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Our History


Our Story

History of Our Presence in the Ojai Valley


                                                     by Alan Greenberg


David Feigin took the initiative in the early part of 1994 to organize the Jewish people of the Ojai Valley into a congregation. He found a modest church building located at 619 El Roblar in Meiners Oaks. This building is located on the diagonal corner opposite our present site and still stands today. (However, very recently it became apparent that this building is slated for replacement or significant upgrading.) 


It was intended to be a non-denominational synagogue that strives to honor tradition, while at the same time encouraging innovation in Judaism. 


Even the newspapers of the time were interested in the opening of our temple…

                                                                              Here we are, a group of relative strangers, coming together, each of us with our own reasons and desires. We have all been here, a community of Jews living in the same town, but with no tangible connections. What a wonderful catalyst this is for looking deeply into ourselves and bringing to the surface what is really important to each of us.  

Here is my suggestion for what could be our mission statement: 

The membership roster from the early days listed 51 members. Several of these members are still members of our synagogue today (2022). They are Barbara & Joel Aaronson, Shed & June Behar, Bob & Bea Birk, Lee Cannaday, Joan Englander, Richard Gould, Adamm & Patti Gritlefeld, Ira Heilveil & Marsha McKeon, John & Kim Hoj, Stan & Hallie Katz, Ted & Pearl Malos, and Phil Moncharsh. 


When you see any of these people, please tell them how thankful you are that they helped to get the whole thing started. And for these people to still be with us today is quite admirable and says a lot about their character.

Shortly after their first efforts to organize, in April of 1994 the group managed to purchase the building. (They remained there until 1999 when they purchased the First Missionary Baptist Church building that we have been in ever since.) 


The first service after purchasing the building in 1994 resulted in 150+ people attending, with standing room only! Visitors came from far and wide; L.A., Woodland Hills, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Santa Barbara, etc. The Baptist pastor from across the street was there to give his welcome to the group.


David Feigin wrote the following to the

new members after this iconic service…

We are an entity created to encourage people in a fragmented community to realize new ways of being together in a Jewish and non-Jewish context. Since we strive for tolerance, we ask that all participate with a spirit of genuine openness, curiosity, and acceptance. We shall create a place where all Jews and all persons are welcome to pursue both old and new ways of recognizing the inherent worth, dignity, and Godliness of all life.

The group was energized, energized enough to start adding activities and meetings to their schedule. Some of these were a Men’s Group, a Mourner’s group, and a Senior Citizens’ Recreational group. A questionnaire was mailed out asking members to make suggestions for activities and write down what is the “most important thing that they want the Community to be”.

In June, a rabbi from Beverly Hills came to Ojai to lead a Shabbat service. One of their newsletters contained the following message: 'Bob Birk joined us with his guitar and accompanied us in singing and prayer.' (And he still does!)

Also, a request went out for assistance from Carpenters, Electricians, Painters, and Gardeners to step up to help upgrade their building, which was in relatively poor condition. There was no A.C., no permanent seating, no kitchen, a leaky roof, etc. They reached out to a student rabbi to lead the services. A family education program was started for parents and young children.


It was announced that Joel Aaronson would be starting a Torah Study program on Saturday mornings. Joel also made a plea for a food drive to benefit those in the Ojai Valley who are in need of assistance. Hallie Katz (still one of our members) volunteered to take over the Newsletter, a position she subsequently held for several years.


They formed a Board of Directors early on, but it took them several months to come up with a full complement of Board members. The BOD members were David Feigin (Founder and President), David Howard, Bernie Huberman, Hallie Katz, June Loewy, Lev Mallinger, Joel Aaronson, Dan Komaiko, Judy Mize, and Karen Rubin. A few of the more important items that they dealt with included the following:


  1. They signed a one-year contract with a student rabbi named Peter Lee.

  2. At the beginning, they had received a total of $12,000 in pledges.

  3. They established a fund-raising goal of $100,000 to cover two years of operating expenses. (By November they had raised about half, and were redoubling their efforts to get the balance).

