Temple Etz Chaim’s History and Continuing Story
The original members of Temple Etz Chaim first met in response to an ad placed in the “Conejo,” a local bi-weekly newspaper. Religious School “classes” were held in the waiting room of a local physician. The school ranged from Kindergarten to B’nai Mitzvah study. Religious services were just as primitive, initially held in a member’s finished garage. The Temple flourished, and the number of affiliated families grew. Worship services were moved to larger quarters in the nearby Methodist Church.
The Temple was incorporated in 1966 when a vote was held to decide whether the Temple would be conservative or reform. The vote was close, with Temple Etz Chaim becoming a conservative congregation.
The first religious leader was Cantor Shlomo Shuster. He drove in from Chatsworth for Friday night services and again on Saturdays if there was a Bar Mitzvah. After a few years, Rabbi David Winston was engaged as Temple Etz Chaim’s part-time rabbi. He later decided to become a college professor. Rabbi Maurice Pomerantz became Temple Etz Chaim’s first full-time Rabbi in 1967. Cantor Henry Brody served as its lay cantor from the early 1960s to 1992.
In the spring of 1967, the first Jewish wedding in the Conejo Valley was held at Monty’s. In his first contact with Thousand Oaks, then a community of 20,000 people, Rabbi Shimon Paskow officiated at that wedding. At the time, he was the Associate Rabbi of the Valley Jewish Community Center, which is now Temple Adat Ariel. In October 1969, when the Temple had only 28 dues-paying members, Rabbi Paskow became the Rabbi of Temple Etz Chaim. He visited every Jewish family that he could find in Thousand Oaks to invite them to join Temple Etz Chaim. He made everyone feel welcome. Over time, Temple Etz Chaim membership grew not little by little, but as Rabbi Paskow put it, “Yiddle by Yiddle.”
As new families continued to join the congregation, it became necessary to deal seriously with longer-range growth projections and plan accordingly. In 1968, Temple Etz Chaim acquired two and a half acres of land, and on November 10, 1968, ground was finally broken for its very own classroom/synagogue building, the first to be built in the Conejo Valley. In 1970, the building went up with sweat, toil and love. Congregants painted the doors and walls and built the shelves and cabinets. They did anything and everything that was needed to make the building complete. This building included two large rooms that were used for Shabbat services and social events. During the week, these rooms were divided into Religious School classrooms. The building also had a small kitchen where congregants prepared the food for the Oneg and other occasions. There were offices as well. This building was used for over 30 years until the year 2001.
In the years following Rabbi Paskow’s arrival, the Temple continued to evolve, growing in size and scope. The Temple was able to buy the property fronting Janss Road around 1980, giving it five full acres on which to build and expand. In his 1983 Yom Kippur sermon, Rabbi Paskow, in a heartfelt appeal, strongly urged the congregation to build a sanctuary. Designs were drawn up and construction begun with the first services held in the new sanctuary in May of 1985.
In 1990, Temple Ner Tamid of Simi Valley merged with Temple Etz Chaim, further enhancing its membership. Once again, Temple Etz Chaim was outgrowing its present facilities, needing to house its growing Religious School and Preschool while adding space for community activities. Ground was broken for an additional facility in August of 1999. The first phase, the Kane Community Center, opened in September of 2001. This building, which would eventually serve our growing community, would be used as offices and classrooms for the Religious School, Preschool and USY until the completion of Phase II. The original building built with such love in 1970, had to be demolished in order for the second phase of the new project to be completed. A final, very beautiful and moving, commemorative service was held, in which everyone who wished was invited to share memories of this very special building in Temple Etz Chaim’s history.
In December, 2002, only days after receiving the occupancy permit, members of Temple Etz Chaim came out in force to help move into the fully completed facility. Furniture, books, computers and a whole lot more were moved from the Kane Community Center to the Ner Tamid Education Center so that classes could be held in the new facility the next day. After refurbishing the Kane Community Center, the new complex was complete, offering beautiful classrooms and offices for the Religious School and Preschool, a large youth lounge, library, multipurpose room, adult lounge, art room, teacher’s lounge and absolutely gorgeous, state-of-the art playgrounds.
In June of 2000, after 30 years of dedicated service, Rabbi Shimon Paskow retired as Temple Etz Chaim’s full time Rabbi and became Rabbi Emeritus. To honor him, Temple Etz Chaim named the sanctuary the “Rabbi Shimon and Carol Paskow Sanctuary.”
On August 1, 2000, Temple Etz Chaim warmly welcomed Rabbi Richard Spiegel who came to us after ten years as Rabbi of Temple Agudas Achim in San Antonio, Texas. With his enthusiasm, inspiring sermons, constant smile, and terrific sense of humor, Rabbi Spiegel has become an integral part of the Temple Etz Chaim family. Just as Rabbi Paskow had in the past, Rabbi Spiegel was instrumental in raising money to complete our beautiful Ner Tamid Education and Kane Community Centers.
In July of 2019, Temple Etz Chaim welcomed a new Senior Rabbi to its congregation, Rabbi Ari Averbach. Rabbi Averbach returned to his Southern California roots, having grown up in nearby Agoura Hills, CA. He had previously served as an associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, IL. Temple Etz Chaim officially welcomed Rabbi Averbach, his wife Vanessa and their children to the congregation as he was installed as Senior Rabbi in August of 2019.
Upon the installation of Rabbi Averbach, Rabbi Spiegel became Rabbi Emeritus. To honor him, Temple Etz Chaim named the social hall adjoining the Paskow Santuary, Spiegel Hall.
Temple Etz Chaim has a rich history and an exceptionally bright future. It has warm, spiritual and inspiring clergy leading its congregation in a magnificent facility. It has an outstanding Bureau of Jewish Education accredited Religious School and nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Center, an active United Synagogue Youth chapter, the vibrant Women of TEC, a thriving Men’s Club, numerous havurot and much more.
Temple Etz Chaim is currently conducting a search for a new member of our clergy to work with Rabbi Averbach. The Clergy Search Committee was formed in 2021 and is actively seeking candidates to fill this vital role in our congregation.