Rabbi Arye D. Gordon
On Sunday morning, September 25, 2016, the Jews of Los Angeles converged on the home of Mr. Yossi and Bella Essas to fulfill the mitzvah of adding a letter to the new sefer Torah that the Essas Family was donating to Adas Torah. This joyful celebration accompanied the completion of the synagogue’s new building in the heart of Pico-Robertson.
The story of Adas Torah warms the heart, although it’s the story shared by most “new” shuls: A group of baalebattim gets together and decides they need their “own shul,” either because those running the shul consist of older baalebattim with different needs or they want a different type of rav or they just want to do their own thing. Knowing that their group at this point is small and the available funding to go out on their own is limited, the group realizes it must start with a modest, rented facility. They may start without a hired rabbi and hope for a part-time volunteer, for starters.
With time the group grows, available funding increases, and the search for a “real” rabbi begins. After finally hiring the right candidate and attracting more people, the need for a larger building becomes the next step. The search for a new home begins.
That is pretty much the lifecycle of almost every new shul.
For a while, Adas Torah was bursting at its seams. From its humble beginnings at the Marriot Hotel, it moved to a storefront located across the street. Within a few years, the shul grew to two full minyanim on Shabbos, weekday minyanim, daf yomi, and an array of shiurim for men and women. Space got even tighter. Thanks to siyatta dishmaya and generous donors, the shul found an appropriate location nearby and entered the building phase.
Neighbors in Pico-Robertson admired the sleek, modern building that rose from the construction site in recent months. Just about a month ago, Rabbi Revah notified shul members that the congregation would soon move into the new building. “We are mispallel that we be worthy of continued brachah and are able to build a shul whose beauty beckons people to walk in, and the equally beautiful inside encourages them to stay.”
Rabbi Revah thanked the many shul members contributed to the construction of the building.
Not long after, Adas Torah distributed flyers announcing the Torah dedication arranged by the Essas Family in honor of the chanukas sabayis of Adas Torah.
People danced through the streets and converged at the new shul, joyously dancing and absorbing the wonder of the moment. Included in the simchah was the family of Frank and Kerri Lee, parents who donated the ornate and beautiful aron kodesh in memory of their daughter, a young mother taken long before expected.
As the sifrei Torah were returned to the aron kodesh, following the recitation of tehillim, Yossi Essas stood to tell his amazing story as to how he came to this place in his life, and explained why he and Bella dedicated this sefer Torah in memory of his parents.
“This is how we survived as a Jewish nation. We celebrate what is really important. I was born in Russia, and my father was one of the starters of the baalei teshuvah movement. My father had students, and he would bring many rabbanim to come and give shiurim. In order to contact [them] and not arouse the suspicion of the KGB, he developed a code system to know when they arrived in Russia. It had to change every week.
“It was decided that they would use the name of the parshah for the week [to indicate when] they would be arriving. Because I would sometimes answer the phone, I had to learn all the parshos, so if they said, “Vayelech,” I would know what week they were coming. It was as an outgrowth of this and other related experiences that my family survived as Jews.” He then invited everyone to partake of elegant foods, lavishly prepared for all the guests.
The community hopes this wonderful start leads to continued success for the shul and its families.