Temple Adat Elohim
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Temple Adat Elohim History - In the Beginning ...


Temple life flows like a river. It meanders on its course and our lives flow with it. We are there for great life milestones, births, b’nei mitzvah, weddings, and funerals. We gather to celebrate, we gather to mourn, we gather to pray, and we gather sometimes just for companionship. We are members for a year, five years, ten years, or a lifetime and through it all temple life flows, following the course of our lives. This is true today just as it was true in 1967.
It was in the year 1967 that our river began to flow In the beginning”, these are the words of Audrey Benesch, the temple's longest standing member and Ed Pauley, the first president of our congregation. I was so fortunate to meet and interview Ed shortly before he passed away.
“We were too young and stupid to know that it was impossible....” said Ed Pauley as he leaned across the table at Coffee Bean and smiled. In his eighties now, but for that instant I saw the young, determined man who with his wife Esdra and 15 other families made the first step to found a reform temple in the Conejo Valley. They had all recently moved out to the Conejo Valley and like Jewish People have done throughout history, sought a bond with fellow Jews to gather for prayer, fellowship and a Jewish education for their children. The only problem was that in 1967, the nearest reform temple was Temple Beth Torah in the city of Ventura.
“It was quite a drive back in 1967,” Ed remembered. “The 101 freeway was very different than it is today. There were no red lights or gradual entrance ramps. You waited for an opening and charged onto the freeway. Then you had about an hour-long drive to Ventura. A lot of it was two lanes, so if there was traffic.”
Sitting back on the couch in her living room Audrey Benesch also remembered. For years Audrey and her husband Bernie, of blessed memory, were very active members of Temple Adat Elohim. Even today, Audrey remains a strong temple presence. She is a remarkable woman who has truly been the heart and soul of Temple Adat Elohim for forty years. Her enthusiasm has never wavered. Always involved, working quietly in the background, she is a walking history of the temple, recalling the minutest details of those early days. Audrey and Bernie had moved out to Thousand Oaks in the early sixties….“When we moved out here with our kids we immediately started looking for a temple to join. We were reform Jews and Temple Beth Torah was our best alternative, so a carpool was our only salvation to get the kids to Hebrew School.”
So they started a carpool with Ed and Esdra Pauley, Frank and Seena Greenspan, and Ed and Doris Caplan, other Jewish families in the same situation who lived nearby. “The carpool was great,'” Audrey continued, “but it still took a lot of time and if there was traffic it could be impossible, something had to be done. We met with the Board of Directors at Temple Beth Torah, to ask about opening a satellite facility in Thousand Oaks, but they were not interested.” Ed recalled, “There was nothing else to do. We arranged a meeting at Audrey and Bernie’s home in Thousand Oaks with our carpool and a couple of other families.”
On May 7, 1967, a meeting was held to discuss the formation of a new reform congregation for the Conejo Valley. Present at this meeting were Ed and Esdra Pauley, Bernie and Audrey Benesch, Ed and Doris Caplan, Frank Greenspan, Anne and Bob Roberts, and Pauline and Paul Barbakow. They decided they would contact the UAHC and move forward.
On June 15, 1967, Executive Director of the UAHC Irwin Herman along with Dave Caplan, Jerry Berg, Dave Siegle and other UAHC members met with the original six families along with Teki and Herb Reis and Sandra Greenfeld. At this moment in time the decision was actually made with the support of Dave Caplan, the Director of Synagogue Activities of the UAHC, that it would be beneficial to the local Jewish Community for a reform temple be organized in the Conejo Valley. At the end of the evening, the UAHC agreed to support their effort and loaned them $60 to pay for postage to help contact the local Jewish community. They used the money to contact everyone who had a Jewish name in the area. There was nothing scientific about it in those days. They also contacted the local paper, The Thousand Oaks News Chronicle which publicized their efforts. One month later, on August 22, a meeting was held at the Thousand Oaks Community Center. “We were thrilled. About 70 - 80 people showed up,” Ed recalled. “We told them our ideas and out of that group 16 families signed up”.
Mr. Mrs. Paul Babakow, Mr. & Mrs. Bernerd Benesch, Dr. & Mrs. Gary Berry, Mr. & Mrs. Elya Bresler, Mr. & Mrs. Edward Caplan, Dr. Mrs. Fred Goldstein, Dr. & Mrs. Albert Greenfeld, Mr. & Mrs. Frank Greenspan, Dr. & Mrs. Robert Nopar, Mr. & Mrs. Bernard Norman, Mr. & Mrs. Ed Pauley, Mr. & Mrs. Herb Reis, Mr. & Mrs. Robert Roberts, Mr. & Mrs. Jerry Rosenweig, and Mr. & Mrs. Leslie Seelig.
High Holy Days announcement from 1967 Ed and Esdra's house on Warwick Avenue in Thousand Oaks became the first temple. Using the Union Prayer book the families would gather in the y's backyard for Friday-night services. As Ed told us his story the years flew back and we could picture the backyard Shabbat service on the Pauley’s patio.“It's really amazing none of my neighbors ever complained. Of course Esdra was everywhere back then. She always had to bake her chocolate chip pecan pies for the Oneg on Friday night. Every family was involved. Nobody ever said do this or that. We all knew what had to be done and we did it.” Meanwhile the search was on for a permanent location. Between August 22 and September 7, 1967, ten locations were investigated as potential places to hold services. On September 9, 1967 a decision was made.