  4. Joel was appointed Chair of Religious Practices and Marlene Malin Chair of Children’s Education and Culture.

  5. Established a set of Bylaws.

  6. There is no heat in the building, as the heating unit needs repaired or replaced.

  7. They decided to have their first ever Passover Seder next Spring at the Soule Park Golf Course.


It was about this time, that the formal name of the synagogue was registered with the State of California as a domestic nonprofit corporation. The official number is C1886354. Four years later, the Corporation received the Federal designation as a 501c(3) nonprofit corporation by the U.S. government  under the sub-heading 501(a). The EIN number assigned was 77-0372982. 


In the ensuing few years, other things were added, including a Women’s Support group and an Interfaith Couples group. It was reported that they had 130 people at their first Seder!! 


In 1996, Joel (now the President) reported that they wanted to acquire a Torah, so they looked on the internet. “We found one available! A Navy base was being closed and the Jewish Chaplain was offering their Torah for sale. After confirming that it was in good condition, a Moroccan Sephardic woman from the Upper Ojai, Denise Wizeman, offered us the money to purchase it. And so, the miracle of our very own Torah came from the U.S. military. “What a country!”


During the period 1995 to 1998, there was a constant shortage of money, and a great deal of financial pressure to scrape together the funds needed to pay the bills.


In the Spring of 1998, 2 major changes took place. The rabbi that they had for 2 years decided to move to Israel, and a new President was elected. Her name is Arnel McAtee, and she was the first of several female presidents.


In the Spring of 1999, the opportunity came up to purchase the building that we are now in, and so the move across the street was made. It is noted that the ark that is on the Bimah was donated by Temple Beth Torah to the growing congregation. Bernie Huberman, along with his wife Trudy, was recognized for advancing the funds needed to make this acquisition. We remember them with great gratitude.

The purchase price was $200,000; with a $20,000 downpayment and the balance to be paid to the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church over 30 years at 7% interest. Eventually, it was decided to refinance the mortgage because interest rates had come down significantly. The mortgage balance (in 2023) is approximately $120,000.

In the latter part of the 20th Century, Sid and Sheila Cohn had moved permanently to Ojai. In the Spring of 2000, Sheila became the new President (she also served as the President again later). She put Sid in charge of finding more members (there were 68 at the time). By February of 2001, Sid had roped in another 30+ memberships, thus reaching his goal of 100. (It eventually declined but reached the 100 mark for a 2nd time in 2019 under Alan’s administration as President. Then the 2020 COVID virus reduced it below 100 again to about 80.)


Continuing with the impact that S & S made in the brief time that they had lived in Ojai, on December 1, 2001, a special ceremony was held honoring their 25th wedding anniversary. Their children acquired a unique Torah that was donated to the Temple in honor of their parents. It is over 300 years old, came from Yemen, and is written on goat skin, which makes it unusually heavy.

Looking back through the years, following is an indication of who was giving of their time to manage the affairs of the Temple. This information was gleaned from certain Boards of Directors’ minutes that have survived.


1997 thru 1999 – Joel Aaronson, Howard Hoos, David Farber, Judy Mize, Steve Marcus, Barbara Cannaday, Sammy Rand, Lawrence & Leticia Broida, Pearl Malos, Arnell McAtee, David Feigin, Hallie Katz.

                     (There were 23 students in the Sunday School!!)


1999 - Arnell McAtee, Pres., Ted & Pearl Malos, Sammy Rand, Sid & Sheila Cohn, David Feigin. Joel Aaronson, Hallie Katz, Allen Zusman, Steve Marcus


2000 thru 2002 - Sheila is now President., Arnell, Joel, Allen Zussman, Leila Kleiman, Bernie Huberman, Hallie, Barbara Aaronson, Susan DeCordova, Fred Rothenberg, Claudia Harrison, Bob Birk, Pearl Malos, Michael Shapiro,


2003 thru 2006 - Barbara Aaronson is President, Sheila is V.P., Margo 

Haas, Tony Hirsch, Eric Rosenbloom, Wendy Morgando, Pearl, Susan D., 

Leila, Bob Birk, John Gottesman, Ted & Pearl, Ira Heilveil, Ana Levin, 

Robert Levin, Tony Hirsch, Margo Haas, Lori Byer, Eric Rosenbloom.


Members known to be the President between 2007 and 2014 included:

Susan DeCordova, John Gottesman, and Sheila again.


