On May 5, Congregation Sha’arei Am, the Santa Monica Synagogue, celebrates 25 years of service to the Jewish and Santa Monica communities.
Located in a modest building on 18th Street and Broadway, the synagogue is an intimate place that prides itself on not being “your parent’s synagogue.” Founded by a small group of families who wanted an alternative to traditional Jewish temples, the Synagogue today has a congregation of 230 families. At services, only some of the men wear yarmulkes (skull caps), prayer books feature hymns written in both Hebrew and English characters and the cantor, Steve Hummel, provides guitar accompaniment to the songs, some of which he composes.
Rabbi Jeffrey Marx, who has led services at Sha’arei Am for most of its existence, likes to describe the synagogue’s unique events. For example, there is the “Tashlich” ceremony performed at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Traditionally, Jews go to the ocean (if there is an ocean or other body of water nearby) and cast their sins into it. Sha’arei Am’s congregants go to the Santa Monica Beach every year on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah and cast their sins into the sea together.
“We started this 22 years ago,” says Rabbi Marx. “One year we had a scuba diver come out of the ocean and everyone wrote their sins on pieces of paper and put them in a bag for the diver to take back into the ocean.”
Another unusual activity for the synagogue is the organizing of camping trips. “Imagine Jews camping!” laughs Rabbi Marx. But then again, he adds, the Israelites “camped out” in the Sinai desert some 3000 years ago – with Moses.
Sha’arei Am also gives back to the community. “Over the years, we’ve participated in local community activities. We’ve served food at the Turning Point shelter. I was recently in the group to help choose the new chief of police.”
Other activities at the Synagogue include an annual progressive dinner for welcoming new members, a communal Passover service and the preschool “Bagels and Blocks” program. There’s even a “Tot Shabbat” service early Friday evenings for preschoolers and their parents, at which toddlers confess their weekly “mitzvahs” (good deeds).
Congregation Sha’arei Am’s 25th anniversary celebration will be on the evening of May 5. For information about the place and time, call the synagogue at 310.453.4276.