“He was the right rabbi in the right temple in the right city at the right moment in time. If he had not presided over our B’nai B’rith, God and Louis B. Mayer – whose overpowering presences tended to overlap – would have had to create him. Or maybe they did.” Budd Schulberg, screenwriter and author
I’ve really enjoyed reading Gary Baum’s Hollywood Post article, “Hollywood’s Hottest $150 Million Project Is an 83-Year-Old Synagogue” included in the June 8th edition and now online. The B’nai B’rith Synagogue, Los Angeles’ oldest in continual operation, was at the heart of the Mayer family’s religious life, though I understand from several cousins that they “weren’t synagogue go-ers” and so never set foot inside it. I do have one memory of my grandfather Sol taking me for a service. I was little enough that my legs swung from the seats.
Evidently the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s $150 million dollar make-over is the first in its history. The lofty price tag makes sense considering the grand building that LA’s movie moguls helped to build – a domed, “monumental Byzantine Revival tabernacle” that seats more than 1,500 – and was a far cry from the orthodox shuls that they and their parents would have experienced in Eastern Europe.
Rabbi Edgar I Magnin, who served the congregation for an amazing 69 years, was the closest thing to a spiritual adviser the moguls – like Louis B Mayer, Carl Laemmle and brothers Jack and Harry Warner – had and he would have been central to the main ceremonies of their lives. And for his part, Magnin took cues from his famous and influential flock, even “enrolling in acting school for voice lessons to better his sermon oratory skills and eventually purchasing a Spanish-style house in Beverly Hills”.
When I’m next in LA I will make sure to visit and sit cheek to jowl with Hollywood’s newest breed of moguls, film stars, execs, agents and the rest of the Jewish filmmaking eco system – at least those who make time for something loftier than “all the stars in heaven”.
Copyright Alicia Mayer 2012.