Hidden Trails - September 1967

If you ever drive up Agoura Road between Reyes Adobe and Kanan Road, you pass some wooded property. It's been the home of summer camps and retreat centers over the years, most recently the home of Camp Kinneret. In 1967 it was called Hidden Trails. It just so happened the owner back then, a Dr. Larry Barr, was Jewish. Nobody is quite sure who knew him or approached him,but one way or another, he agreed to the concept of a temple on his property, but only from September through June, when summer camp sstarted again. His conditions were accepted and by September 10, 1967,the little temple at Ed and Esdra's house was up and running at Hidden Trails.
Rabbi Dolan and James Kaufman; our first Bar Mitzvah The UAHC found our first rabbi, a second year rabbinic student from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles named Rabbi Gary Dolin, to serve as a part time rabbi. And so it began....the temple in the woods.On September 22, 1967 with a congregation of 37 families, the Reform Temple of the Conejo Valley held its first Friday night service. A newspaper clipping from the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle recorded that there were 150 people in attendance. “Student Rabbi Gary Dolin led the congregation through regular Sabbath religious services. James Kaufman provided the religious music accompanying himself on the guitar...The congregation is now in the process of forming a choir....The Temple Sisterhood provided the Oneg Shabbat following the services.”The article goes on to describe a planned picnic for the coming Sunday. “All Conejo Jewish residents are cordially invited to spend the day meeting the temple members and the rabbi and his wife. This is a good opportunity to hear the progress and future planning for the Reform Temple.”
I guess the picnic was a success because two weeks later, on October 5, 1967 the first High Holiday service was held for Temple Adat Elohim with Rabbi Dolin presiding. The Temple had already grown. There were 46 families.
It was truly amazing how once it all got started, it really did just start to flow. Besides the Benesches and the Pauleys, there were the Marks, the Greenspans, the Reis, the Kates, the Rosenthals and man, many more families who put in thousands of hours to make sure the temple would survive. Temple life soon became….. temple life. Of course there were bar and bat mitzvahs. The first young man to have a Bar Mitzvah at Temple Adat Elohim was Ron Greenspan. The first young lady to have a Bat Mitzvah was Marilyn Pauley. Ed Pauley was elected the first congregation president. Audrey Benesch helped to organize a Sisterhood and was installed as its first president, while Frank Greenspan became the first Brotherhood president. A religious school was started with 57 children of all ages in attendance. Elya Bresler was appointed the first director. The teachers were all volunteers at first, but, “It was great,” recalled Audrey. “There was so much enthusiasm, so much excitement and no more long drives up to Ventura.”
The buildings of Hidden Trails were designed for summer camp and woodsy corporate retreats. The religious school was held in the camp houses with the kids sitting on bunk beds.
“The buildings were very rustic,” Ed remembered, “but we made it work. The bathrooms were outside and had no roofs. This became a problem during the winter rainy season, so we kept a small supply of umbrellas by the door in case you had to go to the bathroom and it was raining. It was very funny, that we moved from Hidden Trails to Covenant House, my kids were very impressed that the bathroom had a roof.”“Everybody did everything,” Audrey described. “The first temple office was at the Pauley’s house. You’d walk in and there’d be a meeting going on in one room, a mimeograph machine in another. I think there was even a small sisterhood shop in one of the bedrooms. It was crazy, but we were all so excited that nobody minded. We eventually got office space in Thousand Oaks, but I’ll always remember the Pauley’s”


January of 1968, the Temple Bulletin, as it was called back then,published a brief history of the Reform Temple of the Conejo Valley. At the conclusion of this history is a wonderful summation of the eight months of effort...
”As you can see, a great deal has been accomplished in a relatively short period of time. With such a fine beginning by such dedicated members we can look to a bright and stable future.”
The Reform Temple of the Conejo Valley was now an established fact.A core group of dedicated temple members were on board. There was still a very long way to go, but everyone I spoke with said that as 1968began there was a very strong sense this crazy idea was rapidly becoming a reality. There was, however, one more important event that needed to happen. The temple needed a name.
The Reform Temple of the Conejo Valley, while an accurate description, was not a very exciting name. This issue was finally addressed on February 16, 1968, at a congregational meeting following Friday night services. On this date, the Reform Temple of the Conejo Valley became Temple Adat Elohim. Translated, this means Congregation of God.
“As best as I can remember, we were at a meeting trying to come upwith a name,” Ed Pauley remembered. “A temple member , Gary Barry I think it was anyway, he came up with the name. We all agreed and that was it.”
It was also about this time that Mort Rosenthal and his wife,Marilyn, became temple members. They immediately became integrated into the congregation and would, over the next two decades, play very significant roles in temple history. Mort would become the third temple president following Ed Pauley and Bernie Benesch as well as play a hugely important role in future growth. Marilyn, who has sadly passed away, also served as the first woman president in the early 1980s. Mort is filled with many wonderful memories of those early days.
“Keep in mind that the Temple Adat Elohim in Hidden Hills was not a permanent structure. The buildings were used for other events as well. We'd have to get there early to set everything up. We rolled out our Ark, set up a folding table for our podium, put out the prayer books,and got the coffee and tea ready for the congregants. After each service we had to put everything away in the closet for the following week. ” In a March, 1968, temple newsletter Rabbi Dolin put forth his thoughts on temple life that ring as true today as they did back then.In the words of Rabbi Gary Dolin: ”Many joys have we shared to get her in the development of our new synagogue and Jewish community. And we have many more to look forward to in the future. The synagogue must give an unmistakable definition of its place in the modern Jewish world. It must make clear its position in relation to the immediate problems which confront us. It must gird itself to defend the Jew on the basis of his religious philosophy of life and his contribution to the moral progress of mankind. It must define and fulfill its obligations to the Jewish Community.
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