Why California just gave $ 15 million to 100-year-old Breed Street Shul – The Forward

A crumbling synagogue in a neighborhood long ago abandoned by the Jewish community has just received millions of dollars from the state of California. At a time when the state urgently needs affordable housing, homeless help and drought aid, you might ask yourself: “A synagogue?”

On August 10, the Breed Street Shul Project announced that California’s recently approved 2021 budget includes a $ 14.9 million allocation for the restoration of the historic Breed Street Shul in the Boyle Heights neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles.

Proponents of generosity say the money pays a lot more than the renovation of an old school.

The money, said Stephen Sass, president of the Breed Street Shul Project, will not only renew a “culturally iconic historic” building, but will encourage collaboration among Jewish, Latin American and other minority communities in Boyle Heights and across the city.

“It’s going to be a truly transformative project,” he said.

At a news conference held outside the fenced school on Tuesday, Sass said the newly announced funds – which will be allocated to the Breed Street Shul project through a fiscal representative, as is the case with this type of government allocation – are helping become the long-time closed property in a multi-purpose social service and cultural space, one with a common work area for non-profit organizations; an event and event location; and an exhibition and gallery space focused on the unique history of Shul and the diverse heritage of Boyle Heights.

“The building has so much extraordinary potential and an infusion of resources that it felt like the right time to make a move,” said Jesse Gabriel, California State Assembly member who led the effort to secure state funds.

Another good reason for the stroke of luck? California has money – a historic budget surplus of an estimated $ 75.7 billion has given lawmakers an opportunity to remove a few items from their wish-lists.

Jesse Gabriel speaks at an August 10 press conference announcing a $ 14.9 government grant to restore Breed Street Shul.  by the striker

Courtesy Office of Congregation …

From left: Rep. Jesse Gabriel (at the lectern) was one of several elected officials and community leaders at a news conference on Aug. 10 announcing a $ 14.9 government grant for the restoration of Breed Street Shul.

The Breed Street Shul Project was one of many organizations to receive government grants in the 2021 budget. The state went from “a massive deficit to a really large surplus due to higher than expected revenues and we are trying to raise money to the organizations that support our communities,” said Gabriel, chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

Breed Street Shul, also known as the Talmud Torah Congregation, was once the largest Orthodox community west of Chicago. Today, the 18,000-square-foot Byzantine Revival building with a Jewish star above the main entrance is a holdover from a bygone era, a time from the 1920s to the 1950s when Eastern European Jewish immigrants populated the area alongside Latinos, Japanese, and undeclared-class neighbors.

During the aftermath of World War II, Jews began to migrate west from Los Angeles towards Fairfax and the San Fernando Valley, and Boyle Heights became a largely Latino neighborhood.

In the 1980s, Breed Street Shul fell into disrepair due to the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake and the negligent management of an Orthodox rabbi who took control of the building.

After the expropriation of the building in 1999, the Breed Street Shul Project spent years seeking support for the restoration of the synagogue and its conversion into a community center for the surrounding population.

For Sass and others, Breed Street Shul is not a symbol of an ethnic enclave, but of a diverse community that serves as a model of American democracy.

Boyle Heights shows that “multiethnic communities are the norm in the United States,” George J. Sánchez, author of “Boyle Heights: How a Los Angeles Neighborhood Became the Future of American Democracy” (UC Press, 2021). said in a public conversation with the forward. “Sometimes that is hidden from us when it is in front of us.”

In 2001 the building, whose dilapidated interior is adorned with rare frescoes of the zodiac, was added to the National Registry of Historic Landmarks.

In endorsing the funding, Gabriel, whose 45th district encompasses much of the western San Fernando Valley, worked with Congregation MP Miguel Santiago, whose 53rd district includes parts of Boyle Heights.

The two met years ago at an interfaith Passover seder in the Talmud Torah of the Breed Street Shul. The building behind the main synagogue, built in 1915, served as the school’s original home and has hosted community programs for several years. The main building – the Byzantine structure – required major repairs and fundraising.

Gabriel said the approval of the funds presents a rare opportunity for unity in times of division.

“At a time in our politics when many people want to divide us, we have to consciously create places where people come together,” he said. “And this is a place that will serve as a bridge and meeting point for communities.”

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