Temple Ahavat Shalom was organized in 1965 when the North Valley Reform Temple of Granada Hills merged with Temple Beth Torah of Arleta. The sale of the latter congregation’s land enabled the purchase of property at the corner of Chimineas Ave. and Rinaldi St. in Northridge. The name chosen by the new congregation combined the Hebrew words for Love and Peace – Temple Ahavat Shalom.
In 1973, a permanent building was erected at the south end of the property. It was named the Martyrs Building, in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.
In that same year, Rabbi Solomon F. Kleinman (z”l) became the rabbi at TAS. He brought enormous energy and experience in community affairs, having served for eight years as Regional Director of the Union for Reform Judaism.
During the early 1970s, Temple Ahavat Shalom held High Holy Day services at the neighboring Church of the Latter Day Saints at White Oak Ave. and Rinaldi St. in Granada Hills. The LDS leadership was always very cordial. However, it was imperative that a much larger permanent sanctuary-social hall complex was needed. Life for us and other Jews in the North Valley would be greatly enhanced through this undertaking. Under Rabbi Kleinman’s (z”l) inspired leadership, capital fundraising and architectural committees were established under the slogan, “The Possible Dream.” This dream was realized with the completion of a beautiful and functional new facility in time for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the Fall of 1978.
Several years later, the congregation embarked upon the successful Pillar of Light Campaign, to complete the sanctuary with stained glass, eternal light, and ark, all of which were designed by artist Joseph Young. Within the ark is a Torah that survived the Holocaust and was brought to Temple Ahavat Shalom following its restoration. The original ark that was brought to Temple Ahavat Shalom from Temple Beth Torah was designed and crafted by founding member Irv Reizes and still resides in our Chapel/Library.
In the years of Rabbi Kleinman’s (z”l) tenure, TAS established a new preschool and, then as now, offered Sunday and Hebrew school for children from K through 12. Under Rabbi Kleinman (z”l) there were adult retreats, several scholar-in-residence weekends, and a deep commitment to social action. Most significantly, TAS sponsored a Vietnamese family in their resettlement in Los Angles. The congregation also embraced Project Yachad to help free Soviet Jewry from communist oppression. With the congregation’s assistance, several families were settled in the U.S. or in Israel. Rabbi Kleinman (z”l) remained actively engaged in congregational life following his retirement in 1986. He passed away on October 9, 2015 at age 95.
Rabbi Jerry Brown came to our pulpit in the summer of 1986. He brought youthful energy and his own unique vision to the congregation. Once again, congregational life was in danger of being constricted by lack of a modern educational facility. Rabbi Brown inspired the membership and lay leadership to undertake the building of a beautiful, modern school complex, which includes brightly lit, highly functional classrooms and an activity center. Rabbi Brown grew our congregation to 700 families, oversaw the opening of our school building, changed our services to reflect modern thought, taught many classes with dynamic vigor, and interested the congregation in new topics, including interfaith activity. He became renowned for his Purim services. His costume epics included the “Shleppers,” a take-off on the Beatles, and a showstopper as Diana Ross and the Supremes. After 23 years, Rabbi Brown retired in 2009.
In 1986 a new cantor was hired: Cantor Patti Linsky a talented soprano with great musical gifts. She plays the guitar and the keyboard and is a recognized recording artist. She received her Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Miami, and her Cantorial Certification from the Hebrew Union College’s School of Sacred Music in New York. Her work supporting our Reform movement both locally and nationally is widely respected. Her voice enhanced our services and deepened our liturgy. Cantor Linsky retired and became our Cantor Emerita in 2010, the same year Cantor Jen Roher moved from Toledo, Ohio to become our cantor and choir director.
