Rabbi Named USC Dean of Religious Life

USC, founded in 1880 as a Methodist school, has named a campus rabbi as the university’s first dean of religious life--a position designed “to bring a broad discussion of religious and moral values back onto campus.”

Rabbi Susan Laemmle, who will begin in that role Sunday, will forge closer links between the university’s academic and religious lives, said Lloyd Armstrong Jr., USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

The position was created because a campus committee of faculty, students and staff “felt we were treating our intellectual and religious lives as separate worlds, that this was not a healthy division, and that there were ethical questions that needed to be studied,” Armstrong said.

Laemmle (pronounced LEM-lee), director of the Hillel Jewish Center at USC since 1992, has also served during the summer as interim coordinator of campus ministries.


Though Methodist brothers Judge Robert Widney and physician Joseph Widney were instrumental in USC’s founding and its rescue from bankruptcy in 1892, the school was launched by two Catholic donors and a Jewish banker in Los Angeles. For years, the campus housed a Methodist seminary, which later became the School of Theology at Claremont.

The title of dean of religious life is not new at major American private universities. Stanford and a number of campuses in the East have such deans, Laemmle said.

She said she plans to organize forums to tackle timely subjects and link ostensibly secular issues to “religion broadly construed [and] not limited to established religions.”

Merely creating the deanship was crucial to furthering religious-secular dialogue, she said: “If no one is assigned to do it, it doesn’t happen.”


Daughter of a co-founder of the Laemmle Theatres, Laemmle graduated from USC in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in English. She earned a master’s degree at Columbia University, and a PhD from UCLA in 1979, specializing in Renaissance literature.

“When I was teaching Shakespeare, Spenser and Keats, they were holy texts to me,” she said. “When my Jewish life became more and more important to me, I decided to go to rabbinic school,” said Laemmle, who was ordained a Reform rabbi in 1987.

Analogies between the two fields remain, she said. “Religious texts are usually very beautiful, while literature tends to raise ultimate issues in a beautiful way.”



Michoel Streicher of Jerusalem, a celebrated singer of Jewish liturgical music, will make his first Los Angeles appearance in a Sunday night concert in Hancock Park. Streicher will also serve as cantor for Congregation Bais Naftoli, a small Orthodox synagogue on South La Brea Avenue, for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.

“It’s quite a coup for us,” said attorney Andrew Friedman, president of the synagogue. Friedman called Streicher one of three musical luminaries in the Orthodox world since the death two years ago of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. For concert tickets, call (213) 931-2476 or (213) 937-2925.

* Two young singers from Northridge are becoming familiar figures at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.

Mandie Pinto, 18, on Sunday will make her fourth appearance in nine months at the Rev. Robert Schuller’s church. The young contemporary Christian artist will sing in the 9:30 and 11 a.m. worship services, then perform at 6:30 p.m. in a mini-concert leading into the 7 p.m. service.


Singer-actor Blake Ewing, 11, sang at the church last Christmas and Memorial Day and will return this Christmas, said a church spokeswoman. Ewing and Pinto, who are friends, are also tentatively set to appear together at the Crystal Cathedral on Nov. 24.


Ten touring Tibetan monks from the Dalai Lama’s enclave in India will demonstrate their sand-painting techniques tonight at a Chinese Buddhist temple in El Monte as a prelude to the temple’s grand opening ceremonies in two weeks.

The sand-painting demonstration and a “Mystical Arts of Tibet” dance exhibition, starting at 7 p.m. and open to the public, will be at the Waken Ray Tseng Temple, 11657 Lower Azusa Road. The temple was designed by Master Allen Hou, a UCLA-trained electrical engineer who also raised $2.5 million to build and furnish the yellow-roofed temple.


On Sept. 14, the grand opening will start with a traditional Chinese dragon dance followed by the blessing of the new temple by Grand Master Sheng-Yen Lu, founder of the True Buddha School, with which the temple is affiliated. (818) 455-0077.


Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) will speak on “The Future of Affirmative Action” at the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council’s eighth annual Labor Day service, which will start at 6 p.m. Monday at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Northridge. A complimentary barbecue picnic will begin an hour before the service at the church, 18400 Kinzie St. The Pacoima Mass Choir will sing.

* Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), speaker of the California Assembly, will address the monthly breakfast meeting of the Garden Grove United Methodist Church’s men’s group at 8 a.m. Sunday in the church’s fellowship hall, 12741 Main St.


* Author and Talmudic scholar Benjamin Blech of Yeshiva University in New York will make three speaking appearances Sept. 7 at Orthodox synagogues. At Beverly Hills’ Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., the rabbi will give the sermon in the 8:45 a.m. service and speak at the 9:15 p.m. Selichot services. Blech will also speak at 5:30 p.m. that day at B’nai David-Judea Congregation, 8906 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

* The country-western Christian group Brush Arbor will perform at 6 p.m. Sunday at Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene, 3700 E. Sierra Madre Blvd. (818) 351-9631.

* Filipino American Catholics will gather Sept. 7 at Cerritos Regional Park for a prayer rally and unity day. The third annual event will include a procession and rosary at 8 a.m. and a Mass at 11 a.m. celebrated by Msgr. Loreto “Mac” Gonzales, director of the Filipino Pastoral Ministry of the Los Angeles archdiocese. (310) 402-9226.

* How Jewish women’s lives have been shaped by traditional literature such as the Torah and the Talmud will be discussed by Rabbi Jane Litman on Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the Jewish Federation Building, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Litman teaches at Cal State Northridge and is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Simcha of Orange County. Her talk is sponsored by the Jewish Community Library. For reservations, call (213) 852-3272.


* Maranatha recording artist Terry Clark will be featured in a 7 p.m. praise-music concert today at Tetelestai Christian Center, 23915 Garnier St., Torrance. Admission is free. A pre-concert, hot dog and hamburger barbecue ($2 a plate) will begin at 5 p.m (310) 326-1808.

* A lecture drawing from the Mu Mun Kwan, a classic Buddhist collection of 48 stories about encounters between early Chinese Zen masters and their students, will be given by Robert Moore at 7 p.m. Friday at Dharma Kai Zen Center, 6727 S. Milton Ave., Whittier. Free-will donation. (310) 696-138.


Jewish beach-goers still undecided by Labor Day on a synagogue for next month’s High Holy Days services will see a message in the skies Monday, above the sands stretching from Redondo Beach to Santa Monica Beach.


The words will not be writ from the Almighty, but advertising on a 100-foot-long banner towed by an airplane hired by Westchester’s B’nai Tikvah Congregation.

The Conservative synagogue, which advertised its High Holy Days rites last year on screens in nearby movie theaters, will try to lure sun worshipers to the services it hosts during the 10-day penitential period, which begins Sept. 13.

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