After 40 years of housing in a double set of “temporary” trailers, the new, modern, 13,000-square-foot Asa Learning Center is coming to fruition with dedication planned for early fall. The new building, replacing the old which had no bathrooms or running water, will feature eleven classrooms with movable walls, a computer room, youth lounge, library, individual offices for the rabbi, cantor and temple administrator, a choir room, reception area, and memorial garden. “And,” added Miriam Van Raalte, administrator and director of education, “water in each classroom!”
According to Van Raalte, “Our challenge is to seize the opportunity to be a beacon for all Jews in North Orange County. Our planners wished that those who enter enjoy enlarged access to spaces for worship, study,
programs, and community gatherings that meet the expectation of the 21st century. We planned a building that would be respected by the Jewish community and local neighborhood, with a full program for children and adults, both religious and secular, a center of spiritual, cultural and intellectual growth.”
Rabbi Kenneth Milhander explained, “Throughout Jewish history, communities have survived and flourished when one generation plants for the next.” In that tradition of keeping Jewish community alive, all the old building materials were donated to a school in Mexico, and the new furniture was purchased from Morasha School in Rancho Santa Margarita when it closed.
The building honors Rabbi Emeritus Haim and Elaine Asa in recognition of their dedication to social justice and learning. In accepting this honor, Rabbi Asa stated, “This is the highest honor that Elaine and I could have received, because we both value learning as the basis for the continuation of our faith and traditions, which for us is the survival of Judaism. My hope is that the center will become the focus of Jewish learning in Northern Orange County.”
“If all the Jews were like Rabbi Haim Asa, the moshiach would come tomorrow,” radio talk show personality Dennis Prager declared at the January 2009 fundraising dinner honoring the rabbi.
Kickoff began in October 2004, at the temple’s fortieth anniversary. The groundbreaking utilized a golden shovel that will be housed in the dedication wall.
Highlighting the project will be a Holocaust memorial, Garden of the Righteous, “a living memorial to the millions who have no final resting place, remembering those who died just because they were Jews and the righteous who tried to help.” It will feature an Eternal Flame and water flowing from a Jewish star, descending down center steps: Resolve, Reflect, Remember. It resolves that the Holocaust will Never Again happen by educating both children and adults and reflects upon the tragic consequences of hate and indifference. Included will be the names of the concentration camps, the cities where the temple’s Holocaust Torahs originated, and the country of Bulgaria for its role in rescuing the Jews.
“This will be the only holocaust memorial of its kind in the Orange County community,” said Rabbi Milhander. “We plan to provide Holocaust education programs to the general public and be a source of education for all people. All of us here at Temple Beth Tikvah are very excited for our new building, but it is the people who come and what happens inside the walls that are our primary focus.”
The building also reflects Rabbi Asa’s everlasting admonition to repair the world every day through acts of tikkun olam. He was the recipient of the World Union’s first annual Schulner Award, created in memory of Lawrence M. Schulner, a Los Angeles-area resident and longtime advocate for Reform Judaism, social justice, religious pluralism, philanthropic vision, and tikkun olam.
Rabbi Asa has spent a lifetime fighting injustice in Argentina, Europe, and Israel. A Bulgarian Holocaust refugee, he fought in Israel’s War of Independence and later became a leader of the Reform community in Buenos Aires as co-founder of Congregation Emanu-El. In later years he fought the Argentine authorities to save a Jewish university student and rescued a Romanian refugee from Turkish authorities. Rabbi Asa explained as he accepted the award, “My tikkun olam is not limited to our people but rather to all who need my help.”
The Learning Center is a tribute to the gathering of all who have given tirelessly of their time, talents, and energy for the last six years to its creation. Funded solely by private donations with a goal of 100-percent participation, there will be dedication opportunities at every level. This continues the temple tradition when, in 1981, congregants participated in helping to assemble the wall for the Ark, collectively “Building our own sanctuary.” There will be plaques at each room and in August, before the flooring is laid, as part of the foundation, children will have the opportunity to write their names, so they will feel “a part of my new building,” Van Raalte said. There will also be dedication bricks in two sizes in the sidewalk at the entry of the parking lot.
The building’s construction of pre-assembled steel beams has utilized the talents of temple members. Co-chaired by Henry Cohen and Lila Pesner and actively supported by immediate past president Greg Weitzman, the seed for the plan was originally conceived at lunch, Miriam said, “on the back of a California Pizza Kitchen placemat.” Building manager Joe Bloomfield of GlowZone Inc. has supervised construction, and flooring has been coordinated by Yoram Mimun.
Contractor Ron Duchaincau describes the interior featuring warm earth tones, repeated in the exterior stucco decorated with Jerusalem stone. Architect is Richard Crane of Crane Architecural Group.
For more information, contact Temple Beth Tikvah, 1600 North Acacia Avenue, Fullerton CA 92831; phone: (714) 871-3535; web: www.templebethtikvah.com.