Rabbi Bernard King, a pioneer in interfaith work in Orange County, died Monday of liver cancer at his home in Lake Forest, surrounded by his wife and family. He was 72.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that King had died of lung cancer.
King was the founding rabbi at Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'alot in Irvine, which started in Newport Beach as Harbor Reform Temple. He led the congregation for 32 years, increasing the temple from 50 families to about 650 before he retired in 2001.
From the beginning, he set a tone of religious harmony.
"He was a man with openness and graciousness … He was certainly open to the Muslim community," said Muzammil Siddiqi, a director of the Islamic Society of Orange County. "We feel that we've lost a good friend."
The temple rented space from Newport Beach churches St. James Episcopal Church and Christ Church by the Sea, United Methodist for nearly 10 years. In 1978, the temple joined with St. Mark Presbyterian Church in the same building and sanctuary, a partnership that sprang out of both congregations' need for more space to grow. King had met the church's pastor at an interfaith gathering.
"It shows that we're not working artificially to make brotherhood happen," King told The Times in 1986. "They took a vote on this shared relationship when it was proposed, and it was virtually unanimous."
The arrangement lasted till 1994, when Shir Ha-Ma'alot moved into a former health club in Irvine for more space. But the move didn't dampen King's interfaith work, which friends and family say was motivated by his view of seeing the holiness in everyone. The license plate on his SUV read U2RHOLY.
"Every soul was important to him," said Rabbi Richard Steinberg, who followed King at Shir Ha-Ma'alot.
And everyone was a reflection of God to him, said his daughter, Adeena Homampour, a speech therapist. "He was a rabbi but he understood that there are different faiths for different people," she said.
Born April 21, 1938, in Arizona and raised in San Francisco, King was a submariner in the Navy before earning his bachelor's degree in philosophy from UCLA.
During his studies to be a rabbi in 1965, King was prompted to join the last of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Selma-to-Montgomery marches by the screams of Bloody Sunday protesters he heard on radio news reports. He graduated from rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles in 1969.
He met his future wife, Barbara, at the temple. She had moved to Orange County for a teaching job and had heard about the "touchy, feely congregation in Newport Beach." She accompanied her husband in all his work — the bar mitzvahs, weddings, funerals and board meetings.
Rabbis are very busy people, she said, and "if I didn't go to everything, I wouldn't be able to see him."
After the 1992 Los Angeles riots, King decided his congregation should reach out to the poorer communities in Orange County and began an adopt-a-family program. Through the Santa Ana school where his wife taught, they matched up needy families with members of the congregation to provide meals during Thanksgiving and toys and gifts during Christmas. More than 1,000 people receive help during both holidays.
"It's kind of a Jews' way of celebrating Christmas," Barbara King said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, King is survived by children David, Neil and Stephen; his sister, Jeanne Friedman; and two grandchildren.
Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Thursday at Shir Ha-Ma'alot with burial at Pacific View Memorial Park and Mortuary in Corona del Mar.