Kaufman’s personal roots in Temple Beth Hillel’s neighborhood run deep. He grew up in North Hollywood and first came to Temple Beth Hillel as a kindergartner. “I went to the temple as a kid. I felt a sense of community and spirituality there,” said Kaufman, who was inspired by the late Rabbi Morton Bauman, who led Temple Beth Hillel from 1949 to ’77. As a student at North Hollywood High School, Kaufman volunteered and used his singing and guitar-playing talents at the temple. He immersed himself in Jewish life and decided to become a cantor. That dream was dashed, however, while he was studying at California State University, Northridge. It was there he found that while he may have had the right voice for singing around a campfire, it wasn’t so fine for synagogue prayers. But through his experience with regional and Temple Beth Hillel youth groups, Kaufman decided that his destiny was as a rabbi. VALLEY VILLAGE – He is as comfortable dressed as Superman greeting revelers at a Purim carnival as he is dressed in his rabbi’s robe leading a holiday service. He is as down-to-earth chatting with fourth-graders at a weekly “Rap with the Rabbi” session as he is leading the annual Seder in the Desert camping trip at Passover. For all of his synagogue-life roles, Rabbi James Lee Kaufman will be lauded tonight when members of Temple Beth Hillel gather for a fundraiser marking the temple’s 60th anniversary as the oldest Reform Jewish congregation in the San Fernando Valley. “He is the heart and soul of Temple Beth Hillel,” said longtime member Bonnie Goodman. “One reason why Beth Hillel has been successful for 60 years is due to leadership consistency. Rabbi Jim has been here for over 30 years and that sets a tone. He has a friendliness and humor. He’s within touch.” Kaufman was ordained and became an assistant rabbi in 1973 at Temple Beth Hillel. He discovered the joy of teaching Judaism and helping individuals through Jewish core values. “Jews grow spiritually through study. If someone asks me, `How do I become more spiritual? Should I come to services more often?’ I tell them, `Study. Take a class,”‘ Kaufman said. In his years as rabbi, Kaufman said, he hasn’t noticed a big shift in the types of spiritual questions he gets. At the top of the list always seem to be: How do I cope with the death of a loved one? How do I find God? What can I do to mitigate my loneliness? The most frequent question, however, is: How can you help me find a comfortable niche at Temple Beth Hillel? “There is a lot of coldness, alienation and anomie out there,” said Kaufman. “We pride ourselves that we’re an inclusive congregation. We welcome everyone. “One of the reasons why I think we’ve been successful is that the staff is accessible. We return phone calls. I am an accessible rabbi. I’m a rabbi to anyone in the community.” Faith Tessler, a member of the temple for 18 years, is a testament to Kaufman’s attention to each individual who asks for advice or counsel. With Kaufman’s encouragement, Tessler was inspired to become a rabbi. She will be ordained this year. “He’s real. He’s not pretentious. He’s humble, wise and caring. Fabulous as a teacher,” said Tessler. “He’s passionate about us, the Beth Hillel community, and about social justice, equality and helping people find what Judaism means to them. He’s the perfect rabbi.” Temple Beth Hillel, 12326 Riverside Drive, Valley Village. Friday Shabbat service times vary. Call (818) 763-9148 or see www.tbhla.org. [email protected] (818) 713-3708160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!