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Rabbi puts magic into his 1977 sermons

Rabbi puts magic into his 1977 sermons

Nov. 10, 1977: Magician David Avadon produces eight lighted candles from one to illustrate Bible story on “miracle” of oil for lamps, read by Rabbi Bernard Cohen.

This Bill Varie photo appeared in the Nov. 11, 1977, Los Angeles Times. Religion writer John Dart, in an accompanying story, reported:

A Canoga Park rabbi is literally tricking his congregation into filling up the seats for Friday night services.

For the fourth time this year, Rabbi Bernard M. Cohen will team with illusionist David Avadon at Temple Solael to deliver the sermon at a pre-Hanukkah service.

While the rabbi narrates the 2,100-year-old story of the victorious Maccabees, the magician will silently perform tricks to illustrate the tale.

Instead of the usual 150 to 250 worshipers, the temple will have about 750 people, including many children, if last month’s illusion-and-illumination service was typical.

When the children get too fidgety during parts of the religious service prior to the illusions, they can color pictures in a special prayer book made for the occasion. Crayons are passed out before the service begins.

Actually, the rabbi has been injecting color into worship for some time in the reform synagogue at 6601 Valley Circle Blvd. Cohen originated the coloring/prayer book idea in 1972. He has shown slides at other innovative services.

Avadon, who has performed at the Magic Castle, among other places, was “discovered” by the rabbi outside the Los Angeles County Art Museum where a number of artists entertain on weekends.

So far the two have collaborated on Bible stories involving the burning bush, water from rock, the Ten Commandments tablets and Joseph’s coat of many colors.

Rather than trying to duplicate accounts of biblical miracles, however, both the rabbi and the magician who is Jewish, emphasized during rehearsal Thursday that they are simply providing visual aids.

I don’t think it even challenges belief in miracles,” Cohen said. “We are incapable of parting the Red Sea or showing manna coming from heaven.”

Avadon illustrated the burning bush reference with a fire that seemed to be burning in his hand.

The Hanukkah story of  the fight for religious freedom by Maccabee rebels includes the “miracle” of oil lamps that burned for eight days instead of just one. Avadon’s magic multiplies the light from one candle to produce eight lighted candles, symbolizing the traditional Hanukkah lamp.

Similarly, Cohen’s sermon tonight speaks of the Jewish “spirit that was impossible to cut” and Avadon cuts a scarf, folds it and unfolds it whole again.

The rabbi said the congregation has been receptive to the once-a-month magical services. But for the disillusioned dozen or so who expect something a little more traditional on Friday evening, the usual liturgy is led by an assistant in another part of the temple.

This photo appeared with the 2009 Los Angeles Times David Avadon obituary: David Avadon dies at 60; illusionist specialized in picking pockets.

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