Seder meal shared by more

Turnout shows down­town Jewish cen­ter’s grow­ing im­pact

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By David Zahniser david.zahniser@la­times.com

Six years ago, Rabbi Moshe Green­wald de­cided to open a sy­n­a­gogue and Jewish com­mu­nity cen­ter at 7th and Broad­way, in the heart of a rapidly chang­ing down­town Los An­ge­les.

The feed­back wasn’t en­tirely up­lift­ing.

Some were in­cred­u­lous at the idea, he said, while oth­ers doubted any­one would at­tend. “They said we’d pack up af­ter two years,” Green­wald added.

On Fri­day, the Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter-Chabad of Down­town Los An­ge­les set places for nearly 240 peo­ple at its Seder, the mul­ti­course meal that marks the start of Passover, which cel­e­brates the de­liv­er­ance of the Is­raelites from slav­ery in an­cient Egypt.

The turnout pro­vided the lat­est ev­i­dence of the sy­n­a­gogue’s grow­ing sig­nif­i­cance to down­town’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion.

The din­ner, held in a ball­room at the Alexan­dria Ho­tel, lured a cross-sec­tion of An­ge­lenos from down­town and else­where: busi­ness own­ers, young pro­fes­sion­als, res­i­dents of sin­gle-room ho­tels and a few who are home­less.

“His Seders are huge, and his wife is amaz­ing,” said for­mer City Coun­cil­woman Jan Perry, who rep­re­sented down­town for 12 years and is Jewish. “He’s very in­clu­sive. He’s smart. This is an eclec­tic and di­verse com­mu­nity and he rec­og­nizes that.”

Green­wald has been garner­ing praise for his tal­ent with so­cial me­dia and his skill in drawing younger adults — those un­der 40 — to his shul. “This is the next gen­er­a­tion that will be hav­ing kids and fam­i­lies and pro­long­ing the Jewish tra­di­tion,” said Matan Abel, a vis­ual ef­fects artist who signed up for Fri­day’s Seder.

Raised in Long Beach, Green­wald al­ways had a fas­ci­na­tion with down­town. He first ran the down­town sy­n­a­gogue out of his apart­ment at 6th and Hope streets, hold­ing dis­cus­sions of the To­rah in his living room, be­fore re­lo­cat­ing in 2009 to a res­i­den­tial build­ing on 7th. The sy­n­a­gogue and of­fice are on the sec­ond floor, while he and his fam­ily live on the third.

As the fa­cil­ity has grown, so has the Seder. In the early years, the event was “much more small and in­ti­mate,” with about 50 peo­ple, Green­wald said. Last year the guest list reached 220. On Fri­day, the event took place un­der six glit­ter­ing chan­de­liers and sky­lights of stained glass.

The scene, and the growth of the com­mu­nity cen­ter, has de­lighted Patti Ber­man, pres­i­dent of the Down­town Los An­ge­les Neigh­bor­hood Coun­cil and a long­time res­i­dent.

“As long as I lived in the area, I re­ally felt there was some­thing miss­ing,” she said. “They opened the Chabad and filled that empty spot.”

Green­wald said he hoped the Passover story would help those at the Seder rec­og­nize what might be hold­ing them back — an un­happy re­la­tion­ship, a dif­fi­cult work sit­u­a­tion, a sense of in­se­cu­rity — and then sur­mount those chal­lenges.

Those who at­tend, he said, should un­der­stand that “all of us ex­pe­ri­ence a lit­tle bit of an­cient Egypt in our­selves.”

Pho­to­graphs by Michael Robin­son Chavez Los An­ge­les Times

RABBI MOSHE GREEN­WALD walks be­tween ta­bles set for the nearly 240 guests at the Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter-Chabad of Down­town Los An­ge­les’ Seder meal, held this year in a ball­room at the Alexan­dria Ho­tel.

AT SUN­DOWN Fri­day, a can­dle-light­ing cer­e­mony marked the be­gin­ning of the Seder fes­tiv­i­ties, cel­e­brated by a di­verse group of An­ge­lenos from across the city.

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