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Our Temple History 

The History of Temple Beth Sholom: 1942-2020
In 1942 on Miami Beach, most Jews lived south of Fifth street.  The further north one ventured, the more prejudice and anti-Semitism one encountered.  Signs prohibiting Jews and Blacks were common, especially at the hotels.  The house deeds for many areas were restricted to Christians.  Blacks working on Miami Beach were prohibited from remaining there after dark.
In 1942, Abraham Zinnamon saw Benjamin Appel reading a Yiddish newspaper on a bench north of 17th street.  In due course, they decided to gather a group of Jews living in the “North” section of Miami Beach (now considered mid-beach) to establish a synagogue.
On June 3, a storefront was leased at 761 41st Street for the new Beth Sholom Center oriented to Orthodox/Conservative observances. The synagogue was founded to serve the initial 20 Jewish families who joined, in addition to the several hundred Jewish servicemen billeted in hotels in the area.  The Army Air Corps had commandeered these hotels for the purpose of training and housing young men and women preparing to be shipped off to Europe to join the battles raging at the time.
Rabbi Samuel Machtai, “the Radio Rabbi,” was engaged on a part-time basis.  High Holy Day services attracted 58 soldiers,  along with the 43 member families.
Although the membership remained the same, by 1944 the Board of Directors resolved to hire a permanent rabbi.  Rabbi Leon Kronish, accompanied by his wife, Lillian and their son, Jordan, arrived by train in time to conduct the 1944 High Holy Day services along with Cantor Louis Hyman.  Soon after, Cantor Samuel Kelemer became the permanent Hazan for the community.
During the post-World War II era, the newly renamed Temple Beth Sholom affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) a relationship that has deepened and grown through lay and clergy participation.   During the late 1940s through the mid-1950s our congregation grew to a membership of 750 families and established a Foundation School for pre-school children, a Religious School, several youth groups(BESHTY, Young Judea, Masada, AZA/BBG), a Brotherhood and Sisterhood and a great variety of cultural programs.
Two incidents reflect the times during which Temple Beth Sholom developed. 
When Rabbi Kronish arrived, he aggressively recruited families from the neighborhood by knocking on every door that had a mezuzah.  He also stood outside the North Beach Elementary School, located across the street from Temple Beth Sholom, asking each Jewish child to join the Temple Religious School.
The Board of Trustees acquired a vacant lot on the corner of North Meridian Avenue and 40th Street with the intent to build a structure for the new congregation.  The only neighbor was Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church.  The Board of Trustees authorized the establishment of a sign on the empty lot announcing, “Future Home of Beth Sholom Center.”  The sign was torn down overnight.  After this occurred repeatedly, Rabbi Kronish and some officers met with Father William A. Barry, the director of St. Patrick’s, to share their frustration.  Father Barry made it clear that he would not have a “Jewish Church” in the shadow of St. Patrick’s Church.  Temple Beth Sholom’s delegation returned to the Board and discussed what to do.  Miraculously, a new piece of property containing a two-story building became available on the corner of 41st Street and Chase Avenue, across from the elementary school and well east of the church.  Ironically, that property had once belonged to Carl Fisher, a reputed anti-Semite, who housed his polo ponies there.  During the war, the two-story building was used as both a laundry and housing for soldiers.  Until this very day, that land, with the addition of adjacent plots to the north, has been the foundation our congregation in all its building iterations.
Although Temple Beth Sholom affiliated with the Reform Movement, it distinguished itself in several ways from Classical Reform.  Services were held on both Friday night and Saturday morning.  Kippot and tallitot were expected to be worn by men.  All Holy Days were held according to the correct Hebrew calendar date.  Hebrew was taught in the Religious School, using methods pioneered in the State of Israel.  The congregation strongly identified as a Zionist community.  Rabbi Kronish, who was a student of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, led the Temple with a commitment to social justice, Jewish Peoplehood, and the Land of Israel.  Early on it was also decided that seating would be open to first come, first served.
Miami-Dade County grew exponentially after World War II ended.  The Jewish community also blossomed, filled with young families and many children. In 1975 the county recorded about 275,000 Jews, with the largest portion living on Miami Beach.   To accommodate all the new members seeking affiliation, Temple Beth Sholom engaged Percival Goodman in 1954 to create a sanctuary/social hall.  Dedicated on November 29, 1957, that structure, its interior completely renovated in 2015, remains our central worship space.  Its design reflects Abraham’s tent, welcoming all who wish to enter.  With the constant influx of “snowbirds” from the North during “the Season,” this structure symbolized our sacred space as an ingathering for all.  Indeed, at the height of each winter, the sanctuary was filled to overflowing with guest worshippers.
As the needs of the congregation expanded, a two-story motel to the north of our sanctuary was purchased and refitted to accommodate our education system from toddlers through adult.  In 1960 a building was constructed connecting the sanctuary/social hall with the school wing.  That basic footprint remains the home of Temple Beth Sholom.
Cantor David Conviser joined the congregation in 1957 and remained our Cantor until 1987, when he became Cantor Emeritus.  A number of Assistant Rabbis worked with Rabbi Kronish over the years including: Frank Fischer, Daniel Franzel, , Jerrold Levy, Jerome Gurland, and Paul Caplan.  Rabbi Harry Jolt, a Conservative rabbi, retired from Ventnor, New Jersey to Miami Beach in the 1960s.  He became our Auxiliary Rabbi, remaining with Temple Beth Sholom until his death in 2001, a beloved and revered teacher and friend.
