Your Beth Shir Shalom

Beth Shir Shalom: A Colorful History

The streets of a densely populated, but quiet, neighborhood in Santa Monica, just north of Wilshire and within two miles of the beach, are lined with flourishing trees and a mix of stucco apartment buildings and houses.  It is a neighborhood that typifies the area…. except for one thing; nestled in the middle of it sits a very active temple called Beth Shir Shalom (BSS).

Beth Shir Shalom’s history began with a small Jewish congregation that had been gathering in the Unitarian Church of Santa Monica for Shabbat services. On January 17 of 1939, 14 members of that congregation decided to meet in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Markowitz to discuss a plan to build a synagogue.   With a loan partially funded by MGM movie mogul, Louis B. Mayer, the two-story building was constructed at the northwest corner of 19th & California Streets.  It was named “Beth Sholom Temple,” glimmering as a shining light in those dark days leading up to WWII and the Nazi horror.  The first Shabbat service was held on May 1, 1942.  Laurence A. Block, a teacher of religion and philosophy at Santa Monica College, became the Temple’s spiritual leader in 1949, serving Beth Sholom for the next 28 years.

Almost 41 years to the day after that gathering in the Markowitz’s home, meetings of a similar nature were taking place in the homes of various families in West Los Angeles.  Those were spearheaded by Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, a young and energetic progressive rabbi with a love for music and a passionate sensitivity to many of the world’s social issues.  Temple Shir Shalom was formed in 1981 with Rabbi Comess-Daniels conducting services. The Temple was initially located at a West Los Angeles swimming school, earning a lighthearted reference as “the shul with the pool.”

Shir Shalom remained in place for nearly a decade, but again began to outgrow its home.  When Beth Sholom Temple began a search to replace their Rabbi who was leaving for a pulpit outside of Los Angeles, it was the perfect opportunity for a merger of the two congregations.  In 1991, Shir Shalom and Beth Sholom became Temple Beth Shir Shalom:  Home of the Song of Peace,” and Neil Comess-Daniels became not only its rabbi, but also its heart.