PALMA CEIA — Two Tampa synagogues celebrate century-plus anniversary milestones this month.
Congregation Schaarai Zedek (translated from Hebrew as gates of righteousness) filled a community display case at the Tampa Bay History Center to tell its story. The time line begins in 1894 with the minutes of a temple board meeting. Those first services were held in a Masonic temple in downtown Tampa; Sunday school classes took place in a nearby dance academy.
Congregation Rodoph Sholom (pursuers of peace) formed in 1903, splitting off from Schaarai Zedek to offer more conservative worship practices, with more prayers and readings in Hebrew than in English. It is affiliated with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
By 1899, Schaarai Zedek had its own temple on Florida Avenue, following the more modern, Reform branch of Judaism. The next move, in June 1924, was to build a larger building on DeLeon and Delaware avenues in Hyde Park.
Membership neared 300 by 1957, when the current temple was completed at 3303 W Swann Ave. Today, more than 1,000 families belong, necessitating numerous additions for religious school and Amy Gail Buchman Preschool classrooms.
The History Center showcases reproductions of stained glass windows and ceremonial objects, such as a shofar, candelabra and wine cup. A cherished item is a Torah cover, embroidered by temple members, used to protect a sacred scroll rescued from a Czech Republic synagogue after the Holocaust.
Also on display: photographs of notable elected officials among the membership, starting with Tampa Mayor Herman Glogowski, who served four nonconsecutive terms between 1886 and 1893. There's also Tampa's first female mayor, Sandy Freedman, 1986 to 1995; Helen Gordon Davis, Florida House of Representatives, 1975-1988 and Florida Senate, 1989-1993; and Linda Saul Sena, Tampa City Council, 1987-1995 and 1999-2010.
Other photos represent the clergy, including the late Rabbi David Zielonka, 1930-1970; the late Rabbi Frank N. Sundheim and Rabbi Richard Birnholz, who has led the pulpit since 1986.
The exhibit closes Sept. 30.
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Descendents of some of Rodeph Sholom's founding families continue to be active members at 2713 Bayshore Blvd. Some remember their first synagogue on Palm Avenue, where the congregation worshiped from 1925 to 1968.
The June 1980 merger with another south Tampa synagogue, Beth Israel, expanded membership, now numbering 440 families.
Two of the newest members arrived in July: Rabbi Josh Hearshen and Cantor Andres Kornworcel. The clergymen follow Rabbi Marc Sack, who moved to Fort Myers after 18 years at the pulpit and Cantor Mordechai Schram, who returned to New York last month.
"It is an honor to join a community growing and developing while remaining true to its roots," said Hearshen, adding he is looking forward to a weekend of welcoming events (see schedule at right).
The new motto, "Generations of Innovative Spirituality," sums up the 110-year-old congregation, Hearshen said.
"We are true to our past with an eye toward staying current and relevant," he said. "We want to remain a community where grandparents feel as welcome as children not yet born."