In 1967 Judy Drucker, a member and a professional singer, developed the Great Artists Series which grew into one of the premier centers of culture and art in the entire region.  Over the decades, at Judy’s direction, Temple Beth Sholom presented The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Luciano Pavarotti, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Richard Tucker, Marilyn Horne and many others.  We hosted the American Ballet Theater and the Alvin Alley Dancers along with orchestras from around the world.  In addition, we presented great writers (Isaac Bashevis Singer, Amos Oz, Lucy Davidowicz Elie Wiesel), political personalities (Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Pinhas Sapir), visual artists (Amos Amit, Leonard Baskin, Zvi Raphaely) and their works.  Our involvement in this enormous undertaking lasted for 19 years until Judy Drucker established the program as an independent entity.  During this time, the Rabbi Leon Kronish Institute for Living Judaism became a reality, encompassing a School of Fine Arts, the Lowe-Levinson Gallery and Exhibition Hall.
After 1980, the Jewish population of Miami Beach declined rapidly.  Membership dropped and the congregation became debt-ridden.  The building, itself, had fallen into a state of disrepair.  Just as the congregation had begun a fund-raising effort to rebuild for the future, Rabbi Kronish experienced a massive stroke on January 14, 1984.  This occurred on a Shabbat morning on the eve of one of his planned trips to Israel.  Rabbi Kronish was named Founding Senior Rabbi and remained with the congregation until his death in 1996. 
From January 1984 until November 1985, Temple Beth Sholom struggled to regroup.  A new Board of Directors formed, a Rabbinic search committee was assembled, and a core group of young leaders began the process of reorganizing the congregation. 
On November 1, 1985, Rabbi Gary A. Glickstein became the second Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom.  Rabbi Glickstein brought with him a desire to integrate more traditional aspects of prayer ritual into our services, a wider variety of Jewish liturgical music, a continued deepening of the integration of Israeli culture into our community and a more informal sense of the joy and love of Judaism and the Jewish People.  We became the congregation whose warm and welcoming nature embraces all who enter or seek to enter our doors.
The Board of Trustees and the staff began the arduous tasks of confronting the debt, rebuilding the membership, and shoring up our aged facility.  Slowly we addressed each issue and began to make progress on every front.
Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff became our Assistant Rabbi in 1987.  He and his wife, Lindy Passer, brought a creative energy into our school and youth programs as well as forming HaShirim, a marvelous volunteer chorus consisting of over 25 members.
At the same time, we began the transition away from presenting major musical performances and concentrated on restructuring the congregation itself.  Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah programs proved popular.   A system of Havurot, consisting of around 10 families in each unit, offered social opportunities on a more intimate level.  We began yearly family trips to Israel, retreats for families and alternative Shabbat offerings, including additional weekly 6 PM service.  We gradually reconfigured our worship spaces to accommodate movable seating in place of fixed pews and added a thrust Bima, bringing the clergy and congregants closer to each other.  As the clergy sought to relate to our congregation in a less hierarchical fashion, they discontinued wearing robes during Shabbat services.
Cantor Steven Haas became Cantor in 1989.  His magnetic personality and magnificent voice attracted many new faces into our congregation.
Slowly we began to grow our numbers and retire our debt.  Our Burn the Mortgage fundraising drive was successful, and we actually burned our mortgage.  Our Board of Trustees made the commitment to never again mortgage our property.  To this day, they have kept that promise.
As we retired our debt, we planned for the future.  A 5-year plan set specific goals for every aspect of congregational life.  Our initial goals involved restructuring our entire administration utilizing a best business practices approach, developing a major fund raising effort to retire all debt, rebuilding our facility to meet the needs of 21st century Jews and establishing an Endowment to alleviate some of the burden on member families of the rising costs of maintaining a quality Jewish congregation. We have been successful in meeting and even exceeding those goals.  Our debts are long since retired.  Our facility is entirely rebuilt and functions in a constantly evolving way to accommodate our community’s changing needs.  The Rabbi Gary A. Glickstein Endowment Fund is established and serves to support Temple Beth Sholom’s programs and staff requirements.  As time went on, we continued to establish new, even more ambitious goals.
Our new facility, completed in 2015 reflects the needs and requirements of our growing, thriving community.  Our entire facility is fronted by a beautiful wall of Jerusalem stone.  This serves to both protect our congregants and to guide everyone who enters to the main entrance.  That entrance leads to the heart of our facility, a Welcome Center, designed to both invite in and gently direct those who enter toward their destination.  Large windows in the back, open to our playground and in the front to our open-air multi-purpose space, our Palm Garden.  The sound of children playing is usually heard in the background.  The Center itself has comfortable couches and chairs and invites anyone to spend time with us.  The Sisterhood Gift shop, Holy Grounds, offers coffee and a variety of drinks, food, ice cream and a complete array of Judaica for ritual uses and gifts.  Wrapping around the walls of the Welcome Center is our Art Gallery, displaying special exhibits throughout the year.  The north wing of the facility houses our school programs: Infant Care, Foundation School, TBSIS, Hebrew School, JLab and Adult Education.  Our Activities room serves to facilitate our Tot Shabbat and abuts our extensive arts room.  The south wing encompasses our clergy offices, Board Room, administrative offices, the Woldenberg Center for Jewish Life, the Beit Channah Chapel, Memorial Alcove, and sanctuary/social hall.  Both our Chapel and our Sanctuary are examples of the new spiritual awakening present in Temple Beth Sholom.
