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O.C. RELIGION | GETTING RELIGION

Happy Secret That Synagogue Wants to Share

February 17, 2001|WILLIAM LOBDELL

In a less affluent time and a less affluent place, it would be huge news: Henry and Susan Samueli, the Broadcom billionaires, give $1 million to University Synagogue in Irvine for its new temple.

But the gift arrived quietly last fall during the High Holy Days and stayed a semi-secret, not spreading much beyond the synagogue's congregation. In fact, the Samuelis initially wanted to remain anonymous, but Rabbi Arnold Rachlis persuaded them to at least let the congregants know so the couple could be properly thanked.

"We at University Synagogue feel very privileged and grateful for the generosity of Henry and Susan Samueli," Rachlis said. "The Samuelis through their giving have helped shaped the cultural, educational and religious life of Orange County.

"We admire their dedication to all of these wonderful causes. There are a lot of people in Orange County who are affluent, but few have shown the idealism and vision inherent in the Samuelis' giving."

Over the past couple of years, the Corona del Mar residents have given away scores of millions of dollars through the Samueli Foundation, including substantial gifts to other synagogues and Jewish institutions. Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo, their home synagogue, received $3 million to help move into a bigger building. A Reform temple in Israel got $2.5 million so it could build a permanent facility.

The 500-family University Synagogue received an initial $500,000 from the Samuelis, and recently received an additional $250,000 after the temple added 50 families to its membership. Another 50 families will get the synagogue its final $250,000 from the Samuelis.

Henry Samueli, whose parents survived the Holocaust, said he dislikes orthodox religion of any kind and has contributed to synagogues with moderate views.

University Synagogue has shared space for years with the Irvine United Church of Christ and is part of the Reconstructionist movement, a liberal branch of Judaism. The rapidly growing synagogue now needs its own space and is renovating a former ice rink.

Defining Terms

Chuck Smith Jr.'s new book, "The End of the World . . . As We Know It" hit bookstores last month. The book was written for pastors who want to reach younger generations and is subtitled "Clear Direction for Bold and Innovative Ministry in a Postmodern World."

If you're looking for a quick definition of "postmodern world," good luck. Smith writes that people behind postmodernism delight in saying "they are part of a movement that defies definition." And he spends more than a chapter trying to explain postmodernism. Webster's definition isn't much help, either: "Coming after, and usually in reaction to, modernism in the 20th century." This may help: Postmodernism rejects the existence of any absolute truths.

Still confused? You can check out Smith's book--which is a good read. Smith is senior pastor of Capo Beach Calvary and son of the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, which began in Orange County in the 1960s.

Show Went on Without Him

Let's hope no one wished lobbyist Mel Malkoff to break a leg before he was scheduled to go before the Newport Beach Planning Commission last week. Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic church and St. Mark Presbyterian Church are involved in a complex deal that would relocate St. Mark to custom-built facilities a few miles away. That would make room for Our Lady's expansion on St. Mark's current property. But before Malkoff, who represents St. Mark, headed to Newport Beach to explain the proposal, he decided to go skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyo. The result: a broken arm and leg that left him stranded in the Rockies. The show went on without him, and the Planning Commission took the first step toward approving the plans.

Coming to Town

Orange County, with its affluence and thriving congregations, has always been able to draw major religious players.

Sister Helen Prejean, the death penalty opponent who wrote "Dead Man Walking" (Susan Sarandon played her in the movie), will give a talk at 7:15 p.m. Monday at Santiago de Compostela Church in Lake Forest. . . . The Rev. John H. Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ, will visit Shepherd of the Hills Church in Laguna Niguel on Feb. 25. . . . And Hadassah Lieberman, wife of U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), will speak at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach on April 22. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Lieberman will talk about her experiences on the vice presidential campaign trail.

William Lobdell is the religion reporter-editor for The Times' Orange County edition. His column runs Saturday. His e-mail address is bill.lobdell@latimes.com.

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