$150m reboot for ‘temple to stars’

From its very beginnings, the imposing marble edifice with the glistening copper dome rising 100 feet (30 metres) above the edge of downtown Los Angeles has been a major Hollywood production. During the Golden Era, MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, along with fellow movie moguls Irving Thalberg, Carl Laemmle and the Warner brothers, helped bankroll the cavernous Wilshire Bouleva-rd Temple, which debuted in 1929 as the cornerstone of the largest Jewish congregation west of Chicago.
The Tinseltown synagogue became known as the “Temple to the Stars” and served as the featured set location for everything from A-list weddings to an episode of the cable TV show Entourage about a young film star and his circle of friends.
Now, in the grand tradition of long-running Hollywood franchises, LA’s oldest synagogue is getting a $150 million reboot, just in time for summer release. In the coming weeks, the sanctuary’s ornate front doors will open for the first time in nearly two years, allowing the public to see a restoration that includes newly repaired giant chandeliers and refurbished murals depicting the history of Judaism by the great film artist Hugo Ballin. “I’ve peeked in to see it, and it’s inspiring and sort of awesome,” said prominent Los Angeles public relations executive Steve Sugarman. After the planned sneak preview in mid-June, religious services are to resume in time for the High Holy Days in September. But that’s just the beginning. By 2020, synagogue leaders plan to have overhauled the entire block of Wilshire Boulevard that the temple occupies, replacing a parking lot with schools, a public exhibition space and a social services center that will include a food pantry and medical, dental and other services that will be open to everyone in the multiethnic neighbourhood. “We call it tikkun olam,” says Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, citing the tenet of Judaism that directs its practitioners to make the world a better place. “We take this imperative to help improve and repair our world very seriously.” When he became the congregation’s senior pastor nine years ago, Leder and his board of directors quickly realised one of their first tasks in accomplishing that goal would be doing something about the ageing temple.

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