The essence of our congregation lies in the people who serve it and populate it.   A few staff members helped carry our congregation over the transitionary period between Rabbi Kronish and Rabbi Glickstein.  Shula ben David was the rock upon which we secured our Hebrew School and Bar/Bat Mitzvah program.  Her unique and determined spirit touched thousands over the many years.  Dennis Rice, as Executive Director supported the Board during those dark days after Rabbi Kronish had his stroke and continued to be a strong and steady part of rebuilding Temple Beth Sholom.  Alice Miller succeeded Dennis and guided us into a stable administrative process.  Today, our former president Jeffrey Graff holds this essential position.
During this transition, the leadership reconfigured the Board of Trustees to better represent the modern Jewish community.  Individuals of all ages (including youth representatives), backgrounds and economic abilities were invited to serve.  Women became officers and in 1990 Helen Kotler became the first female president of our congregation, eventually followed by many others.
As Rabbi Glickstein worked with the Board to re-envision the programs, several key individuals joined the team.  Louis Bordman partnered with Rabbi Gwasdoff to invigorate our youth programs and religious school.  Anita Koppele, Rowena Kovler, Dr. Francine Herold and Margie Zeskind infused our Foundation School with excellence, growing the number of students, expanding our offerings, and enriching both the Jewish and the educational aspects of our Early Childhood Programs.  In 2017, Margie Zeskind founded our Temple Beth Sholom Innovative School (TBSIS).  This special school for elementary age children bases its curriculum on the competence of students in partnership with educators.  This approach grows an environment that nourishes spiritual, cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.  As in our larger congregation, our Innovative School is committed to the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place. 
Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz became a part-time member of our clergy in 1994, eventually expanding her role to full time.  Under her guidance, Mitzvah Day, inaugurated in 1995, has become our second largest gathering during the year.  With her support, our community also moved into a robust social justice agenda promoting voting rights, immigration equity, gun control and civic engagement.  In time, our efforts to bring young Jews into the congregation produced the dynamic, trend-setting group now known as The Tribe.  This semi-independent community of young Jews is self-directed, setting its own program agenda and fund-raising approaches.  On June 1, 2018 Rabbi Pomerantz became the third Senior Rabbi of our congregation, upon Rabbi Glickstein’s retirement to become Emeritus.  Her ascension marked the first time that a woman rabbi headed a large URJ congregation in the Southern United States.  Rabbi Pomerantz has already begun to implement her vision for our congregation.  She wrote:   It is a vision of a warm and welcoming congregation where relationships are central, and leaders are cultivated.  It is a congregation where there are meaningful opportunities for personal growth and learning and traditions are honored and refreshed through continuous innovation.
Rabbi Robert Davis joined our clergy team in 1995 and continues to add his unique, sensitive, and insightful qualities to every aspect of our community.
Mark Baranek came to Temple Beth Sholom in 1997 as Director of Education and Youth.  His special way of connecting with each student and family was so impactful that he transitioned into a new role, Director of Congregational Engagement.
One of the unsung heroes of our congregation is Michael Svayg.  He joined us in 1997 and has been the trusted guardian that helped us hold our old facility together until we could create our beautiful new campus.  Since that new campus was completed, Michael and his crew have worked lovingly to keep our facilities pristine and well maintained.
Cantor Lisa Segal joined our clergy team in 2011.  She initiated and guided the establishment of our weekly Shabbat Minyan service, which has added a deepening spiritual element to our community.  Cantor Segal has introduced new musical settings to our worship as she has nurtured the musical talents of our musicians and singers.  Her efforts have also brought new life to our Sisters in the Hood.
In more recent years our congregation has had the privilege of welcoming Rabbis Amy Morrison, Ethan Bair and Joanne Loiben into our community.  We have been greatly blessed with wonderful clergy over the years.
Every aspect of the history of Temple Beth Sholom reflects the leadership, vision, and loyalty of our lay leaders.  Especially from the moment Rabbi Kronish became incapacitated, the Presidents of our Board of Trustees, their officers, Board members and devoted volunteers have played an instrumental role in taking a congregation in crisis and transforming it, in partnership with the clergy and staff, into the thriving, vibrant, welcoming congregation that now exists.
Today, Temple Beth Sholom is guided by our Mission Statement and Core Values:
Mission:
Temple Beth Sholom is a vibrant, inclusive Jewish congregation in Miami Beach affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. We develop meaningful relationships and transformative experiences by committing to our core values:
 
