Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the oldest synagogue in Los Angeles, will merge with Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, leaders of the two congregations said Wednesday.
Many details are yet to be agreed on, including the date by which the merger will be complete and the name of the new congregation.
If approved by the boards of directors of both temples, the alliance will result in one of the largest Reform congregations in the country, with about 3,500 members. It would combine Wilshire Boulevard’s landmark building, multimillion-dollar endowment and large but scattered membership with Emanuel’s respected day school and prime Westside location.
Under the agreement, both congregations would maintain their different religious practices, which once put them at opposite ends of the Reform movement, the most flexible of Judaism’s three major denominations.
But Wilshire Boulevard’s Rabbi Harvey Fields, who will head the merged congregation, noted that he was one of the authors of the prayer book that has been used at Emanuel for years.
“Emanuel has a more traditional style of worship than one might find at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and one of the things that excites me about the new entity is to have a variety of worship styles available to members,” Fields said.
Fields, 58, has been at Wilshire Boulevard for 11 years.
After months of bitter infighting, Emanuel recently lost a charismatic rabbi and some of his followers. It also is running a reported $2-million deficit.
Emanuel is currently led by Rabbi Meyer Heller, who came out of semi-retirement after Rabbi Stephen Robbins left earlier this year over disagreements with some members about temple philosophy.
“Since coming to Temple Emanuel in 1969, I have enjoyed a close relationship with the rabbis and members of Wilshire Boulevard Temple,” Heller said. “We share a vision for our community.”
A statement issued by the negotiators spelled out that vision, saying that the congregations’ combined strengths are needed to cope with the challenges of Jewish life while synagogue membership is dropping.
Emanuel has about 1,100 members and Wilshire Boulevard about 2,450.