The Northridge Earthquake of 1994 caused death and destruction, but it was the impetus for Mort and Roz Resnick to move to Oxnard in 1995 which proved fortuitous for Jews of Ventura County. Mort and Roz, along with Neill and Arnie Fingerhut, Harriet and Harold Friedman and Frieda and Marty Harary, formed Congregation Am HaYam in 1996. They believed it was important for Ventura County to have a Conservative Jewish presence.
At first, the congregants, led by Rabbi Gerald Hanig, met for services in members’ homes. It seemed as though a different family hosted the congregation for Sabbath, Festival, High Holy Days and other occasions. They put up flyers in stores, posted ads in the Star Free Press (now the Ventura County Star), sat at tables at Jewish fairs, and urged their members to spread the word about CAH. Soon their numbers grew to the point where they moved to warehouse space in Oxnard donated to them by Bob and Elaine Allen. That’s where 80 people, including 15 children and grandchildren, celebrated CAH’s first Simchat Torah. CAH’s second Rosh HaShanah services, held at the Oxnard Monday Club, were attended by about 160 worshippers. Congregation Am HaYam stayed at the Oxnard Monday Club until 2003 when we moved to 4839 Market Street, Unit C, Ventura.
The excitement, purpose and energy of these early members was palpable. Twenty volunteers would show up to set-up and take-down chairs when they met at the warehouse or Oxnard Monday Club. The calendar was filled with education programs, Havurah theater trips to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. There were beach clean-up days, drives to collect food for Mazon and Operation Isaiah, and outreach efforts to market the congregation at Jewish Program Days. They even started a once per week Torah School program for children.
In Ventura, our congregation hosted for many years meetings of Jewish War Veterans. In addition, we’ve organized community-wide programs with nationally known speakers, hosted screenings of documentary films, joined with The Arc for an evening cabaret featuring the talents of their clients, and enjoyed an afternoon of music with the Fratelli Men’s Choir of Santa Barbara.
Rabbi Hanig, of blessed memory, died in August 2011. The Board has been proud to have Rabbi J.B. Sacks as our spiritual leader since January 2012.