Core Values:
  • Spirituality (עבודה, Avodah): We seek spiritual growth bound by a common desire to live mindful Jewish lives.
  • Education (תורה, Torah): We encourage lifelong learning to deepen our knowledge and observance of Jewish traditions.
  • Community (קהילה, Kehilah): We offer a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all who seek affiliation with our synagogue by providing cultural, educational, personal and social opportunities that connect us to each other.
  • Israel (ישראל, Yisrael): We support the Jewish people, the land of Israel and the State of Israel.
  • Repairing The World (תקון עולם, Tikkun Olam): We pursue peace and equality within our congregation and throughout the world through social justice, charitable giving and acts of loving-kindness.
 
Each of these Core Values has existed in some form since the earliest days of our history.  Much has changed in the way that we express and program these ideas. The demographic makeup of our congregation is far more diverse and international than it was during our earlier decades, numbering over 1100 families from states and countries around the world.
In March of 2020 at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Temple Beth Sholom became a virtual synagogue.  We used the energy, creativity and flexibility of our clergy team, our staff and our lay leaders and volunteers to create an entirely new Temple, Together But Separate.  Our membership rallied around this new entity and we found a way to thrive, even throughout the virtual High Holy Days 5781. 
Since 1942, Miami Beach has experienced periods of decay, renewal, decline and rebirth. The Jewish Community of Miami Beach has greatly diminished in size, presently comprising about 22,000 individuals. In our city, today, there are less Conservative congregations and far more small Orthodox shuls. One thing remains the same since 1942.  There is only one Reform congregation on Miami Beach, Temple Beth Sholom.