In January 2005 the Board approved the first Bylaws which were amended in 2018 to allow membership to elect the Board of Directors on an annual basis.  In 2020, the Board further amended the Bylaws.


In 2008, things at the Temple were not going well, especially financially. This had been a problem for the past few years, and the Board members would usually end up taking money from their own pockets. Jerry Kaplan, who was a business consultant, called a meeting for all members at his house. About 35 members attended. He gave an impassioned plea for more organization, more energy, etc.







He suggested to start with the formation of 3 committees… Finance, Religious, and Programs. Those present were asked to sign up for these three committees.


However, after 4 or 5 months, the other two committees folded. Fred Rothenberg had volunteered for finance along with Alan Greenberg and Jeff Loebl. This committee appointed Fred as the Chair, and he has held that position ever since up to the present day (2023). He has consistently and diligently chaired meetings every month for the past 15+ years. This is more than 180 monthly committee meetings. Alan was the 2nd longest serving member of this committee. He was required to resign in 2018 when he became the President.


This new committee faced a financial deficit that seemed to be a consistent problem. The first thing the committee did was examine the budget and noticed that there was a $50,000 expenditure for a part time Rabbi and a part time Cantor. A search committee was appointed, and they found and hired a rabbi in L.A. for $28,000 who was a good singer and was willing to do both functions. The change was made. One problem with it was the new rabbi needed a place to sleep over on Friday night, and we could not afford a hotel. 


Alan and Valerie hosted him for several months but suffice it to state that that arrangement was not feasible long term.  Rabbi Michael Lotker succeeded this Rabbi and served for approximately five years  concurrently with his job as Rabbi for the Ventura County Jewish Federation. 


The second thing that the Finance committee did was to create a program that raised some significant money. They created a campaign named Pillars of the Temple. All were asked to make a donation beyond their dues of $3,000 per year for 3 years. Those who stepped up were Fred & Ila Rothenberg, Alan & Valerie, Michel Shapiro, Sid and Sheila Cohn, Susan DeCordova, Joel & Barbara Aaronson, Howard & Irene Hoos, and Bernie Huberman. There were 4 donors who committed to the 3 years but for lesser amounts. The total pledge was $108,000 over 3 years. 


This amount, plus the reduction of the Rabbi expense, immediately put the Temple on a stable footing. This program was repeated after 3 years, but the amount raised was about half as much. After the 6 years, the Temple has never again been in a significant fiscal crisis. One element that helped was the occasional increase in memberships, but that number has not been a steady upward climb. 

In 2012, a significant problem came up when the roof started to leak. A campaign was started to raise the $40,000 needed to replace the roof and paint the entire building. The goal was reached, and the work was completed in early 2013. 

In mid-2013, Jerry Kaplan was still dissatisfied with the lack of success from his 

efforts in 2008,  and he hand-selected 5 people that he wanted to head up a sort 

of Renaissance movement . His targets were Alan, Barbara Hirsch, David Cohn

(who had recently moved to Ojai), Michael Shapiro, and Ed Tennen. All agreed 

to be involved along with Jerry, but subsequently Ed moved away and Michael 

dropped out. Jerry said he was going to try one more time to create some energy 

at the Temple. (This time it worked.)


The remaining group of 3, plus Jerry, then spent several months taking 

surveys, doing research, interviewing individuals, consulting with Rabbi Lotker,

etc. After about 3 months, Jerry’s health started going downhill, and he was no

longer able to participate in the process. By the Spring  of 2014, this remaining 

threesome had finalized a very lengthy and detailed Strategic Plan and 

presented it to the President, John Gottesman, the Board, and the general 

membership for approval. The Board and the membership approved it in late

 May of 2014 without changing one word. Use this link to read the Strategic




Jerry passed away in 2018, but his last shot at it turned out to be the turning point in the success of the Temple. Alan led the effort that brought in about 35 new members in less than 3 years, which went a long way towards balancing the budget.


The major elements of the plan were:

  • A complete renovation of the facilities

  • Changing the name from K’Hilat Ha’Aloneem to Jewish Community of Ojai

  • Adding many committees, including Membership, Education, Religion, and Programming

  • Suggestions for modifying how dues is handled, how to enhance Shabbat services, increase our outreach to non-members, etc.

