Posted on November 1, 2011
Mel and Jean Keleman joined Temple Beth David in 1965 when then neighbor, and temple member, Lois Abrams, suggested they come to their “new” temple for the High Holidays. The services were both beautiful and
inspiring and the members so warm that they knew instantly that Temple Beth David would be their home and for a long time. “Not one mink coat!,” says Jean referring to the fact that when she attended services in Pittsburgh, many women would come wearing mink coats for the holidays which seemed very inappropriate.
Mel and Jean grew up in the Pittsburgh, PA area and after Jean graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, the couple moved to upstate New York where Mel graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. His degree served him well as he went on to have a long and successful career in that industry. It was after three harsh winters that they decided to follow the sunshine and move to Southern California living in North Hollywood where Mel opened up a coffee shop called, yes, “Mel’s.”
Several years later, a great opportunity became available to own a restaurant right across the street from Long Beach Airport called “Rochelle’s,” so they decided to move to Orange County and they settled in the Los Alamitos area.
Temple Beth David has indeed been home for the Keleman’s as they have been part of the TBD story for most of its existence. All four of their children have had Bar/Bat Mitzvahs there and Jean herself has had two Bat Mitzvahs.
They recall fondly the early years when the temple sanctuary was built. The beautiful stained glass window that appears in the sanctuary was created by famous South American artist Leonardo Nierman (Jewish) who was a childhood friend of then member Hank Hirsch. And to raise money towards the construction of the sanctuary, the temple hosted bingo nights twice a week that were very successful. “The sanctuary was built mostly on bingo money,” says Jean jokingly.
Jean has held many positions at the temple over the years. When she gave birth to a baby girl, she kept her promise to serve as President of the sisterhood. She has also been secretary to the board, treasurer for the board, Adult Education Trustee, Principal of the Religious and Hebrew Schools, been a member of the choir, and ran the gift shop for 11 years.
Outside of temple, she received a master’s degree in education and became a principal in the Bellflower school system. She has been very involved in her local community of Bellflower serving as an ambassador for the Chamber of Commerce and president of the Bellflower PTA Council.
She is very proud of a program she instituted called “Bellflower Against Gangs” which recognized two children each month for good achievement and showed that there was a positive alternative to belonging to a gang. She was also chair of the scholarship committee of the National Council of Jewish Women for 11 years.
Mel and Jean have traveled extensively and there favorite place is Barcelona because of the warm people and the city’s blending of the very modern and old.
They are avid baseball fans and like to say they came out west in ‘58 with Vin Scully and the Dodgers so of course they are still strong Dodger fans. They have been to 23 major league ballparks and hope to visit the remaining 7 soon.
Mel and Jean reside in Laguna Woods and although they belong to a temple in that retirement community, their “real” home will always be Temple Beth David.