungry, tutoring for literacy, providing aid to new immigrants, housing the homeless, or caring for the sick, each year our congregation touches the lives of thousands of people in need. After eleven years directing our Family Religious School, Nancy Levin retired in June of 2001. She was delighted to have able to turn the school over to Mark Casso, our current dynamic Director of Religious Education who has brought excitement and educational innovations into our school We continue to set our standards high so that we can provide a stimulating and meaningful educational experience to deepen the Jewish identity, knowledge and skills for students in Kindergarten through tenth grades. As an active participant in the Reconstructionist National Cooperating Schools Network, we are in the forefront of developing Jewish family curriculum for the 21st century.
Our Early Childhood and Parenting Center, under the dynamic direction of Fern Eisenberg, provides a nurturing, supportive, and educationally enriched environment for the youngest members of our congregation. The program includes parent-infant classes, a thriving nursery school, extended care and parent education.
Kehillat Israel has been the neighborhood synagogue in Pacific Palisades for over fifty years. During that time, our membership has spread to include congregants from Brentwood, Santa Monica, Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. We are known for our inclusive, non-judgmental approach to Judaism which has encouraged the many interfaith families within our community to feel comfortable and at home within our Reconstructionist community. As Kehillat Israel continues to grow and flourish, we are proud of our reputation as a spiritual center that is warm, caring, inspirational, and open to all who are seeking to find a place within the evolving Jewish civilization that we are continuing to create together.