Monday, February 28, 2022

Honoring our friend, Joe Alexander, at his 99th Birthday

 It is a great honor and privilege to serve as Rabbi where the Gabbai of Hollywood Temple Beth El is none other than Joe Alexander.

Joe, who survived numerous concentration camps and the Warsaw Ghetto, has spent his days in reaching out to youth in the Los Angeles region ( and beyond) as a moving living testimonial to the tragedy of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and also as a lesson that one can never give up!

This is his story, in a nutshell, and this is the record ofour special Shabbat in his honor on November 20, 2021.

You can view the entire service here:

Celebration begins at 1:45 hrs into the video. Presentation from Los Angeles City Council 2:01 Tribute from Museum of the Holocaust-Los Angeles at 2:05:31 Lion of Judah award from Israel Bonds at 2:09:32 Presentation of Torah Mantel and a personal testimonial by Roni Duran with Jennifer Levins at 2:14 Display of tributes from City of Burbank, Los Angeles Unified School District and Woodbury University

This slide presentation tells Joes story with illustrations

Here are highlights of the Shabbat Service:
The most moving moment was the presentation of a Torah cover by Roni Duran and Jennifer and Harriet Levins in honor of Joe.This was a loving testimonial of how one person changed the life of another.

This is is the text of Roni Duran's testimonial:

I’m Roni Duran. I’m a child abuse survivor and I have been on my own since I was a teenager. In the darkest of moments, in my early childhood, light and hope came in a “World History” book that I found at the bottom of a cardboard box of donated used clothing. In it, I learned about the Holocaust and it changed the trajectory of my life. Being a small child, what I understood is that no matter the type of immense suffering that I was going through, it couldn’t possibly compare to the pain and suffering that Holocaust survivors had endured. Their stories of survival gave me hope. In that book, I read the section on the Holocaust over and over again throughout the years. I held on to this book tightly because it was my most prized possession. I often read it secretly because if my abuser found out, it would be taken away from me! Many witnessed the abuse, but no one ever stepped in to rescue us helpless children. But I held something far more powerful than the evil that surrounded me. I had G-d, my great grandmother’s spirit, and the knowledge in this book, which no one could take away from me. It gave my life meaning and a purpose that I too could survive and go on to help other children like myself, like many survivors had gone on to help others throughout the world. One of my childhood dreams was to one day meet Holocaust survivors so that I could say, “Thank you!” But to do that, I first had to survive. It gave me the strength and the courage to carry on, when at times, the abuse was nearly unbearable to survive. I held on to my faith and to the belief that tomorrow would be a better day!

I thought about my freedom every day! A freedom that could not come soon enough. I knew that education was my ticket out. It would be eight long years until that day, when I had to rescue myself because no one was coming to rescue me. When that day finally came, it was the happiest day of my life and yet, it was the scariest because the world up ahead held so many challenges. But what I knew, was that anything out there, would be better than where I had come from. With G-d, the clothing on my body, and a bookbag full of dreams, I got on a public bus and I rode ahead. Getting on that bus was the greatest decision of my life!

In college, on school campus, I found a Museum of Tolerance brochure. I was amazed that such a place existed! I was full of joy because I was a step closer to realizing my dream. A dream that still seemed so far away because at that moment, I was a struggling student, without much. I didn’t even know where I would get my next meal, let alone know where to find this museum in a city, in a county, so far away. Still, full of hope and optimism, I placed the museum brochure in my bookbag so that one day, I could get there. As G-d would have it, not only did I meet Holocaust survivors at the Museum of Tolerance, but G-d has also placed many other Jewish angels in my life. Nine years ago, I converted to Judaism and I’m honored to be Jewish.

As a proud member of Hollywood Temple Beth El, it is here that I’ve had the incredible blessing of meeting Joe Alexander. I didn’t originally know that he is a Holocaust survivor until one day, after services, Jennifer Levins and I were talking to Joe, and since we hadn’t been in Shul for a while, we wanted to know what he had been up to. Joe shared with us that he had come back from a trip to Europe, where students upon finding out that he is a Holocaust survivor, were eager to meet him and hear his life story. Joe also shared with us that in the concentration camps, what kept him going, was his faith and his belief that tomorrow would be a better day. He told us that he said it to himself every single day, “Tomorrow will be a better day!” In that moment, Joe profoundly touched my soul because immediately he took me back to my childhood, when I too, had uttered those same words, “Tomorrow will be a better day!” I know for sure that without learning about the Holocaust and without learning about Holocaust survivors, I wouldn’t have survived to become the person that I am today.  

