Seder reflects downtown L.A. Jewish center's growing significance

Seder reflects downtown L.A. Jewish center's growing significance
Rabbi Moshe Greenwald walks between tables set for the 240 guests at his Seder meal held this year at the Alexandria Hotel. (Michael Robinson Chavez, Los Angeles Times)

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 multi-course 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 herself. "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."