Weekend of Events to Mark Jewish Council’s Origin
Ralph Moses is telling his stories again.
Some stress a bygone era, such as the story of Max Stein, a Ventura paper goods dealer who made periodic business trips to Los Angeles. “He became the lifeline for Jewish food delivery in Ventura, ferrying rye bread, herrings and the like from Los Angeles. In those days, not a bagel was to be found anywhere in Southern California.”
Some are personally moving, such as his first meeting with Minnie Cohn, one of Ventura County’s Jewish pioneers. “The first words she said to us when we came to El Rio in June of 1938, in German, were, ‘As long as my children have something to eat, your children will not go hungry.’ I know I will take that particular sentence to my grave.”
And some bespeak the loneliness of Jews just a few decades ago, when religious education was virtually nonexistent in Ventura County and young men had to make hasty trips to Los Angeles for “shotgun” bar mitzvahs.
Sense of Family
Each story reminds Moses of the sense of family that pervades Ventura’s Jewish community, which this weekend will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first organized voice, the Ventura County Jewish Council. The council runs Ventura’s only temple, Temple Beth Torah.
“People come to mind who are long gone and incidents--some funny, some sad,” said Moses, a Port Hueneme optometrist who has just published an informal history of the council.
Myra Bank, one-time president of the group, also remembers its earliest days. “We came here as Depression kids from Minnesota and we finally found friends, real friends, in this extended group,” she said.
Main Street businessmen started the council as a way of funneling aid to the transients pouring through town, said Ronald Bank, Myra Bank’s husband, who also served as a council president. From that base eventually grew the temple and a religious school.
Today, more than 400 families, which is 25% of the area’s Jewish community, belong to the group. The present building--subject of about 20 years of planning, financing, design and construction--has 12 classrooms, a multipurpose room, a sanctuary and a playground.
“It’s an opportune time to reflect, to think back and in some sense pay tribute to these people who contributed,” Moses said.
The council agrees. The celebration will begin Friday night with a ceremony honoring past rabbis and council leaders. Then Saturday, a dinner dance and slide show will be held at the Ojai Valley Country Club.
Sunday is reserved for an all-day festival with food booths and a series of commemorative events. First, council members will walk 3 1/2 miles from Ivy Lawn cemetery, where plots for Jews were reserved by founding members, to the temple.
Then, runners will trace the group’s evolution from a tiny community in El Rio, which Jewish settlers in the 1870s dubbed “New Jerusalem,” to the Foothill Road religious center it has occupied since 1963. En route, they will pass the Coca-Cola bottling plant, where founders held their first meetings, and the Poinsettia Creamery building, used as the group’s first permanent center in 1943.
When they arrive at the temple, the trekkers will light a giant menorah and council leaders will bury a time capsule containing predictions for the next 50 years. Finally, a host of politicians--such as U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura), state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) and Ventura City Council members--will present tokens of congratulations to the temple.
Although the school intends to add classrooms, the congregation will not grow to more than 600 families, Rabbi Edward D. Kiner said.
“People want to have contact,” he said.