South Florida’s first Reform Synagogue celebrates its 100th anniversary the weekend of May 6-7.
Temple Israel of Greater Miami, which was founded in 1922, will kick off its centennial weekend celebration with a Legacy Shabbat at 6 p.m. on May 6. On May 7, it will host a gala and a concert.
The May 7 events begin with a dinner honoring Kenneth Treister, architect of the synagogue’s Gumenick Chapel, at 6 p.m. Havdalah takes place in the chapel at 7:30 p.m., followed by the Centennial Concert featuring singers and friends from South Florida at 8 a.m. pm
Since July 2021, the synagogue has hosted other events marking the synagogue’s centennial. The concert is the last of the centennial events, and the congregation’s year of celebrations culminates with a trip to Israel in June.
Mark Nedlin, chair of the synagogue’s Centennial Task Force who was instrumental in planning all celebratory events, describes the congregation as unique.
“He played a vital role in the community,” Nedlin continued. “It has always been known as a very progressive temple. Throughout these 100 years, it has always had a very diverse community. It is a very open and welcoming temple. We are one of Miami’s most open congregations and pride ourselves on its diversity.
Shari Debowsky, the synagogue’s executive director, said the synagogue’s centennial is “a milestone that most institutions miss.”
“We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate with our community,” said Debowsky. “I truly believe that when Temple Israel was founded in 1922, the founders probably did not imagine what it would be like 100 years from now, but we are so grateful for their ability to create a historic synagogue in the city of Miami, which was a brand new city in 1922. It’s pretty amazing.
Rabbi Amy Morrison, spiritual leader of the synagogue, said, “I am proud to serve as Rabbi of Temple Israel this centennial year and always.
“We are a congregational family united not only by our common desire to boldly live our modern interpretation of Jewish values, but also by our diversity and our unique spirit of celebrating our authentic selves,” Morrison continued. “Temple Israel stands proudly on the shoulders of those who have gone before us while laying a solid foundation for those who are yet to come.
Morrison noted, “My vision for the future of Temple Israel is that we continue to innovate and reinvent how our ancient religion can serve to guide our modern desires to seek justice, to engage in building a meaningful community and to continue to cultivate and support seekers of faith and connection well into the future.
Among the performers at the upcoming centennial concert is Alan Mason, the music director emeritus of Temple Israel who worked there from 1991 to 2018 and is now music director of the Bet Shira Congregation in Miami.
Mason, who will accompany the singers on the piano, said the concert represents three things musically: the synagogue, the stage and the celebration.
“It represents the synagogue in that the program is primarily a sacred text,” Mason said. “It represents the stage in that there is an exceptional Broadway and theater. And it represents the celebration in that it begins and ends with a sacred prayer over the celebration. The program begins and ends with the full choir singing celebratory hymns composed by cantor Rachelle Nelson.
Mason continued, “It’s a real honor that the bookmarks for this program are the choral works of cantor Rachelle Nelson, because that pretty much sums up the Jewish musical community that’s in this area, which is very much rooted in the fact that she is here for a lifetime. .”
“Most of the performers on this program, including me personally, have careers in Jewish sacred music because of her,” Mason said.
Mason credits Nelson with bringing him to Temple Israel and beginning his post there in January 1991.
Nelson began his career with Temple Israel as a cantor soloist while its location in southern Miami-Dade County was still open. When she was finishing her studies to become a cantor at Hebrew Union College, she spent her weekends traveling from New York to Miami to serve as a student cantor at Temple Israel. She spent 29 years serving as cantor at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest.
Nelson said she was excited to be a part of the upcoming gig.
“Dr. Mason and I worked together to create a very eclectic musical evening that included Broadway, Jewish folk songs, and liturgy,” she said. “Cantors and soloists from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach generously donate their talents and time to celebrate with us.”
Visit templeisrael.net for more information about the synagogue, its history, and centennial events.