Joe, it is an honor to know you. You are a blessing in my life. I’m living proof that who you are matters, that all the good that you do matters, and that your life story does positively impact the lives of so many people. You make the world better. You are a beacon of light. You are a true inspiration, not just to me, but to so many people throughout the world.

Jennifer and I are grateful to Hollywood Temple Beth El for this opportunity to be here to celebrate you, to honor you, on your birthday, your 99th birthday. Baruch Hashem!

We are donating a Torah cover in your honor, in deep appreciation for your love and dedication to Hollywood Temple Beth El and for your message of hope that you bring to our community and the world.

Joe, may Hashem bless you with a good life and keep you healthy and strong so that you can continue to inspire hope in all of us, to be better and to do better. Joe, from the bottom of my heart, I sincerely thank you for impacting my life in the way that you have. I love you! Happy birthday!


Los Angeles Council District 5 Council Member Paul Koretz prepared this presentation from the City of Los Angeles:

Israel Bonds Gave a Plaque and issued this testimonial

Joe is one of the most popular speakers for the Holocaust Museum of Los Angeles, which sent a delegation to read this statement:

These are more tributes Joe received on his 99th:

Here are more scenes from our celebration
with Helen and David

with life partner, Reeva Sherman at his side

Here are some documents from Joe's life after his liberation from the concentration camps:

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Stories for 100 years of Hollywood Temple Beth El Part 1


Here is the link to Rabbi Weinberg's discussion

Stories for 100 years of Hollywood Temple Beth El

Rabbi Norbert Weinberg   January  26,2022


This is an account of the founding years of Hollywood Temple Beth El and the involvement of key figures in  the newly established film industry who had made Hollywood their center of operations and their new home. It follows through with highlighting some key notables associated with the Temple during later years.


Early references to HTBE


Jan 26, 1922 was our official founding, though we actually go back a few more years, 1920, with  services held  at a bungalow at 1414 North Wilton Place, adjacent to what is now Home Depot on Sunset.

In 1922 a synagogue was built at 1508 North Wilton Place, one block north, just at the exit ramp of the 101( the primary reason we are no longer there! )

(Source:The Jewish Community in Los Angeles ,Compiled by Clifton L. Holland )


This was the old Temple but now it is

a Hispanic Baptist Church



I found this oldest reference in the American Jewish Yearbook, 1922:


Rabbi Emanuel Schreiber, President Ed. Wise, Secretary, Louis Kirstein. 65 Members with a school of 4 teachers and 60 students.


And this one from the B’nai Messenger( LA’s Jewish paper of record in the 20th Century)

. It shows the opening of a religious school with an invitation to people in the community to enroll their children.

( These copies are preserved on line at the National Library of Israel, )



Here is Bnai Brith Messenger announcing the new name” Beth El.”


Here are a few other clips from what used to be the paper of record of LA’s Jews


Hollywood Temple Beth - El unanimously elected Rabbi N . I . Addleson as rabbi at a general meeting recently . Given a contract for five years dating from September 1 , 1938 , he will deliver his first sermon at the Temple on Friday evening , September 16 . . . Born in London , England , he received his education at the London Talmudical College , graduating with honors in higher Rabbinics , and is in possession of credentials ( Semicha ) - from renowned rabbis . He was a member of Bnai Brith in England , and honorary chaplain of the Order of Sons of Jacob . He is a member of the Misrad Harabbonim of Los Angeles , a member of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California , and an officer in Cedars of Lebanon Lodge , B nai Brith . The rabbi plans to build up the congregation in the Hollywood district , where there is a large field for activity for Hebrew education and religious life , with the cooperation of the congregation , the sisterhood and the proposed men s club . The Temple now has a Talmud Torah and Sunday school directed by Rev . Wellington .


This one from 1948 , announcing a Judge McKay as guest speaker . An interesting note at the end references Shabbat afternoon Talmud class delivered in “Jewish”, in other words, . Quite probably, Yiddish may have been the unofficial language of Hollywood at the time.



