A BRIEF HISTORY OF TEMPLE ISRAEL OF HOLLYWOOD
Our First 100 Years
Welcome to Temple Israel of Hollywood!
We are a congregation steeped in a rich history and proud of our unique contributions to Los Angeles and the wider Jewish community over the last century. To this day, our clergy and members continue to be inspired by the values, aspirations and commitment of our founders and the generations after them who have given us this special place to call our spiritual home.
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—as much for social responsibility as for religious practice. The goals they articulated then still resonate and infuse everything that happens at TIOH.
Under the leadership of Rabbi Isadore Isaacson, early members of TIOH met at Franklin and Argyle in the Temple House, a glamorous home rented from the famous Japanese actor, Sessue Hayakawa. In 1930, Temple Israel launched a major fund drive to buy the site of the First Methodist Church on Ivar Street. This goal was reached, in part, through a Monster Midnight Show held at the Pantages Theater starring Sophie Tucker, Ted Lewis, Benny Rubin, and Gus Edwards. The Midnight Shows became annual, often star-studded, fundraising and social events.
To build membership, letters were sent to Jewish people in the Hollywood community, inviting them to come to services and send their children to our Sunday school. Many Friday night services drew 400 or more, including stars 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—and that still accurately describes the TIOH community today.
Before and during World War II, the synagogue became a place of refuge from rising tensions and fears. TIOH clergy and members took action to address these both within our community and beyond it. The Temple’s Rabbi, Morton Bauman, became a military chaplain and a young Rabbi Max Nussbaum took his place at the pulpit. Rabbi Nussbaum had served from 1936 to 1940 in Berlin under the leadership of Rabbi Leo Baeck (the leader of German Jewry at the time). He was able to leave Germany and immigrate to the United States at the invitation of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. Initially serving the community of Muskogee, OK, in 1942 Rabbi Nussbaum moved to Los Angeles to lead TIOH – a role that he would fulfill for the next 32 years. His influence would prove tremendous, not only with our own congregants, but in the wider Jewish community as well.
In 1939, TIOH congregants staged a spiritual demonstration appealing for “prayer and divine intercession on behalf of all the oppressed peoples in Europe.” In keeping with the spirit of giving, members collected funds and presented an ambulance to the U.S. Army. In 1943, Temple Israel staffed and supported a USO Service Club and opened a dormitory with 125 beds for soldiers.
That same year TIOH found occasions for celebration: ceremonies were held to burn the congregation’s mortgage and to re-dedicate a Torah Scroll rescued by Rabbi Nussbaum from the flames of his burning synagogue in Berlin on Kristallnacht (“the night of broken glass”) on November 8-9, 1938. That smallest of our Torah scrolls is now affectionately known as the “Nussbaum Torah” and has an honored place in our Sanctuary Ark.
Despite the seriousness of the times, Hollywood-style fun continued as the 13th annual Midnight Show held at the Pantages Theatre brought Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Ben Blue, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Ann Miller to the stage.
After the war, Temple membership grew dramatically, and the community undertook to build a beautiful new building to serve the demands of a growing community. The project included construction of Miller Hall, the Briskin Building and Chadwick Chapel. Members of the Temple’s board looked beyond our own walls, too. They became nationally prominent in raising large sums of money through the sale of Israel Bonds to furnish Israel with the funds needed to help ensure her future. Rabbi Nussbaum had become a leading Zionist in the Western United States.
In October 1957, thanks to the forward thinking and generosity of a group of congregants who loaned the Temple money and also guaranteed a bank loan, Temple Israel acquired Hillside Memorial Park and later added a Mortuary. The purchase reflected the central place of burial and memory in Jewish tradition. Hillside continues to be a vital component of the Temple Israel community and provides critical service, outreach and support to the wider Southern California Jewish community. Under the stewardship of TIOH it has become one of the preeminent Jewish cemeteries in the nation.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Temple stayed true to its ethical, political, intellectual, and artistic roots. Annual shows starred Judy Garland, Danny Thomas, Shirley MacLaine, Lucille Ball, Alan King, Lena Horne, and Frank Sinatra. The Temple hosted provocative speakers including Leon Uris and Joseph Schildkraut, who spoke about his role as Otto Frank in the Anne Frank Diaries.