Alan was put in charge of raising the money and directing all phases of the remodeling. Ultimately, $230,000 was raised which, along with some smoke and mirrors, managed to be barely enough to complete all of the planned physical goals by the end of 2015, despite the challenges of getting the County to approve the plans without ruining our design and concepts. One outrageous example was the County advised Alan that there needed to be a handicap ramp from the top of the Social Hall stairs into the room. It has to be 24 feet long and 6 feet wide!!!!  Fortunately, that was finessed away with the County or the Social Hall could never have been created.

Special recognition must go to some members who donated their time and or money to the project. Without these people stepping up, there would not have been enough money to complete the project…


John Gottesman, a professional tile and granite floor installer, installed the floors in the entry foyer and both restrooms. He also brought with him a necessary professional helper who also volunteered his time. We provided the materials and a manual laborer to do the heavy work.


Barbara Hirsch, who served as the art liaison and lighting consultant, had a huge impact on the beautification of the sanctuary.


Sam Koreie, the owner of an electric supply company, donated ALL of the electrical equipment including fixtures, switches, and breaker boxes.


Marvin & Barbara Beck undertook to remodel the entire Bimah. They created a special backdrop on the wall behind the ark, revitalized the doors of the ark, repainted and enhanced the Eternal Light, made slip covers for the 8 chairs, the back bench, and the piano bench, and provided special air vent grills.


Martha White, who designs and sells kitchens, provided us all of the kitchen cabinets at her cost.


As the new fiscal year started in June of 2014, Jeff Weinstein volunteered to be the President and served a 2-year term. In 2014, Ron Sieger, From L.A. (310-837-2185) a Torah expert, was requested to appraise the 2 Torahs. One is 22 inches wide and is written on goat skin in Sephardic script. It is in good condition with some elements of water damage. This Torah was given to the Temple by Sid & Sheila’s children in honor of their parents. The other Torah is 15.5 inches wide and is written on parchment. It is in fair to poor condition.


In 2015, the Jewish Museum of New York City contacted local artist Susan Stinsmuehlen Amend, who had made 6 stained glass windows for the Museum in the early 1990’s. They were remodeling their restaurant, and the designer wanted to do something different. Susan asked us if we wanted them. Of course we did!! They crated and shipped them to us free of charge and paid the freight. The serendipity was that these windows were very close to the dimensions of our window openings.


This was during the remodeling process, and Alan had the contractor install them in the sanctuary in our existing window openings. Two were put on the North side and 4 on the South side. The reason for this instead of 3-3 was that two of them were about 4 inches narrower in width than the other 4. Alan then had shatter proof glass installed outside in all of the window openings to prevent malicious damage. He also had a pair of flood lights installed and directed at each opening in order to backlight the windows in the evenings. 


In early 2016, the completed Social Hall was unveiled with a special party. In mid-2016, David Cohn volunteered to be the new President for a 2-year term David brought on to his Board Sylvia Raz, John Allen, Pat Allen, Debbie Delamore, Lynn Goldfarb, Jerry Hittleman, Mario Cepeda, James Osher, and Alan. During this time, David spearheaded a successful campaign to purchase all new prayer books for the Sabbath as well as for the high holidays. 

In January 2017 David Feigin resigned as President and Pat Allen succeeded him, followed by Lynne Goldfarb. 


In May 2017 a new Board of Directors was seated, and they elected Alan as President, Tony Hirsch as V.P., Andrew Snett as Treasurer, and Sharon West as Secretary. The other BOD members were Jackie Sherman, Sheila Cohn, John Gottesman, Larry Steingold, and John Owens. Thus began a period of several additional improvements to our facility. Of course, the first order of business was to rewrite the Bylaws, and that was accomplished over the summer by a committee consisting of David Cohn, Jim Richman, Ted Miller, Herman Rush, and Alan. 


At the first new Board meeting, Alan presented to the Board a list of upgrades that he wanted the Board to approve, which they subsequently did. It included the following:

  1. A concerted and organized effort to increase membership. (Membership increased from 89 to 102 within the following year.)

  2. Re-visit the current budget and add several thousand dollars that is needed to upgrade our facility and provide money for other needs. 

