University Synagogue, Wilshire Boulevard Temple Announce a Merger

The University Synagogue Board of Trustees and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) Board of Trustees have made the decision to merge the Los Angeles congregations into one in a preliminary agreement announced November 6.

This expansion plan will create a future Reform Jewish synagogue at the current University Synagogue location in Brentwood, which will take on the new name the Wilshire Boulevard Temple University Campus. The Erika J. Glazer Family Campus and Irmas Campus will still remain in use.

Both congregations share a long, proud history and a deep commitment to Reform Judaism and Tikkun Olam. Between the two congregations, they serve more than 2700 family units.

According to spokespeople at WBT and University Synagogue, both synagogues communicated the news of this preliminary agreement to their respective communities on the evening of November 5.

Following the merger, and once donations are secured, the University Campus will “undergo significant renovation to enable members of both synagogues to worship and celebrate together for generations to come,” a statement sent to the Journal said.

Spokespeople also told the Journal that “all University Synagogue staff and clergy contracts will be honored and virtually all staff will be integrated into Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s administrative structure.”

WBT Rabbi Steve Leder told the Journal that over the past several months he has been impressed and grateful for the University Synagogue’s leadership. He also said he feels optimistic about the possibilities.

“Between our two communities which will become one community, we will have the physical space and spiritual wherewithal to create a vibrant center for Jewish life from the 405 to the ocean,” Leder told the Journal via email. “I am particularly keen on filling the early childhood center and religious school to capacity so that over the coming years we have hundreds more families with young children learning to love the Torah and their synagogue.”

“Between our two communities which will become one community, we will have the physical space and spiritual wherewithal to create a vibrant center for Jewish life from the 405 to the ocean.” — Rabbi Steve Leder

Leder noted that WBT currently has to turn religious school families away from the West Side Irmas Campus due to licensing limits. “Now,” he added “we will be able to keep many more of those families engaged in Jewish life. Through this merger, everyone wins.”

Discussions about the merger began in April, when the University Synagogue Board of Trustees appointed multiple committees to explore options with three goals in mind: preserving the traditional values and practices of the University Synagogue community, retaining employment for staff and clergy, and restoring vibrancy to the community. They added that after months of exploration, it was determined that a merger with Wilshire Boulevard Temple provided a “historic opportunity to promote Reform Judaism on the Westside of Los Angeles while maintaining the familiar Sunset Boulevard building that holds so many memories for congregants.”

Synagogue communication spokespeople added “while the coronavirus pandemic is not responsible for University Synagogue’s current situation, it has magnified problems and accelerated the need for action.”

The combined congregation will serve the growing Reform movement on the West Side and will provide resources for worship and celebrations, as well as expanding preschool, religious school, youth events, and adult programs.

Leder added that the Irmas Campus is “inadequate for our needs,” with limited space for classrooms or adult programs and parking. He noted that the University Campus allows for both congregations to grow while building on its sanctuary and small chapel. “We will use every inch of the University Campus to engage more people and bring more Jewish content and community to all,” he said.

University Synagogue Co-Presidents Fern Topas Salka and Jennifer Haarmann told the Journal in a statement, “This is an exciting new chapter in the history of our congregation that will allow us to remain in our building, make long overdue renovations, benefit from Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s extensive resources and continue to worship and celebrate together as a synagogue family for generations to come.”

The merger is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021. They are waiting for pending approval by a University Synagogue congregational vote, which is set to take place in coming weeks, in addition to California Attorney General approval.

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