The late 1960s and early 1970s have been referred to as the Golden Age of Liberal American Jewry. Temple Israel’s political profile and influence grew. Rabbi Nussbaum met with Vice President Hubert Humphrey at the Zionist Organization of America National Convention, an organization Rabbi Nussbaum led as President. In that same role, he also hosted Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir at a Gala Ball in her honor. Temple member Sammy Davis, Jr. gave a lecture on “Why I am a Jew.” In April 1965, the Temple was honored to host the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, only days after the assassination of Malcom X, delivered a sermon from our pulpit under heightened security. Dr. King’s talk was reported to be, “on the highest spiritual level and with a message that stirred the Congregation.” The Temple retains a recording of Dr. King’s speech delivered that day in our Sanctuary.
In the 1960s the demographics of Hollywood began to change. Young families moved north to the valley and west toward the ocean creating new challenges for the congregation. As part of addressing those challenges, our pre-school opened its doors in 1970 with nine students.
In 1974, Rabbi Nussbaum passed away, to the deep sorrow of the congregation and the entire Jewish world. He was succeeded by Rabbi Haskell Bernat, whose Chassidic background signaled a transition to a new kind of leadership spawning a Havurah program and family retreats. 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. Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom joined the clergy and introduced a new musical mode— encouraging congregational singing in the spirit of American folk music. The following years brought deeper awareness and involvement in women’s issues, with the introduction of a women’s seder and exploration of feminist themes in Judaism.
Rabbi Daniel Polish succeeded Rabbi Bernat in 1981. Based on demographic studies, Rabbi Polish was convinced that an upswing of young Jewish families would be moving back into the area, and so he led an effort to renovate the Temple facilities beginning in 1985.
Just after the rededication ceremony in 1988, Rabbi Polish announced his plans to depart and was succeeded in November 1988 by Rabbi John Rosove. Rabbi Rosove was formally installed as Senior Rabbi on February 24, 1989. During the first years of his leadership, the Finegood Family Parenting Center flourished, and the Religious School grew. The TIOH leadership had voted in 1987 to invest energy and resources in establishing a day school for students in kindergarten through the sixth grade. The Day School opened in September 1989 with a single kindergarten class of nine students and grew each year by adding a grade.
All three schools continue to thrive today: The Nursery School, now known as the Bay-Nimoy Early Childhood Center, offers programs beginning with “Parent and Me” classes and continuing through pre-kindergarten. The school draws young families into synagogue life, often for the first time in their lives. On completion of its programs, the majority of students enter either the day school, now known as Briskin Elementary School, or the TIOH Religious School Many remain connected to the Temple through b’nai mitzvot, as well as confirmation and high school graduation, as part of our active teen program. Briskin graduates matriculate to all of Los Angeles’ prestigious independent schools as well as to public secondary schools, and report success throughout and beyond their college and university years. The Religious School has been at the forefront of innovation and a revival of Reform Jewish education, providing students with engaging and practical opportunities for continuing their Jewish education through their high school years.
Rabbi Rosove encouraged the rabbis, cantorial soloists, musicians, educators, staff, and congregants to embrace experimentation in worship and innovation in synagogue programming with an emphasis on engaging every member personally in a wide variety of areas in synagogue life. With a desire to enlighten and nurture a more mature adult spirituality and diverse prayer options, Rabbi Rosove, with help from Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh and Cantor Rosenbloom, shepherded the publication of a unique new High Holiday Machzor and Shabbat and Holiday Siddur in the early years of the new century. That same innovative spirit continues to drive evolution of our worship services, as well as recognition of the changing role of the synagogue and needs of our congregants in contemporary Jewish life. In 2008, Danny Maseng succeeded Cantor Aviva Rosenbloom as our Chazzan. A composer and performer himself, he brought new energy and innovation to our liturgical and other music programs. When he departed in 2015, congregant and accomplished musician Shelly Fox became our Cantorial Soloist, continuing and expanding the innovation. In 2017, she was also named Music Director.
The TIOH community’s steady growth and increased complexity of the Temple organization has led to an expanding and evolving role for our rabbis. To meet our needs, Associate Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh joined TIOH in 1996 and has spearheaded many adult education and other programs. She was joined in 2009 by Rabbi Jocee Hudson, who served first as Rabbi Educator and then as Associate Rabbi until 2021. Calvin Dox-DaCosta, who impacted TIOH as director of our Teen Program even before attending Rabbinical school, joined the team as Rabbinic fellow in 2020 and as Assistant Rabbi in 2021.
Over the years, Rabbi Rosove built upon Rabbi Nussbaum’s ideal of engagement with American Reform Zionism, the State of Israel and the Israeli movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ). Our rabbis have led a variety of congregational trips to Israel and the Palestinian Territories over the years for adults and families, which have included access to leaders of the Israeli government, politics, journalism, the military, the arts, religion, social justice and social action, and Israel’s Palestinian and minority populations. We have supported three young Israeli Reform synagogues, and our Briskin Elementary School has partnered with a progressive Tel Aviv area school in the suburb of Tzahalah in a program to cultivate personal relationships with Israeli children and families and meaningful connection across our movement. As a prominent leader in American Israeli politics, Rabbi Rosove was elected in 2015 to serve as the National Chairperson of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), the Zionist arm of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Reform movement’s congregational movement representing 1.5 million American Reform Jews. As of 2023, he continues to serve as Co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street.
