It was 1950. A handful of Jewish families moved an old schoolhouse to a site on Sepulveda Boulevard in Encino. They cleaned and painted it, set up folding chairs, and established a synagogue. They took turns serving as rabbi and cantor, taught their own children for Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and conducted their own services. A few years later, they moved around the corner to an old motel. The building was too hot in summer, too cold in winter, the seats were uncomfortable, and the prayer books ragged. There was nothing professional or organized in the way things ran. But it was a community of love, devotion, and dreams. And it grew.
Today we are the fulfillment of those dreams. Our founding families handed us the gifts of their devotion. What a wonderful gift. What a wonderful life. We owe them our gratitude. And we have a promise to fulfill—to care for the community, to preserve a dream, and to keep it vital for another generation.
… Rabbi Edward Feinstein
At the end of World War II, thousands of young families flock to California and to the San Fernando Valley. It becomes obvious that a new shul is necessary for a growing Jewish community. Three small synagogues merge to become Valley Beth Sholom (eventually Valley Beth Shalom). The new VBS is housed on Sepulveda Boulevard in an old school house brought in from Long Beach. Religious observance, education of the children, and programming begin. The site is soon much too small and the congregation moves to a motel on Densmore and Ventura. The vision of the leadership is realized with the groundbreaking for a new structure.
Valley Beth Shalom enters into a decade of development, growth, and investment in the future of the congregation. By the middle of the 1960s VBS has been transformed into a vibrant center for Jewish life. Construction and dedication of the main sanctuary and social hall occur. The congregation doubles in size. Programming and activities increase, our youth become actively involved, and music becomes a major part of temple life. As the decade draws to a close, Valley Beth Shalom begins a search for a new rabbi. The results of that quest will transform VBS beyond anyone’s dreams.
Rabbi Harold Schulweis comes to Valley Beth Shalom. A great partnership ensues between Rabbi Schulweis and his congregants. Through his wisdom and leadership, and the energies of the congregants, new and transformative programs are introduced at VBS: Havurah, Para-Professional counseling, Para-Rabbinics. The Food Bank is established and many families and Havurot adopt Russian families. The VBS Day School is founded. Friday night services draw huge crowds, including scores of youth; Saturday morning Torah discussions and Rabbi Schulweis’ oratory resonate throughout Los Angeles and across the country.
Herschel Fox becomes cantor as Cantor Sam Fordis retires after 20 years. Innovative programming continues. Our Hebrew School begins the Shaare Tikva Program for special needs children, we start the Jewish Music Commission and Response. Leadership expands to include the Board of Trustees. Once again membership doubles. It becomes difficult to accommodate the growing membership and the myriad programs within the walls of the building. The time has come to enlarge the facilities. The main sanctuary is refurbished, property is purchased on Moorpark Street for an extended parking lot, and building the Valley Beth Shalom Day School becomes a reality. The decade closes with the construction of a new synagogue center.
The 1990s arrive with the entry of Rabbi Ed Feinstein in 1993. His talents as a pulpit rabbi, teacher and leader complement the dynamism of Rabbi Schulweis. Remarkable programming continues. Live a Jewish Life program is introduced; special evenings commemorate Yom Hashoah, celebrating the countries of Denmark, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria, whose people saved Jews during World War II. Cardinal Roger Mahoney appears on the VBS Bimah. The Keruv program is introduced to welcome the unaffiliated into a warm Jewish community.
Rabbi Ed Feinstein assumes the role of senior rabbi and brings his vision for the new millennium. Shabbat services include the Library Minyan, the Nishamah Minyan, Tot Shabbat, Fahrbrengan, One Soul Minyan, Rimmonim, and the Family Service. The Sephardic service is introduced for High Holy Days. Excellence in programming continues: Hazak, Chesed Connection, and Mitzvah Day, Jewish World Watch, the College of Jewish Studies, the Healing Center (now called Caring Connection). The Schulweis Institute is formed. Special evenings build bridges with the Armenian community and recognize Jewish revival in Poland. VBS Hebrew School, Sisterhood and Men’s Club, so vital to VBS from the 1950s, find renewed life in a new generation. We welcome Rabbis Joshua Hoffman, Paul Steinberg and Noah Farkas, as well as Cantor Phil Baron. Our community looks forward to the next 60 years.