Forty years ago, David and Sharon Cross joined a group of families working to open the North Tampa area's first synagogue.
The 16 families saw a lack of Jewish presence in their developing community, so they gathered together to form Congregation Kol Ami.
The first meetings were held in 1977, starting in family homes, then at a Masonic Lodge. In 1980, Kol Ami hired its first Rabbi and from there, the congregation grew to more than 360 families. In 1998, the synagogue at 3919 Moran Road underwent a major expansion. The synagogue expanded its sanctuary, religious school and youth programs.
About 40 of the families attending Kol Ami today are multigenerational, including the Cross family.
Sharon Cross, who raised three children and saw her granddaughter celebrate her bat mitzvah at the synagogue last year, considers Kol Ami a second family. She is helping organize the 40th anniversary celebration weekend, which will bring back many original members including the first, Leonard Rosenthal.
"Kol Ami has always been about finding spiritual connection by being together and praying together," Sharon Cross said. "It's where all my friends are, where I go for upliftment. It is still a warm and engaging community."
David Cross served as the first president of the congregation. Sharon, who currently acts as the secretary of books, has held many positions.
The biggest difference between Kol Ami in 1977 and the synagogue today is the lack of twenty and thirty-somethings, she said.
"Us original members, we have aged and many of us are in our 60s and 70s," she said. "Many of our children have moved away and we are finding the younger generation is just not as interested or in need of a centralized religious and spiritual home. It's a different generation and they find their social activities in different ways."
Kol Ami is currently in the process of selecting a new permanent Rabbi. Interim Rabbi Howard Siegel will remain in place until August. Board members hope to hire someone enthusiastic about bringing in new families.
"It will be someone who brings energy to the congregation, who continues to show this is a warm and friendly place to be, which is what we have always been, a place to celebrate the joy of being Jewish," Cross said.
Anniversary celebration events will include Shabbat services and dinner at 6 p.m. Dec. 15 and a 40th Anniversary Gala Fundraiser from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Dec. 16. The fundraiser, which will include a live auction, dinner, cocktails and dancing, is $100 per person and babysitting is available. The synagogue will also host a special Hanukkah party at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17. All are invited to the Gala fundraiser, which proceeds go to benefit programs at Kol Ami.
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Reservations are required for the dinner and 40th Anniversary Gala.
For more information, visit kolami.org or call (813) 962-6338.
Contact Sarah Whitman at firstname.lastname@example.org.