The History of Our Beit Hannah

Beit Hannah

The smaller sanctuary of Temple Beth Sholom, the Beit Hannah Chapel, was dedicated in 2007.  This special space was conceived and created using three core ideas:

1. The sacred space should represent many varied cultural Jewish traditions.

2. The architecture must be welcoming, inviting, and spiritually enticing.

3. The space, as well as the ritual items, must reflect the core values of the woman after whom the chapel was named.

Cultural Jewish Traditions

The central part of the chapel utilizes Ashkenazic seating.  This style of theater seating is found in most European synagogues.

The benches that are placed on the three walls and surround the chairs reflect Sephardic seating.  In most Sephardic synagogues benches and chairs are placed around the central raised space from which the leader conducts the service.  All the seating is movable, so that the space can be configured as needed, including as a service in-the-round.

Niches, like those found in Israeli houses of worship in Jerusalem, Safed and elsewhere house the Torah Scrolls.  The use of multiple niches is also seen in Sephardic holy spaces.  The three Torah Scrolls are dressed to combine both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic styles.  The tik (a free-standing box) is a common way to house scrolls in the non-Ashkenazic world.  The silver tik in the central niche is an antique acquired from an Indian Jewish congregation which dedicated it in 1921.  The scroll is original, as is the lining of the tik.  The rimonim(crowns) are also antiques, but their origin is Syria at around the same time.  The other two Torahs are housed in individual arks and are dressed in an Ashkenazic style. Limited by the space, the rimonim are not normally used and the tradition of Temple Beth Sholom is to not dress our Torahs with shields of any kind.

The beautiful wood lectern where the worship leader stands contains an element described in the Torah, itself, for the movement of the Ark of the Covenant.  Long wood staves can carry the lectern, without damaging it, to a safe place when the room is being used for a purpose other than worship.  When the chapel is not being used as a holy space, two panels which match the walls around the chapel, are slid out to cover the entire raised bimah with all its ritual elements.

The Architecture and Design

The Design Committee examined quite a few options before deciding on the present configuration.  Bernard Zyscovich was the architect who skillfully brought this holy space into reality.  Bernard and his team dreamed, studied, and debated with Rabbi Glickstein, our Senior Rabbi, and our Design Committee until we all were confident that this holy space reflected the values of our congregation.

Two designers fashioned each of the ritual items used in our Beit Hannah:  Arks, Torah covers, Ner Tamid, Menorah and Shabbat Candle Holder.  Their exceptional creativity and exquisite skills perfectly expressed the Design Committee’s vision.  Our Design Committee members gave endless hours of their time and energy to this sacred project.

 

The two large doors welcoming all into Beit Channah are a reminder of the doors King Solomon established in the First Temple in Jerusalem which were made by wood brought in from the cedars of Lebanon.

