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A Jewish community center?

Temple Beth Ami plans to build facility to meet growing needs

Posted: July 25, 2008 11:26 p.m.
Updated: September 26, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Rabbi Mark Blazer auctions a shirt during a fundraiser for Temple Beth Ami's proposed Jewish Community Center. Rabbi Mark Blazer auctions a shirt during a fundraiser for Temple Beth Ami's proposed Jewish Community Center.
Rabbi Mark Blazer auctions a shirt during a fundraiser for Temple Beth Ami's proposed Jewish Community Center.

Temple Beth Ami is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, but to Rabbi Mark Blazer, the reform Jewish synagogue's membership truly grew a decade ago when the Santa Clarita Valley's Jewish population jumped with each new neighborhood built.

"There are a handful who have been members more than 10 years," Blazer said.

The real growth of Temple Beth Ami took place in the 1990s as the Santa Clarita Valley expanded to include new communities.

"A lot of it had to do with the construction of Stevenson Ranch," Blazer said. "The construction boom that went out here coincided with people who were looking for affordable homes that had good school districts, which is a really important part of the Jewish community."

At the same time, the creation of the North Park area brought future Temple Beth Ami members, along with an influx of fresh Santa Clarita citizens moving into the older parts of Valencia, Newhall and Saugus, the rabbi said.

With a growth of the local Jewish population, local congregations like Temple Beth Ami began to thrive in many ways. In 1998, Temple Beth Ami found a permanent home at its residential location in Newhall. Up until then, Blazer said the congregation met at various temporary locations, including St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Newhall.

Congregation triples

Temple Beth Ami officially started in 1988 after a group of local Jewish families wanted to start a reform synagogue. During the late 80s, the only Jewish synagogue was Congregation Beth Shalom, which is five years older than Temple Beth Ami and is a conservative congregation.

Blazer, who is the first full-time rabbi for Temple Beth Ami, said the number of attendees grew significantly over a five-year period.

"When I came here in 2000, the synagogue population was about 70. By about 2005, it had tripled in size," Blazer said.

Judith Stolnitz has been part of the growth as the trustee in charge of Temple Beth Ami's education and curriculum.

Stolnitz, who is part of Temple Beth Ami with her husband and two kids, said she was drawn to the synagogue years ago because it gives the kids "a sense of where they came from" and "a knowledge of Judaism."

With the increase, a new demand in synangogue-sponsored programs was seen.

Blazer believes the creation of the pre-school and adult education programs have been the highlights of the temple's history.

The adult education program has been especially important for the older members who have moved to the Santa Clarita Valley and discovered their sense of Judaism, he said. The frequent classes have created opportunities for older members to learn about Judaism and take part in bar or bat mitzvahs, a traditional rite of passage.

Most recently, the temple has seen an increase in the number of musical performers featured, as well as guest speakers.

Blazer said Temple Beth Ami recently initiated Havurah groups, which are essentially smaller communities within the Temple Beth Ami family.

"It's kind of a way to help people connect with other people who have similar life situations," he said, noting that seniors, as well as young families have formed their own Havurot.

But to Blazer, the Santa Clarita Valley's Jewish community will have new opportunities upon the completion of a Jewish community center currently being planned at a nearly 20-acre nature-filled space off Interstate 5 and The Old Road.

Blazer envisions the center, which would be a first for the Santa Clarita Valley, as a way to not only draw Jewish people to the local area, but to also become more visual in the greater Los Angeles community.

The site, which sits in a hilly landscape complete with full-grown natural trees, would feature a range of services for the Jewish community in environmently-friendly buildings.

While holding poster-sized versions of the plans designed by Belzberg Architects, Blazer pointed out the 17,000-square-foot sanctuary that would hold between 800 and 1,000 worshippers. The school, a major aspect of Temple Beth Ami's mission to serve the Jewish community, would top 40,000 square-feet.

Blazer sees the center as "multi-generational and multi-use" because it would also offer Jewish senior housing. "It's a pretty big project," he said.

As if the goal to deliver a detailed Jewish community center was not enough, Blazer said the building would be environmentally-friendly through its green roofscape and landscape steps.

"It will not just be a green building," he said. "We will have a completely carbon neutral site."
Blazer, who recently installed solar panels in his own home, said he plans to initiate solar or wind power for the building to be self-sustaining.

"It's a big thing for me for our synagogue to work with the natural environment," he said.

Blazer estimates that the center will cost $30 million and will take at least a couple of years to complete.

Worrying about identity

Currently, the temple is in the fundraising and permitting phases. During the 20th anniversary celebration in June, Temple Beth Ami hosted an evening at Dodger's Stadium to reflect on Temple Beth Ami's history and fundraise for the center.

By building a Jewish community center, Blazer believes Temple Beth Ami will create a "desirable Jewish area" and make the local valley a more attractive location for not only Jewish families, but all types of people from all over the Los Angeles area.

On top of that, Blazer said the center will serve as a visual representation of the Jewish community, especially because he believes many Jewish families that move to the local valley often feel that they need to give up their parts of their Jewish community to live here.

"What we're trying to do is change that dynamic," he said. "Santa Clarita is no longer a place where they have to worry about Jewish connections. This is a desirable Jewish community to be part of."


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