What brought Jews here?

This account was written by Rabbi Max Vorspan, who spoke here at many occasions when he was Senior VP of the University of Judaism. The past President, his colleague, Rabbi David Lieber, used to lead the overflow High Holy Days services here in my day(co-author: Prof Lloyd P. Gartner)


In short, Louis Mayer started with the junk business, Laemmle in the clothing business, Goldfish (later, Goldwyn) in the glove business, Selznick in jewelry. All were driven by the prospect of entering an industry that “ genteel” ( and “ gentile”) society frowned upon and laughed at. The big money of the day “ insisted that the public would be interested only in one-reel films about ten minutes in length.” History of the Jews of Los Angeles Hardcover – January 1, 1970 by Max Vorspan (Author), Lloyd P. Gartner (Author)


For a brief visual account, you will find this video to be eye opening:

(When Jews Ran Hollywood: Vaudeville, Immigrants, and the American Dream | Unpacked)



This is the account of the founding

, written by George Bilson, called “ In the Beginning” ( thanks to Judy Alkalay for sharing with us) ; this was written in 1952, at the time of our new building here at 1317 N Crescent Heights [My notes are in brackets]

“ONE DECADE, one score and one year ago, sixteen ·farsighted men met at the home of Ed Weiss to form a conservative congregation. This was the beginning of Hollywood's first synagogue which, for the next thirty years was to serve as a House of Worship, House of Study and House of Assembly for the rapidly-growing Jewish community of the Western Avenue-Sunset Boulevard district.


[Note: We precede our neighbor, Temple Israel by several years. The third Reform congregation in Los Angeles, was founded in 1926 by four men from Temple Beth El who wanted to create a more modern temple]

The first Friday evening services were held in a bungalow on Wilton Place just south of Sunset Boulevard. An improvised Ark, two Torah scrolls and some folding chairs transformed the living room into a House of Worship. The congregation elected Ed Weiss president; Samuel Tuch, vice-president [ his grandson, Larry, was still on the board when I was her]; E. J. Peiser, recording secretary; Louis Kirstein, financial secretary; Joseph Miller, treasurer. A charter was granted by the State of California and the Congregation was incorporated January 26, 1922.

 A few months later a lot was purchased for  $8,500 [Imagine finding a lot at that price today!]  at 1508 North Wilton Place and plans for the erection of a temple were under way. The fund-raising slogan adopted in 1922 also served as a time schedule, "for All To See In '23." In September of that year, services for the High Holy Days were held in their new building. The interior was unfinished. The "Bima" consisted of a raised wooden platform with velvet draperies covering the raw lumber. But there was fervent religious spirit within its walls. The Congregation gave their temple a truly divine name, Beth El - House Of God.


 Mr. and Mrs. Morris Rosen were among the first and most generous of the members. Their  daughter (now  Mrs. Joseph Seymour Brown) taught Sunday School , and their sons, Jack, Allen, and Joseph learned their "alef baiz'' from old Rabbi Wellington in the Beth Hamidrash. [ Morris actually paid the first electric bill!  Grandson Roger Rosen is still one of our stalwarts! The family members were still active when I was here].

Rabbi Alstead was the first to occupy the pulpit and the little, 600-seat Temple began to attract men and women in all walks of life, many from the motion picture colony:



The essay goes on to list these members of the colony:


We can start with the father of all time studio chiefs, the Warner Bros- Benjamin Warner!

 This item from the Niles, Ohio, historical society, about the first movie theater started by the sons of Benjamin Warner, who began his career as a shoemaker. Shown in the picture at the top, Benjamin Warner, above his five sons and to the right, the mother of the Warner Bros.



In 10 years after the founding, father Benjamin was the President, and he brought the studio clout to bear in the 1932 New Year’s celebration:






It would be a natural magnet for people in the industry!