  3. Re-start and re-populate the 12 committees.  

  4. Write the By-Laws for approval by the BOD and approval by the membership.  

  5. Put in place and enforce a new plan for the collection of dues.

  6. Consider asking members to contribute a small voluntary amount each year to begin building up a Contingency Fund for unexpected major expenses. (Implemented at year’s end and continued every year. As of 2023, $35,000 had been collected for this fund. So far, there has been no need to spend any of this money.)

  7. Increase attendance at Friday evening services. (3 new strategies were employed.)

  8. Outside in the front, remove 1 tree and plant 3 new ones for those that had died. 

  9. Have Susan Amend create 2 more stained glass windows in order to make it an even 8, 4 on each side. (This was made possible by donations from Bernie Huberman and Alan’s 2 sons.) 

  10. Purchase 6 chandeliers from Alan’s Shule in New Castle, Pa. as it was closing down. (3 were installed and the other 3 are in our attic storage if anyone knows someone who can use them.)

  11. Bring the Seder back to our own building. (We had Seders “at home” for 120 people.)

  12. Replace the furniture in the Social Hall. (A lovely seating area for 8 was purchased along with an area rug. Members are encouraged to come to the Temple at any time, relax in the seating area, and enjoy drinks from the refrigerator.)

  13. Re-visit and upgrade the Strategic Plan  

  14. Re-visit and upgrade the Culture Statement. 

  15. Collate and organize all of the historical records and put them on a CD. David Cohn has much of the material. Also, Alan found a wealth of papers and Bulletins from the 1990’s strewn about the attic floor. (Since then Ira Levin, with Alan’s help, has started the effort to put all documents onto a disk.)

  16. Make a Friday evening service dedicated to Barbara & Marvin Beck for their tremendous efforts to upgrade the Bimah. (This event was on June 29, 2018.)

  17. Also, one for Jerry Kaplan, but we believe he is too infirm to attend. We will figure out a way to thank Jerry for all that he did to start the Renaissance in 2013. Jerry became ill less than half-way through, but Barbara Hirsch, David Cohn, and Alan continued the work to create the Strategic Plan and execute it.

  18. Establish a fast action phone committee for when we want to reach out personally to the members. The primary purpose is when the attendance response has not been particularly good for an event, to call everyone to encourage participation. If we have about 15 volunteers at the ready, then no one would have to make more than 4 or 5 calls. This system was very effective to bring out more participation.

  19. Pave the 5-foot border behind our building (East side).

  20. Install an auxiliary wall-mounted air conditioner in the Social Hall.

  21. Decide who is responsible for maintenance of the entire facility, both maintenance and usage. (Ted Malos and Alan.)

It is worth noting that a program was started that provided members with a notification of an upcoming Yahrzeit. It was free, and all they had to do was register with the website and provide the details of their dearly departed. The purpose of this was to attract more attendance at Friday evening services. Essentially, all of the above was accomplished with more improvements coming down the road. 

During this first year of Alan’s presidency, we brought in Rabbi Lisa Bock to take the place of Rabbi Michael Lotker, who had been with us for about 5 years but decided to retire. Rabbi Lotker was very well liked, and we were sad that he decided to leave us. On the other hand, Rabbi Lisa was well-received and she is still with as of this writing (November, 2023). 

This Board also created a mission statement during its first year. It is: 

“To nurture an inclusive and compassionate Jewish community through worship, education, social action, and celebration.”

Right after the first year of this Board, in June of 2019, the Temple celebrated its 25th Anniversary, since it was founded in 1994. A gala weekend celebration was put on, and it was very well-attended and highly successful. In conjunction with the celebration, the Board created a way to honor those members who, down through the years, had given so much of themselves to the Temple.  They were named as “Treasures of the Temple”. 

A plaque is on the back wall of the sanctuary the states: ”These members consistently gave many years of their time and effort to sustain and improve the viability of our synagogue.” Listed on the plaque are:

Barbara & Joel Aaronson

Bob Birk

Sheila & Sid Cohn

David Feigin

John Gottesman

Bernie Huberman

Jerry Kaplan

Pearl & Ted Malos

Fred Rothenberg

Glori Young

In 2022, 2 more names were added by the Board of Directors to this plaque:


Alan Greenberg upon the conclusion of his 4-year term as President


Jeff Maxson, who constantly was called upon to make improvements to the Temple, particularly when it came to technical and electronic issues.


