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Rabbi explores new visions

mple Beth Ami celebrates Mark Blazer’s 10 years of motivated leadership in the Jewish community

Posted: May 29, 2010 12:52 a.m.
Updated: May 29, 2010 4:30 a.m.
Rabbi Mark Blazer visits the Temple Beth Ami preschool as twins Jack and Isaac Slabich, 3, play with Play Doh. Rabbi Mark Blazer visits the Temple Beth Ami preschool as twins Jack and Isaac Slabich, 3, play with Play Doh.
Rabbi Mark Blazer visits the Temple Beth Ami preschool as twins Jack and Isaac Slabich, 3, play with Play Doh.

He launched Santa Clarita Valley’s first Hebrew-language charter school, one of only a few nationwide.

He helped cast the vision for the SCV’s first Jewish community center.

If Mark Blazer wasn’t a rabbi, he might have been an explorer. As he puts it, he likes to “keep things new and fresh.”

“Part of it is wanting to undertake new things that are uncharted,” he said. “I have a drive to do things that have never been done.”

Membership tallied around 80 when he became the rabbi at Temple Beth Ami. Now, the synagogue welcomes more than 250 members through its doors on a weekly basis.

Judith Stolnitz said Blazer’s encouraging, nonjudgmental and innovative outlook is what brought her to Temple Beth Ami.

“He holds himself to a very high standard, and I think people can respect that he doesn’t ask people to do or think about things he himself hasn’t thought about,” she said.

Today the congregation will come together at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate Blazer’s 10th anniversary.

Growing the congregation
When Blazer moved to Santa Clarita about 12 years ago, he had no intention of becoming a local rabbi, but he did want to see the SCV’s Jewish community flourish.

As a child, he spent a lot of time at his great uncle’s house. His great uncle owned the Newhall general store and lived on Walnut Street.

Blazer recalled the time when his great uncle accounted for the one Jew in the virtually nonexistent local Jewish community, he said.

But things had changed when Blazer’s family moved to Santa Clarita. The Jewish population was still small, yet there was a sense among leaders that growth was within grasp as more Jewish families began to migrate to the SCV, Blazer said.

Blazer was working as a rabbi for a school in the San Fernando Valley when he was offered a part-time position at Temple Beth Ami. He jumped into the part-time job with a full-time effort.

“I just didn’t like the idea of being a part-time rabbi,” he said. “I pretty much started working full time right away. I was not getting paid maybe for doing services every week, but this is what needed to be done.”

Blazer desired to make Temple Beth Ami a comfortable place for Jews and non-Jews alike.

“He listens to where people have come from and helps them figure out what they want to do,” Stolnitz said.

When Blazer meets someone who desires to join a Jewish community, he’ll invite that person with options, she said.

“He’ll say, ‘OK, what do you want to do? Study with us, come to Israel with us, come to a party with us?’” Stolnitz said.

Many temple members, including Stolnitz, have joined because of Blazer’s leadership, she said. But Blazer credits the community established in and outside the synagogue for its success in membership.

The days are gone when Jews are willing to just pay their dues and be members of a synagogue, Blazer said. They want to feel they are a part of something — they want to be part of the community and to make a difference in the community.

“We don’t want the synagogue to be seen as country clubs where people have to be members to come,” he said.
Temple Beth Ami is now one of four local Jewish congregations. The others are Or Emet – A Congregation for Jewish Living, Chabad of SCV and Congregation Beth Shalom.

“To be part of the Jewish community as it went through its growth spurt was the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Blazer, a husband and father of three girls: Rachel, Dina and Shira.

Outside synagogue walls
Blazer said he also wanted outsiders to be able to connect with the Jewish community outside synagogue walls. Temple Beth Ami has hosted its holidays at the Hyatt Regency Valencia and Six Flags Magic Mountain. He’s often spotted at events such as veterans’ memorial services or city meetings.

“He has a real commitment to this community — to Santa Clarita and all parts of it,” Stolnitz said. “His ideas are things he wants to see where he lives and prays.”

Live, Pray, Play — that’s the motto for the Southern California Center for Jewish Life, a multi-purpose campus planned to sit on 19 acres off The Old Road. Blazer helped envision it.

Blazer sees the community cultural center as “multigenerational and multiuse” because it would offer Jewish senior housing. It would also become the new home for Temple Beth Ami.

“I personally think it will be a model for what Jewish communities do throughout the country,” Blazer said. “It shows what can be done when people put egos aside and work together to build something that’s necessary.”

Blazer said he saw a need, and the idea for a hub where multiple entities can work together developed from that.

“To be able to implement a vision and work from the ground floor — that’s what I wanted to do and what motivated me,” Blazer said.

He is a man of many ambitions but not one who lacks a sense of reality, he said. Vision has to leave room for change and obstacles.

For example, he and leaders of the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters had to make some adjustments after William S. Hart Union School District board members, who saw an issue of mingling church and state, voted against the proposed public Hebrew-language charter school.

Hebrew was nixed as a language requirement, and Blazer, a founding member, stepped down from the charter’s board to help show that the school is secular.

“You can’t give up your vision, but you have to deal with the world you have around you,” he said.

One foot in tradition, one foot forward
Stolnitz sees Blazer as a leader who takes risks, but not loftily. Blazer is not the type of leader to throw an idea in people’s laps and then step away, she said.

“He comes up with great ideas and gets people to do them, but he’s willing to get his hands dirty,” Stolnitz said. “Whether it’s permits for buildings at City Council or photocopying — he’ll be right there with us.”

Blazer said he knows his job as a rabbi will never be done. He read from the Talmud: “It’s not up to you to finish the work; yet you’re not free to avoid it.”

“Traditionally, Judaism has encouraged people to push the envelope — to have one foot in the past but always one foot moving forward,” he said. “Knowing where we came from but knowing we have so much more to go.”

He is simply living life, he said, and will continue to do so for as long as he has the energy.

“You can’t retire from life,” he said. “If you do things you really love doing, it never becomes a job to you.”

Every person is searching to make a difference in the world, he said.

“For me, to make a difference in the world and in the Jewish community and in Southern California was a dream come true,” he said.



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