The Los Angeles Sai Baba Center was founded in the early 1980s in west Los Angeles by Irving Goldstein, father of Dr. Michael Goldstein. This was the second Sai center in Los Angeles County. It was preceded by the original Hollywood Center run by Richard and Janet Bock. Small was the number of Sai Baba devotees in the local area at the time, and consequently those who composed the early L.A. Center were also members of the Hollywood Center. Hollywood then met on Friday evenings, and the L.A. Center has always been on Saturday afternoons so there was no conflict.
Pat Garland returned from India in 1981 after having seen Mother Theresa’s mission of feeding the homeless on the streets of Calcutta. She observed the homeless living in MacArthur Park (central Los Angeles) pushing their shopping carts around with their belongings. “Here is thesame wretchedness I saw in India,” she thought. With help from Estelle Tepper she began providing vegetarian soups or stews with bread for these homeless persons. Using Estelle’s kitchen they would cook and provide food for five days each week serving out of the back of a station wagon. This was the first ongoing seva project performed by Sai devotees in Los Angeles County.
When the L.A. Center was founded shortly thereafter and located at his residence, Irving Goldstein assumed the responsibility of the cooking for the homeless. After some years the MacArthur Park project was taken over by others. The L.A. Center assumed responsibility for the making and serving of lunch to the homeless in Downtown Los Angeles on Sundays. (This seva project is still ongoing and is supported by the membership of other centers in Los Angeles County.)
In 1988 Barbara Lambert was advised by her doctors, that they did not know what was wrong with her. They could do nothing to alleviate her physical symptoms. Her condition, however, worsened. Believing she had only a short time to live, she decided to spend that time in service to others. She contacted a person who was providing food for the homeless in Santa Monica. Barbara was immediately put in charge of the project despite her protests that she had neither food nor personnel to feed the large number of homeless that were their responsibility. “Don’t worry,” she was told. “Help will come.”
As a member of the L.A. Center, she took her concern to Irving and the membership. In no time there were 16 volunteers and food to provide for the homeless feeding on Sundays in Palisades Park (Santa Monica). Week by week as she continued to engage in this seva her health improved until she was completely cured.
As time went on the project moved to Santa Monica City Hall, and later to the shelters in the area. This was in keeping with Santa Monica’s attempt to remove the homeless from the streets. But as the burden and responsibility that Barbara was shouldering continued to increase – she was now serving 350 homeless – her health condition deteriorated again. Her doctors advised her to quit her seva activities. “Instead of quitting I began to delegate responsibility. It took me years to get it right. One has to have balance, harmony,” she said. After 20 years of providing continuous seva to Santa Monica’s homeless, Barbara finally retired from this activity.
Meanwhile in the late 1980s the L.A. Center moved from Irving’s residence to Guy BonGiovanni’s, also in west Los Angeles. While there the seva activity continued not only with Barbara’s Santa Monica project, but also with Irving’s Downtown homeless feeding on Sundays. It was at this time Irving introduced the making of burritos as a food specialty. He dedicated the remainder of his life to numerous seva activities.
The L.A. Center arrived at its present location, the home of Ron and Beverly Carman in December 1993. The seva projects of Irving and Barbara continued. When the present Hollywood Center, founded by Carlos Sironi, came into being a few years later, Irving’s Downtown project became centered in the Hollywood Center, and Barbara’s Santa Monica project remained with L.A. Both centers provided help in the feeding of the homeless on Monday evenings at Samoshel, the Santa Monica shelter then operated by the Salvation Army.
Irving remained active with both projects. In an ambulance following his final heart attack one Monday afternoon, he yanked on the sleeve of the paramedic attending him and whispered, “Will you do me a favor?” “Yes, sir,” the paramedic replied. “Call Samoshel and tell them I won’t be coming this evening.”
We continue to make burritos on a weekly basis and deliver them to shelters in Santa Monica. Occasionally we provide the shelters with supplies of needed toiletries. We have been involved in teaching programs of troubled youth at a Los Angeles County juvenile camp. Our membership’s Young Adult contingent has been active in that organization’s seva activities. Also among us are Bal Vikas teachers who teach at the Glendale Center’s Bal Vikas program as we have not a program of our own.
Our membership has never been large in numbers. This seems to be the plan of the Cosmic Designer so that the impact on our neighborhood is tolerable. Consequently we have been able to provide continuous services to our members for the many years we have been in existence. We like to think of our Center as an oasis of love and peace, a place of refuge from the deserts of confusion and conflict in the modern world. Our Center is open to all devotees of the Lord. All are welcome to come to share experiences and to participate in our activities.
We meet every Saturday between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. for study circle and bhajans. Our making of burritos for the homeless begins earlier at 2:30 p.m. We are located in Cheviot Hills, between Westwood and Culver City:
2961 Motor Ave., L.A. 90064.
For additional information, call 310-837-8568.
Prepared by Ron Carman