So a glance at others listed in the history essay

Michael Curtiz (/ k ɜːr ˈ t iː z / kur-TEEZ; born Manó Kertész Kaminer; Hungarian: Kertész Mihály; December 24, 1886 - April 10, 1962) was a Hungarian-American film director, recognized as one of the most prolific directors in history.: 67 He directed classic films from the silent era and numerous others during Hollywood's Golden Age, when the studio system was prevalent. Movie “ Moon of Israel”- a love story between Pharaoh and an Israelite slave. Michael Curtiz - Wikipedia › wiki › Michael_Curtiz









Vera Gordon, Actress: 50 Million Frenchmen. American character actor of Russian heritage in silent films and early talkies. She emigrated with her family to the U.S. when she was seven years old. She became involved in the theatre even as a child and participated for several years in the Jewish theatre in New York. At the age of 34 she was cast by Frank Borzage in his version of 'Humoresque .

















Carmel Myers, born in San Francisco, California, on April 9, 1900, left a lasting impact on Hollywood as an actress and lavish entertainer. In a Hollywood that encouraged assimilation, she never denied that she was Jewish. She performed in over seventy films and became known for her vamp roles in silent films and "talkies."

In 1925, she appeared in arguably her most famous role, that of the Egyptian vamp Iras in Ben-Hur, who tries to seduce both Messala (Francis X. Bushman) and Ben-Hur himself (Ramón Novarro)

[For those too young to know –especially those who never knew that Jewish women could be so attractive-- The noun vamp is somewhat old fashioned, implying a woman who uses her charisma and beauty to charm men into doing what she wants them to do. You can also use it as a verb, meaning to tease or flirt, especially in a showy and manipulative way. The word came into use in the early 1900's, from vampire. Some experts connect the first use of vamp with the role of "The Vampire" in the 1915 movie "A Fool There Was."]



Mervyn LeRoy (/ l ə ˈ r ɔɪ /; October 15, 1900 - September 13, 1987) was an American film director, film producer and screenplay writer. In his youth he played juvenile roles in vaudeville and silent film comedies.. During the 1930s, LeRoy was one of the two great practitioners of economical and effective film directing at Warner Brothers studios, the other his cohort Michael Curtiz.




Jack Pearl, Actor. Vaudevillian. Years active. 1932-1952. Spouse (s) Winnie Desbrought. Jack Pearl (born Jack Perlman; October 29, 1894 - December 25, 1982) was a vaudeville performer and a star of early radio. He was best known for his character Baron Munchausen.






Edward G. Robinson (born Emanuel GoldenbergYiddishעמנואל גאָלדנבערג; December 12, 1893 – January 26, 1973) was a Romanian-born American actor of stage and screen during Hollywood's Golden Age. He appeared in 30 Broadway plays[1] and more than 100 films during a 50-year career[2] and is best remembered for his tough-guy roles as gangsters in such films as Little Caesar and Key Largo.


According to our records, not only was he a long time member, but also a President.


 And  not just a member and contributor, but also a knowledgeable Jew who could lead the weekday evening services for when he commemorated a yahrzeit, wherever he went, be it Indianapolis or Tokyo ( more said later)

From Jewish Post of Indianapolis;

He also contributed regularly to to HTBE, which caught the attention of of McCarthy’s committee during the witch hunting for Communists in those years.

He was caught up in the witch hunt, as a result of his support for groups that opposed the Nazis, but as it turned out, were affiliated with the Communist party. 




Samuel Bischoff (August 11, 1890 – May 21, 1975) was an American film producer who was responsible for more than 400 full-length films, two-reel comedies, and serials between 1922 and 1964.


George Sidney, (born October 4, 1916, New York City, New York, U.S.—died May 5, 2002, Las Vegas, Nevada), American film director who directed a number of the most popular movie musicals of the 1940s and ’50s, including Anchors Aweigh (1945), Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Show Boat (1951), and Kiss Me Kate (1953)- could also refer to his uncle, George Sidney, a noted actor in his day



Hal B. Wallis, American motion-picture producer, associated with more than 400 feature-length films from the late 1920s to the mid-1970s. For example, Casablanca, three Academy Awards for best picture, director, and screenplay. Who can forget Bogart,” Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake” or Here's looking at you, kid ?”






 Louis Halper,brother in law to Warner Bros, helped run the studio-and involved in production of their 1st full feature talkie.