During 2019, a great amount of research and effort was put forth to increase the security of our building, with particular emphasis for safety while our people are in the building. Many weak spots were strengthened, although they cannot be listed here for obvious reasons. The total amount that was spent was about $15,000, and the resulting protections were very effective. 


The quantity of Temple memberships was adversely affected by the COVID virus that raced through the United States in 2020 and 2021.


During 2021, it was decided to renovate the back parking lot as it was in dreadful condition. We also observed that the plaques on the pews were not easy to read due to the odd angle of the seatbacks on which they were originally installed. We replicated every plaque and placed them on a better section of the seatbacks, and that made them quite easy to read. A complete chart of the location of each plaque was made up, and that is in a binder located on the bench in the back of the sanctuary.


During 2019 through 2022, there were, of course, some changes of the Board members, although Alan, Andrew, and Sharon remained in their respective offices during the entire 4 years. Some of the other Board members who served during this time included Cecilia Starin, Debe Bloom, Janet Owens, Shlomo Raz, Leah Hecker, Stephanie Goldie-Brasacchio, Miriam Rosen, and Ira Levin. Cecilia relieved Tony of the position of 2020 and Debe became the V.P. in 2021. 


In general, the Temple was on a solid financial footing during this 4-year period, despite the fact the there was no increase in the dues, and there was also no increase planned for 2022-2023. The dues during this period (and for several previous years) were $880 for a family, $720 for a couple, and $460 for a single member. 


It is worth mentioning again that, from 2008 until 2023, Fred Rothenberg has served continuously as the Chair of the Finance Committee. He also served as our web expert for many years until 2022, when he was pleased to step down and be replaced by Leah Hecker and Ira Levin, who have done a remarkable job of upgrading and modernizing the weekly “Blast” and also publishing other notices, etc. by email.


Despite the success of holding Passover Seders in our own building, Sheila Cohn, who is our Seder maven, decided to go back to the golf course for Seders during the past few years. 


During the 4 years of 2018-2022, there were many things that took place that are worth mentioning. They include (1) acquiring a fire-proof filing cabinet to store the valuable documents and items (many thanks to Larry Steingold for donating this), (2) the installation of a large 3-piece wall hanging in the Social Hall that was given on indefinite loan by member and artist Pamela Grau, (3) presenting regular and High Holiday services on Zoom starting in 2020 with the able assistance of Rick Bloom, (4) the creation of a variety of brochures including an introduction to the Temple and a revised and expanded description of the stained-glass windows, (5) continuing the 4 months per year program of Feeding the Homeless, (6) the start-up of a Saturday morning Torah Study session (Rick again!), (7) and annual food drives to feed less fortunate families in the Valley.


Also during this time period there were several very successful social and cultural events including a concert by baritone Samuel DePalma, an Oscar party, a cello concert, and a Welcome Back party after the worst of the COVID virus. 


It is also noteworthy that we engaged the services of Cantor Mitzi Schwartz to enhance the experience of occasional Shabbat services. And it must be recognized that, for the past 5 years, we have received a generous year-end annual donation of $5,000 from the Bernie Huberman Foundation.


In May of 2022, Alan chaired his last traditional Annual Meeting. Alongside of him were 2 other officers who had been in office with him for the past 4 years, namely Sharon West and Andrew Snett. One of the telling statistics that Alan announced during this meeting was that, during the past 3 years, we lost a total of 45 members due to the COVID virus, members passing away, and members moving out of Ojai.  We did acquire 15 new members during the same period.


The officers of the Board who had served for the past 4 consecutive years were required to step down due to the 4-year restriction in the new Bylaws. As is required at every Annual Meeting, a new Board was elected by the membership at large at this meeting, and this Board then elected the following officers: Debe Bloom as President, Ira Levin as V.P., Stephanie Goldie-Brasacchio as Secretary, and Fred Rothenberg as Treasurer. The other Board members were Tony Hirsch, Shlomo Raz, Sharon West, Larry Steingold, Kelly Levin, and David Cohn.

And this brings us to the current day, in the hope that future members will continue to come together , adding their story to ours and to help grow, intertwine and deepen our roots in our Ojai Valley.

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