The walls of the Chapel represent the parchment of the Torah scrolls.  They are backlit to provide the warm glow of Jewish tradition.  They are blank because each of us writes our own Torah throughout our lives.  Sitting in the Chapel, surrounded by these soft, scroll-like walls, we can not only pray meaningfully, but also contemplate how we are living our lives and what we might do to make our time more blessed.

As a special and somewhat hidden feature, on the two panels on either side of the back doors one can make out the shadow of two pillars.  These represent the two pillars that stood outside the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and were named Boaz and Yachin.

The ceiling is a curved arc that contains lights of varying sizes and intensity.  As we look up, we are reminded of the expanse of the heavens and our relationship to the universe.

The bimah is raised, as is required, but only a few inches.  This enables anyone to ascend to the scrolls, either via a small ramp or with the gentle help of our congregants.  The bimah, itself, as well as the Eastern wall of the Chapel, are made from Jerusalem stone, cut, shaped, and shipped to us from the quarries of Jerusalem.  Our congregation has deep roots in Zionism and support for the land, people, and State of Israel.  Throughout our building, stone from the holy land of Israel serves as a physical representation of that relationship.  We also proudly exhibit both the flags of the United States of America and the State of Israel in our two sanctuaries.

There are three lights that are required to complete a Jewish worship space:  An Eternal Light, a Menorah and natural light (windows).

The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) is set off center.  This tradition reflects the way our Sephardic sisters and brothers use multiple eternal lights around their houses of worship, rather than one central light placed over the central ark.  The Ner Tamid comprises colors used in the Chapel’s design.  Its spiral symbolizes the cyclical, yet progressive, nature of our people’s history, culminating in the multicolored circle which brings us together with the Holy One.

The Menorah glows with the warmth of both the past and the continuity of the present.  It accommodates both candle flames and symbolic reflective light.

Rabbinic tradition holds that windows are necessary to demonstrate that the sacred space is meant to relate to the outside world and vice versa.  What is affirmed within our worship space, must also affect our lives when we venture out into the world.  The entire Bima is surrounded by a clear skylight, showering natural light into our Beit Hannah.

This chapel space was also designed to be flexible and can be used in a respectful way for non-religious activities.  For example, on Mitzvah Day, the blood drive takes place in the chapel.  We screen films for the Jewish Film Festival in the chapel.  In our congregation, all spaces are expected to be available for multiple purposes to accommodate the needs of our large congregation, housed in an extremely limited footprint

Our Hannah

Beit Hannah is named for Arlene (Hannah) Chaplin z”l, wife of Harvey, mother of Paul(Karen), Wayne(Arlene) and Terry(Fred).

In choosing the colors and fabrics of the Chapel, special care was given to integrating Arlene’s qualities into the space. 

The silver Candle Holder used to light Shabbat candles at Friday night services was inspired by Arlene’s candle stick holder which she used to light the Shabbat lights in her home.  It contained three branches:  one for her and Harvey, one for her children and their spouses and one for their grandchildren.

One of the tiks is built on the theme of the honeycomb.  It symbolizes the sweet nature of Arlene and the Torah itself which is “sweet as honey.”  Both the doors of the tik and the Torah mantel are patterned with this in mind.

The other tik has the pomegranate as its theme.  The door encases a pomegranate fashioned out of natural stones and the mantel for the scroll is decorated in this theme.  This fruit represents the wisdom Arlene taught her family and the Torah’s lessons which guide our lives as individuals and as a community.

In an act of serendipity, the Silver Tik we acquired from India which sits at the heart of Beit Hannah is engraved with a dedication from 1921 to a woman named Mazal Tov.  What a fitting scroll to grace our House of Hannah.

When entering Beit Hannah, one is filled with a special, spiritual glow that emanates from the environment,  enveloping all who sit in its holy space.  We welcome you to our Beit Hannah.

Sun, June 20 2021 10 Tammuz 5781