 Mike Gore, As the president and cofounder of West Coast Theaters, Gore appropriated more than $5,000,000 in 1924 for the immediate construction of 28 new neighborhood theaters in Los Angeles. This was done to keep pace with the area's tremendous growth. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in Motion pictures.[2]



William Koenig was born on January 1, 1885 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. He is known for his work on Dance Hall (1941), Castle in the Desert (1942) and El cantante de Napoles (1935). He was married to Nancy. He died on May 29, 1943 in Beverly Hills, California, USA.


Carl Laemmle (/ˈlɛmli/ (audio speaker iconlisten); born Karl Lämmle; January 17, 1867 – September 24, 1939) was a German-American film producer and the co-founder and, until 1934, owner of Universal Pictures. He produced or worked on over 400 films.Regarded as one of the most important of the early film pioneers. Think of  The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Phantom of The Opera (1925), both with Lon Chaney Sr. in the title role.

He also personally undertook to save many Jews during the Holocaust!


Joseph H. Nadel (1892–1950). Producer | Production Manager | Assistant Director. Joseph H. Nadel Picture. 


Lewis Seiler (September 30, 1890 – January 8, 1964) was an American film director. He directed more than 80 films between 1923 and 1958.


Joe Pasternak, one of Hollywood's top film producers, assumed the office of Chairman of the Board of HTBE!


Joseph Herman Pasternak (born József Paszternák; September 19, 1901 – September 13, 1991) was a Hungarian-born American film producer in Hollywood. Pasternak spent the Hollywood "Golden Age" of musicals at MGM Studios, producing many successful musicals with female singing stars like Deanna DurbinKathryn Grayson and Jane Powell, as well as swimmer/bathing beauty Esther Williams' films. He produced Judy Garland's final MGM film, Summer Stock, which was released in 1950, and some of Gene Kelly’s early breakthrough roles. Pasternak worked in the film industry for 45 years, from the later silent era until shortly past the end of the classical Hollywood cinema in the early 1960s.

 This is the continuation of Bilson’s essay:



WWII- our younger members left to fight for Freedom's cause. Some never returned. Boys who but a few years previous had recited their bar mitzvah speeches from our pulpit became names on the memorial tablet in the Temple's foyer - Jacob J. Moidel,Budd Peiser, Stanley Sidell, Theodore J. Steiner, Herman Addleson, Jerome Freman, Derrick R. Landau, Maurice W. Imberman, Bernard H. Glogas, Leon A. Rutberg, Mieren B. Oswell, David E. Sandler, and Sheldon Finn. May their souls rest in peace.


During the War years the Temple Sisterhood worked countless hours sewing garments for the Red Cross. The product of their fingers kept many a soldier

warm in foxholes on the battlefronts of Europe and Asia…At War's end, they continued to sew for the people of Israel. To their undying glory was the "adoption" of six European orphans through the Youth Aliyah.


Moving to our new location:


From the moment Mr. and Mrs. Hyman Levine joined the Congregation it Was evident that they were heart-and-soul Jews who believed in religion as a way of life. Hyman Levine was a man with vision, courage and faith. He recognized the fact that the new Hollywood Freeway, pushing,  its way relentlessly from the East, was compelling many worshippers, whose homes were in its path,to move from the district. He recognized, too, that the modern generation needed a more modern building. This thought had been in the minds of most officers and board members for many years, but it was under Mr. Levine's presidency that the plan was activated. That the idea succeeded so well is due in a great part to his brilliant leadership, his personal contributions, and to the encouragement of his dear wife. Hyman Levine served as president from 1946 to 1949 and was subsequently made Honorary Life President, an honor he shares with Samuel Tuch. To add to the driving force behind the new project came their three sons, Isadore, Sid [ who smuggled weapons for the Haganah and whose son Mel, became congressman ] and Dr. Ben. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the sons and daughters of other older leaders, they represented the youth and strength that would bring the ideas to full fruition. In April 1948 a large lot was purchased 1317 N Crescent Heights Boulevard and the new Hollywood Temple Beth El was soon in the blueprint stage. · , .


A gala fund-raising show at the Biltmore Bowl, spearheaded by Dave Leviloff, Maurice Katleman, Hyman Levine and other Board members. Over $40,000 was raised at the Biltmore Bowl affair at which Eddie Cantor was master of ceremonies. This was the "shot in the arm" that revitalized the entire organization. A new slogan echoed across the Hollywood Hills, "God Willed It,

Let’s Build It!"