Though most of the young families had left the neighborhood, Rabbi Lamm was unwilling to leave the old-time congregants without a rabbi. The family moved to Yonkers and Rabbi Lamm walked to his shul in the Bronx every Shabbos. When winter came, the rebbetzin realized her husband would not be able to take that long walk every week, so they rented an apartment near the shul and stayed there until Rabbi Lamm was able to relocate all the old timers. He did this by forming the Riverdale Hebrew Institute and bringing in Rabbi Avi Weiss.
The Lamms went back to their home in Yonkers and enjoyed a brief time away from the rabbinate. Rabbi Lamm worked for the Jewish Welfare Board, visiting chaplains all over the country.
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“Then came a call from Yeshiva University,” says Shirley. “One of the largest shuls on the West Coast, Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills, was looking for a rabbi.”
The founding rabbi, Simon Dolgin, was moving to Israel with his family and the shul was interviewing rabbis for the position.
“I didn’t want to move to California,” Rebbetzin Lamm admits. “The children were in good schools, our family was close by, and we were very happy where we were. My husband said he would just go for the interview and assured me he wouldn’t take the job.
“Well, after Shabbos he called and said they wanted to have him as their next rabbi.”
Shirley was still hesitant. So her husband suggested they take a week’s vacation in Los Angeles and she could see what it was like.
“I went out there. The sun was always shining and it looked like a really beautiful place.”
When Shabbos was over, three women congregants took Shirley for a drive, ostensibly to show her around. But they really wanted to question her.
Would she eat in a non-kosher restaurant? Her answer was no. Would she eat fish in a non-kosher restaurant? No. Would she at least eat fruit and raw vegetables in a non-kosher restaurant? Once again she said she would not.
“I found this very upsetting because I could see they were not happy with my answers. When we got back to the shul I asked the wife of the president how many people these women represented and she said very few. I asked how many congregants were Orthodox and she said most of them were.
“At that point I realized it would be a challenge, but I finally agreed with my husband that he should take the position.”
The Lamms bought a home in Beverly Hills and fixed it up. Shirley felt strongly that they should purchase their own home rather than have the shul buy it for them. She decorated it herself.
One of their first guests was Elie Wiesel, who came to lecture at a shul event. He was taken with how beautiful the home was. “ I told him I’d worked hard on it so that the rabbi and our children would be proud of it.”
Many other well-known people were guests in their home. Baron de Rothschild, who was in Los Angeles for an NCSY event, had lunch at the Lamms’ home. A few weeks later a gift arrived from him: a gold plate with etchings of the Rothschild shul in France.
“I worked very hard with the sisterhood of the shul,” says Shirley. “In those years most women did not work outside the home and they had time to devote to the shul. I think that’s a big loss today.”
Rebbetzin Lamm and the shul’s sisterhood organized many events. “One of the most successful was an auction we held for several years. I had every woman make something herself. Whoever knew how to sew or knit or crochet made items. Others painted. Everything was made by the women themselves and then sold to raise money for the shul.”