Yet the changes over the past 60 years have been monumental.
In the 40s and 50s, we shared the desire of the German Jewish community to be integrated into American culture. At the same time, we stuck together socially, and we were more private about our faith and our practice. It is said of American Jews in the 50’s that when we stood in line at the cashier in the market and were talking to a friend about Jewish things, we would lower our voices when referring to Jews or Jewish things. We were painfully self conscious.
Jim remembers being ten years-old and getting looks from people while standing in line at the old Studio City Theater (now Barnes & Noble) when he and his friends would talk about Jewish stuff. None of his friends ever wore a Jewish star or mezuzah. Jim’s Bar Mitzvah was here at Temple Beth Hillel in 1957. Rabbi Bauman, who officiated, was, like most of his colleagues at the time, not happy about Bar or Bat Mitzvah, preferring still the Israel Jacobson model of confirming your faith at the more mature age of 16. Rabbi Bauman would officiate at no Bar Mitzvah unless the 13-year-old agreed, in writing and before the ark at the end of the Bar Mitzvah, that he would stay in religious school until a 12th grade confirmation.
In the 1950s, Reform synagogues sought to elevate such American holidays as Thanksgiving, Labor Day and July 4th by including some synagogue observance or liturgy. At Temple Beth Hillel in the 50s, there was a Jewish religious Thanksgiving morning service with its own special prayer book. Today, our Thanksgiving service is an interfaith activity for the entire community.
When Israel was founded in 1948, Reform Judaism, flourishing in America and wanting to be perceived as pure American (especially in the McCarthy era), demurred from fully participating in the efforts to sustain the fledgling Jewish state. Many Jews feared accusations of dual loyalty.