LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Rabbi Harvey Fields, senior rabbi at the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles for 23 years, has died.
Fields, who suffered a severe stroke several years ago, died Jan. 23 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 78.
Community leaders, colleagues and family members remembered Fields for his talent in transforming broad plans and ideas into reality, blending tradition with innovation, and commitment to creating bonds among the city’s diverse religious and ethnic communities.
In 1992, when the temple found itself at the center of mob violence raging throughout the Koreatown section of Los Angeles, Fields reached out to longtime friends in the African-American religious community and helped organize the “Hands Across Los Angeles” demonstration, which saw 15,000 Angelenos join hands across a 10-mile swath of the central city.
Fields arrived in Los Angeles in 1985, succeeding Rabbi Edgar Magnin, who had led the pioneering Reform Wilshire Boulevard Temple for 69 years and was known as the “Bishop of Hollywood.”
Under Fields’ leadership, the temple returned to more traditional forms of worship, music and attire. Foreseeing the long-term shift of the Los Angeles Jewish community from east to west, he convinced the congregation to build a second campus on the west side. The move reversed a decline in membership, which currently stands at 2,400 families.
Fields, a native of Portland, Ore., had served congregations in Boston and New Jersey, as well as the Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He was the author of a popular three-volume commentary on the Torah.
Though an ardent supporter of Israel who served on the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Fields could be critical of some of its policies.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Los Angeles in 1997, Fields warned him that ties between American Jewry and Israel were being “torched” by the prime minister’s support for the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s domination of religious affairs.