In 2014, the Temple completed a rebuilding and renovation of its entire facility, including all three of our school campuses, “state of the art” theatre facilities, upkeep of the historic Nussbaum Sanctuary, technology capabilities, and all of the public and meeting areas of the Temple. The temple campus was dedicated as the Kauffman-Skloff Family Center of Jewish Life and Learning of Temple Israel of Hollywood. Museum quality display space was created to house the Temple’s Judith and Bernard Briskin Judaica and Art Collection of Temple Israel of Hollywood, one of the most outstanding collections of art, antiquities and fine Judaica owned by an American synagogue.
Performing arts programming has continued to be an important focus through the years. Congregants Leonard Nimoy and Susan Bay Nimoy sponsored a series of concerts bringing classical and Jewish music to the Temple community in a three-year Nimoy Concert Series in the late 1990s. In a unique convergence of arts programming and TIOH’s traditional attention to social justice issues, Congregant Michael Skloff led the production of a series of moving Martin Luther King, Jr. Day commemorations culminating in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s 1965 appearance on the bimah of our Sanctuary. In 2014, the Rosenthal Family Jewish Arts Center was established and dedicated. Overseen by a committee of congregants, the Rosenthal Arts Center Fund brings original programming and performances, panel discussions with prominent figures in the entertainment community, the Los Angeles Jewish Film festival, as well as educational arts programming for our children.
The TIOH commitment to social justice continues. Beginning in 1997, Rabbi Rosove encouraged congregant David Levinson and others to create and grow Temple Israel’s annual day of community service, which became known as “Big Sunday.” Big Sunday is now a yearlong series of social action projects and organizes the largest single weekend of public service in the United States putting more than 50,000 Los Angelenos to work. Big Sunday has inspired similar projects in Great Britain and Europe. The enterprise succeeded so completely that it eventually became an independent nonprofit and many Temple members still participate in Big Sunday’s social justice efforts.
The Temple has also sponsored an annual festive Christmas Dinner for over 30 years, serving a traditional Christmas meal and handing out toys, clothing and necessities to our unhoused and under resourced neighbors around Los Angeles. Other ongoing programs include the Women of TIOH Lunch Project, serving meals to homeless youth. Our congregation has assisted the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, Hurricane Katrina victims, and the victims of the Darfur Genocide and sponsored a family of Afghan refugees through HIAS’s Welcome Circle initiative. TIOH is a proud member of Jewish World Watch and a synagogue partner with MAZON – A Jewish Response to Hunger. Our congregation’s rabbis and congregants actively participate in the social justice activities of the URJ’s Religious Action Center (RAC) and are part of the leadership of RAC-California. We also sit at the leadership tables of LA Voice, the Black and Jewish Justice Alliance, Women Against Gun Violence, NewGround, and many other interfaith and community efforts.
In 2019, after 30 years, Rabbi John Rosove retired and was named Temple Israel’s first Rabbi Emeritus. The congregation honored him with a year of celebration that included a speaker series featuring Attorney General Eric Holder, Democratic political advisor David Axelrod and Israeli General Ami Ayalon, as well as a special Shabbat weekend and a festive Gala highlighted by Congressman Adam Schiff, who found time amid pressing obligations in Washington, D.C. to dance the hora with our community and speak in honor of Rabbi Rosove.
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum stepped in as Interim Senior Rabbi as a search for a settled Senior Rabbi ensued.
In July of 2021, after a two-year search, Rabbi Mari Chernow was welcomed by the congregation as our new Senior Rabbi. Rabbi Chernow spent 18 years at Temple Chai in Phoenix, Arizona before returning to her native Los Angeles to join TIOH. She brings with her both immense respect for our congregation’s special history, and deep commitment to meaningful ritual, social justice and lifelong Jewish education, all infused with her own creative and energetic spirit.
Throughout our history, Temple Israel of Hollywood has endeavored to remain true to the principles of its founding and to live up to the standards set by its leaders. We are here to foster opportunities for lifelong learning, meaningful worship, social and personal healing, and community. We strive to evolve and reinvent ourselves and the role of the synagogue as we adapt to changing times, and look forward to serving our congregants and the wider Jewish community for another 100 years.
Updated January 2023