Home April 2012 Light Up the Casbah

Light Up the Casbah

When Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine holds its annual gala dinner, Light Up the Casbah, there will be plenty to celebrate.  In a little more than a year, the modern Orthodox congregation in Irvine has built a mikvah, purchased the property adjacent to the building it has called home since the early 1990s, refurbished two buildings to comfortably house the Ashkenazic and Sephardic minyans of the synagogue, added a tent-like structure to serve as a social hall and opened a new Jewish Montessori preschool, the first of its kind in Orange County.
The event, slated for Sunday, April 22, at 5:30 p.m., is a celebratory fundraiser that enables Beth Jacob to continue its vital programs and activities, according to co-chairs Lisa Bogart and Hilary Buff Greenwood.  It will honor longtime members Melvyn and Marda Kahn and Paul Vann, Warren and Nicole Morten with the Young Leadership Award and Karin Hepner with the Adina Kaufman Eishet Chayil Award.
South African natives Melvyn and Marda Kahn joined Beth Jacob as founding members soon after arriving in Irvine by way of Houston.  They described Beth Jacob as “the nucleus of our lives” and a place of “warmth and support.”  They said that Rabbi Yisroel Ciner is “the glue that holds it together.”
Marda Kahn has been active in many areas ranging from visiting the sick both in home and in hospital, delivering  mishloach manot  baskets almost every year, assisting with the setting up of the tables for the seudah every Shabbat afternoon and working as a voluntary substitute teacher for Olam Preschool.
Melvyn Kahn, a partner in a chain of lighting stores, contributes all the lighting and light bulb requirements to the congregation on an ongoing basis.  “It has been my pleasure to keep the shul in light, and I will continue to provide this service indefinitely,” he said.  In addition, the loss of his mother and year of saying Kaddish three times daily taught him the importance of a minyan, and he tries to be part of one as often as possible to help others fulfill  their mitzvah.
Vann, a former president of Beth Jacob, explained that the center of his family’s life when he was growing up in the Bronx was “family, our shul and the yeshiva.  Judaism, family, extended family and friends were all intertwined as one unit.  So it was only natural that when I married and had a family that the shul would continue to be a central part of my family’s life.”
He added, “Beth Jacob is the center of the universe for the modern Orthodox Jewish community in Orange County.  It is a welcoming, warm and loving environment for both long-term members and new members of the community — a place to celebrate simchas, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and brisses and a place of support in time of need.”
Excited about how Beth Jacob has transformed itself from a small group of people holding services in a room of a bowling alley to a full-scale congregation in the last 26 years, Vann believes that the future for Beth Jacob is unlimited.  “With the volunteer spirit that emanates from our membership there is nothing but a bright future for the Beth Jacob family,” he said.
Warren and Nicole (Nikki) Morten, Johannesburg and Seattle natives, respectively, met in law school in 2003 and have seldom been apart since.  Married in 2007, they have organized synagogue barbeques, kiddush prep, Lag B’omer festivities and special events.
Warren has been serving on the executive board of the synagogue since 2010, first as treasurer and most recently as vice president.  During that time, the shul has expanded – both physically in terms of the newly purchased building, in which he volunteered to complete all the legal transactional requirements of closing on the new building that houses the Olam Montessori and Sfardi Sanctuary, the beautiful social hall tent, and the renovated Ashkanizi sanctuary; and in terms of growth in synagogue membership.
Nikki is currently involved in the synagogue’s youth programming efforts, and serves as the youth task force committee liaison.  Both Warren and Nikki enjoy hosting Shabbat and Yom Tov meals in their home.
The Mortens “truly appreciate the amazingly diverse community that Beth Jacob Irvine gathers together.”  They said, “This congregation is truly special, and it is the diverse array of unique, wonderful people that make it that way.”
Karin Hepner expects that “Beth Jacob will transform Irvine to become one of the great destinations for modern Orthodoxy.”  She attributes the “incredible growth” in the congregation in large part to the guidance of Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, who “is a scholar and teacher to everyone young and old.”
A native of White Plains, New York, Hepner moved to Los Angeles in 1996 when she married her husband, Absalom.  Both attended UCLA: he was in medical school, and she was getting her Ph.D. in molecular biology, doing cancer research.  Five children later, “the test tubes are collecting dust while I am cleaning dirty diapers,” she quipped.
The Hepners have used their connections in the medical field to help those in need in the community.  “It has been an honor to help extraordinary families, some of whom have fought extraordinary battles,” Karin Hepner said.  “We have heroes among us.  Truth be told, I have gained far more from the amazing moments with these amazing people than I have given to them.”
Hepner believes that at Beth Jacob “every member is cherished.  Every new face is welcomed.  When an individual is in need, there is an instant mobilization and an unstoppable outpouring. I believe that the chesed in the Beth Jacob community is unique.”
For information on the event, contact Beth Jacob Congregation at (949) 786-5230.

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