The drive to have a Temple in Culver City began in 1952 when four families met in a home to formulate plans. Twenty one families met at a second meeting, held a raffle and raised $180. The formation of a new Temple was now well underway.
The Temple was advertised in the local papers and, on March 18, 1953, a meeting was held in the Culver City Council Chambers where the name Temple Akiba was chosen. The Temple decided to affiliate with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), now the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). There were 25 families at this time.
The first Shabbat services were held on March 27, 1953, in a rented hall. Shortly thereafter, a religious and Hebrew school was started, in addition to a Brotherhood, a Sisterhood and a youth group. The fledgling Temple applied to the UAHC for a charter, and in September, 1953, it was granted. By then, the membership included 75 families and Rabbi Hershel Lymon was engaged to lead the congregation. A building fund drive, and other fund-raising activities, were started so that Temple Akiba could have a home. The first High Holy Day services were held in the Culver City Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The Temple’s membership had now grown to over 167 families and, because of the Temple’s open door policy, over 1400 people attended High Holy Day services.
December 1953 marked the beginning of an escrow to purchase the lot on Sepulveda Boulevard on which Temple Akiba stands today. The Brotherhood took responsibility for making the monthly payments, but the lot was not paid for until 1963.
Temple Akiba’s first Bar Mitzvah was held on January 15, 1954. In 1955, the congregation obtained three small buildings – a gymnasium, a shower house, and one other – and had them moved onto the lot. Many families worked evenings, Saturdays and Sundays to prepare the buildings for use – pouring foundations, plastering, roofing, etc. The ladies prepared food and coffee for the laborers. A.Z. Moss was hired to complete the interiors, pave the lot and install patios and gardens. Temple Akiba’s first sanctuary was then dedicated.
OUR ORIGINAL TEMPLE FACILITY
By 1960 the congregation had outgrown its facilities. The congregation decided that a new temple would be built on the existing lot. In 1962, architect Robert Kennard was commissioned to design the new building. Kennard himself suggested that the Temple acquire the services of Albert Wein, who then created the sculptures and artwork for our Temple. He created the 24 foot-bronze Akiba sculpture to express light, hope, freedom and peace. In August of 1963, the final service in the old Temple was held on the patio, under the stars. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held the following Sunday. The new buildings, consisting of two hexagonal structures, were constructed in 15 months.
On January 1, 1965, in an unfinished, unheated sanctuary with no doors and only a single light bulb, part of the congregation gathered to celebrate the New Year. Finally, from May 15, 1965 – May 23, 1965, an eight day celebration was held to mark the dedication of the new building.
The Temple Sisterhood took on the task of raising money in countless ways to pay for a well equipped kitchen. As the strong right arm of the Temple, the Sisterhood thrives today in its tradition of supplying many services for the Temple and the community.
In 1967, Rabbi Allen S. Maller became the spiritual leader of Temple Akiba. Creative new services were begun, including monthly family services that are a continued tradition in the Temple and Religious School today. There was a resurgence of activities, including youth groups and adult education programs, in addition to a lay choir.
In 1969, the Temple elected its first female president. At this time, she was also the first woman president in the western region of the UAHC and one of only four in the United States. Many other women have since followed the trail she blazed.
At the end of 1977, there were almost 300 families in the Temple. In April, 1978, Temple Jeremiah of Westchester merged with Temple Akiba, bringing over its Rabbi Emeritus Mordecai Soloff and almost 100 families. Aproximately 80% of Temple Jeremiah members continued as members of Temple Akiba. In June of that year, over 100 members joined in a long, joyous walk to escort the Jeremiah Torahs to their new home.
Temple Akiba started its Nursery School in 1979 and it has continued to flourish. It has provided a needed service to young children – and their families – and has been an added source of new young families for the Temple.
In May, 1986, Temple Akiba celebrated the burning of its mortgage, which was commemorated with a special Shabbat service and a gala celebration where the mortgage was formally burned in front of Temple members and guests.
In the summer of 2006, after 39 wonderful and dedicated years as Temple Akiba’s rabbi, Rabbi Maller retired and has since continued on as Rabbi Emeritus. Temple Akiba is eternally grateful for his vision and dedication. The Temple began the process of trying to fill the shoes of Rabbi Maller. After a year long search, a superb new rabbi was hired. Thus began the era of Rabbi Zachary R. Shapiro, who has since designed many new programs and continues the Temple’s mission as a “Beacon of Light” in Culver City.
Temple Akiba’s new growth is attributable to Rabbi Shapiro’s leadership and vision for the congregation, the revitalization and expansion of the Nursery and Religious Schools, a congregation open and willing to move forward, and the migration of young Jewish families to Culver City and the surrounding areas.
OUR NEW TEMPLE FACILITY AND COURTYARD
In 2015, we began a new era with the renovation of our sanctuary, offices, conference room, bathrooms and all other improvements made to our campus, including a welcoming entryway courtyard.