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Newport's Temple Isaiah: the homegrown temple

It began in the living room of a Newport Beach couple's home as the fulfillment of a solemn promise.

April 30, 2007|By Jessie Brunner

     For the 33 years it has been part of the local community, Temple Isaiah has prided itself on being friendly. Perhaps that’s because it started as a group of about 50 friends gathering for Friday night Shabbat in the Newport Beach home of temple founders Felix and Flory Van Beek.

     “It was a lot of people in here,” Flory Van Beek said during a recent interview in her living room. “We even had a quartet singing in the hallway.”

As the crowd grew, the Van Beeks knew it was time to search for a bigger space, and they found an even less conventional location. When Flory found out about the recently constructed Harbor Christian Church, she worked to convince the church to open its doors to a conservative temple. Though the couple didn’t expect the arrangement to be permanent, the two have cohabited joyfully for more than three decades in the Irvine Avenue building. Flory fondly recalled group potlucks, an instance when the temple choir sang for the church’s Christmas Mass and when the church presented the temple with an eternal light to honor their friendship in 2001.

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    Rabbi Marc Rubenstein, who joined the temple in 1990, said the temple’s devotion to its members, not its alternative setting, is what makes it distinctive. Since 1974 the congregation has grown from about 30 families to 100.

     “People come in and go out feeling the rabbi, the synagogue and the people really related to them, and they get something special out of it,” he said.

     The Van Beeks immigrated to the United States from Holland in 1948.In 1962, they came to Newport Beach, later following up on a promise Felix made to himself as the couple struggled to survive the Holocaust.

     “He made a vow that if we survived, he would do everything he could to keep the Jewish people together,” Flory said. “So we founded the temple.”

     With Felix serving as president and Flory handing all the administrative duties, it was a considerable task, but well worth it, the couple agreed.

     Three years ago, Flory left her duties at the temple to devote more time to her husband and her book, “Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death,” which is now distributed in nine countries. The duo continues to attend Friday night services and the feast that follows.

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