Cantor Roher started taking piano lessons from her mother at age 2. She studied the piano in high school, “but never to the point of aspiring to a career as a classical pianist,” she says. Cantor Roher enrolled in the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., as a vocal performance major before transferring after two years to the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford. She graduated with a degree in music education in January 2000 and received a master’s degree in Sacred Music from the Hebrew Union College’s School of Sacred Music in New York in May 2004 and then was ordained as a Cantor in May 2005. Prior to joining the clergy team at Temple Ahavat Shalom in 2010 she served as the Cantor for The Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim in Toledo. In June 2016, Cantor Roher left TAS to pursue other interests.
Cantor Kenneth Cohen became our cantor on July 1, 2016. He joined the TAS family after serving for several years at a Conservative congregation in Santa Monica. Cantor Cohen grew up in and around New York City. He graduated from Harpur College of Arts & Sciences on the State University of New York’s Binghamton campus, where he received degrees in History (B.A.) and Ethnomusicology (M.A.), then was ordained as a cantor by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He pursued a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at New York University, studying the Sephardic Jewish communities in Brooklyn. Cantor Cohen is the recipient of an honorary doctorate in Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
In 2008 Rabbi Barry M. Lutz became our Senior Rabbi. Rabbi Lutz, who came to Temple Ahavat Shalom in 1984 as our Director of Education, brings a youthful vigor to our pulpit. Rabbi Lutz was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1999. He holds a master’s degree and honorary doctorate in Jewish Education from HUC and an M.S. in Educational Psychology from USC. Raised in the Reform Movement, Rabbi Lutz brings a particular passion for contemporary Jewish music to the community. He regularly participates in the leading of worship with his own guitar.
Among his proudest accomplishments are our nationally recognized Confirmation program, community trips to Israel and Eastern Europe, and 11th grade social justice experience in Washington D.C. . Rabbi Lutz has taken our congregation into the 21st century with programs such as Synaplex services, which include a variety of activities for every age group. The classes, films, lectures and experiential sessions of the Synaplex weekends enhance Shabbat and attract many new worshipers.
Rabbi Lutz has engaged the members in a renewed commitment to social action and as a caring community. The congregation has developed extensive, long-term relationships with organizations that are addressing important issues and human needs, such as poverty and social services; housing and homelessness; hunger; the environment; international human rights; and Israel. Temple Ahavat Shalom has partnered with the SOVA Food Bank, MEND (Meeting Each Need with Dignity), LA Family Housing, and Jewish World Watch (JWW). At a Tikkun Olam (rebuilding/repairing our world) effort in October 2009, TAS hosted a “Feed the Hungry” project at the West Valley Jewish Community Center. Following two years of planning, TAS received a $20,000 grant, which allowed for this project. There were 400 volunteers from TAS and several other congregations who packaged 35,000 meals, sealed and boxed them, and sent them on to SOVA for distribution to those in need in our community.
Rabbi Lutz and his wife Debbie have three adult children who grew up in the Ahavat Shalom community. Rabbi Lutz and Debbie’s oldest son, Adam, is now an ordained rabbi in the Reform movement.
Associate Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik has long been a familiar face to many at TAS, as she has been active in our congregation as both a rabbi and a congregant. In fact, she grew up at TAS and was consecrated and confirmed here (you can find her 1977 consecration photo in the school office). Rabbi Shawna, a UCLA graduate, was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2002 and ever since has been associated with TAS. Rabbi Shawna leads our Tuesday morning Torah study group, teaches Adult Education classes, coordinated our efforts to install a solar Ner Tamid, and leads our monthly Torah on the Trail nature walk. Rabbi Shawna and her husband Isaac have three daughters in our religious school, and she has written about her experience with the exciting Tot Shabbat celebrated at our wonderful Early Childhood Education Center for a new book. Rabbi Shawna is also on the summer faculty at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA.
During more than 50 years in Northridge, we at Temple Ahavat Shalom have retained our character as an authentic, connected and inclusive community. We are a caring, intergenerational congregation, welcoming all members of the community, including families, singles, young adults, seniors, same-sex couples, and interfaith couples. Lifelong friendships have been formed while celebrating Judaism in all its richness.