Times: The Sacred Battles the Profane in Venice

A battle of the subcultures rages in Venice Beach CA.

You would think that the adults party to the dispute could work out this friction. After all, this conflict is going to recur every Shabbat, duh!

But no. It appears that there is no one in LA who is focused enough to mediate this nonsense.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe we can get Larry David to make this into an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and convince him to write an ending that resolves the feud.

Yeah, that makes about as much sense as this story does.

Monica Almeida/The New York Times. The Pacific Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue, on the colorful Venice Beach boardwalk.
Los Angeles Journal
At the Intersection of Synagogue and Boardwalk, a Feud

LOS ANGELES — The only synagogue on the Venice Beach boardwalk has weathered 80 years’ worth of oscillating economies, winos, shamans and aggressive panhandlers, disintegration of its own community and surf seekers on all manner of speeding wheels. It has stood as much for tolerance as faith in a community where the former is in high demand.

But for its congregants, it has been increasingly difficult to countenance the mannequins in racy underwear, creeping ever so often unto the property of their tiny, sun-bleached house of worship.

Over the last few years, the Orthodox synagogue, the Pacific Jewish Center, has been at quiet war with the owners of its next-door neighbor, Unruly, a purveyor of T-shirts, bathing suits and undergarments.

Worshipers say workers in the shop blast music on Saturday mornings, overwhelming the religious service held with the door open to the boardwalk. When the worshipers ask for the music to be lowered for an hour, they are met with hostility, they say, some of it smacking of anti-Semitism. Once in a while, the police have been called.

Further, there have been occasions when mannequins dressed in G-strings and other clothes that are decidedly not part of the customary wardrobe of Orthodox Jews have been placed on the synagogue’s property line — as a matter of provocation, some members suggest.

“We haven’t been judgmental about their merchandise,” said Judd Magilnick, a member. “It is a question of common courtesy. Even the more Bohemian, alternative-lifestyle types on the boardwalk are aware of our requests and wait until afternoon on Saturdays before they strike up the band. We have friendly cooperation from everyone else, even people you think would be accountable to no one.”

Ruly Papadopulos, whose wife owns Unruly, said that the business felt harassed by the worshipers but that the extent of the problem had been exaggerated. “The rabbi comes over and asks us to turn it down,” Mr. Papadopulos said. “We say, ‘Calm down, we will.’ ”

This episodic neighborhood schism might have remained just that, had Eric Mankin, a science writer for University of Southern California publications and a Venice resident, not wandered into Unruly this month, chasing after his dog who had gotten off its leash.

Mr. Mankin said he mentioned to the owners of Unruly, where a neon sign reading “Sexetera” hangs over the door, that the synagogue next to the shop was “something I’ve always regarded as a landmark of Venice’s inclusiveness and diversity.”

Mr. Papadopulos, Mr. Mankin said, replied that he hated Jews — something Mr. Papadopulos flatly denies having said. Mr. Mankin, who is Jewish but not religious, said he was flabbergasted.

The next day, Mr. Mankin appeared in front of the store holding a sign that read “Ask the owner of Unruly why he hates Jews.”

“If someone is going to proclaim loudly they hate Jews,” he said, “then people who are going to shop in his store have the right to know about that.”

Mr. Papadopulos was displeased by this and called the police. “He was the aggressor,” Mr. Papadopulos said in an interview in front of his store. “I never said I hate Jews. I said: ‘I hate you. I hate you!’ ”

Sgt. Stephen Showler, who is in charge of the Venice Beach detail for the Los Angeles Police Department, responded.

“It was basically a First Amendment issue,” Sergeant Showler said. Mr. Mankin “has the right to protest,” he said. “When I got there, he said, ‘I’ve been out here a couple hours. I think I’ll call it a day.’ ”

During two generations of life on the colorful boardwalk, where karma analysis takes place next to impromptu pot parties that abut bongo drummers and flip-flop barkers, conflicts among neighbors have been few, say even the synagogue’s oldest members.

In the 1920s, as Venice evolved into the “Coney Island of the West,” Jewish immigrants played a vital role on the boardwalk. There were several synagogues along the beach, and the area was dotted with kosher butchers and other Jewish merchants. Working-class Jews from Los Angeles called Venice their summer home, and many others migrated to the area, according to the book “California Jews,” by Ava F. Kahn and Marc Dollinger.

The mid-1960s saw an exodus of Jewish families, and the synagogues all but disappeared. The Pacific Jewish Center was headed for a similar fate, but in the mid-1970s, a group of young Orthodox Jews led by the author Michael Medved revived it.

About 80 people pile onto the simple benches each Saturday morning to pray against the backdrop of waves. “We invite anyone who has expressed a genuine interest and has shirt and shoes,” said Gary Dalin, a member since 1979.

Its most high-profile conflict has been with the state’s Coastal Commission, which has taken a dim view (along with many residents) of members’ desire to hang a strand of fishing line several miles long to create an eruv, or symbolic religious enclosure that would permit them to perform certain tasks, like carrying things, outside their homes on the Sabbath.

Mr. Dalin and others said that they had heard Mr. Papadopulos refer to the members as “greedy” and make other vague remarks that suggest he may not be fond of Jews but said that they were not particularly worried or interested. They just want the music turned down.

Sergeant Showler said that he had never heard claims of anti-Semitism until now but that there had been flare-ups between the store and the synagogue in the past. “It is an interesting place to have a synagogue,” he said. “Hopefully it won’t be an issue between them, and they can be good neighbors. This is my goal.”

1 comment:

John D. Enright said...

"It appears that there is no one in LA who is focused enough to mediate this nonsense." You're only now waking to the idea that LA is Sodom by the Pacific?

The store probably won't make any accommodations, so mediation is useless. The problem is that society has become so relativistic that morons like the proprietors of the store really have no clue that their displays are offensive. You can't solve a problem if you can't see it.