History of Temple Judea

TJ Ground Breaking SmallerIn 1946, a few Jewish families living in and around south Florida’s Coral Gables area began meeting in homes, storefronts and at the University of Miami Hillel Center to worship and have social gatherings. Their numbers increased and in September 1948, the group officially formed the Coral Gables Jewish Center, joining the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.  Although they adopted all of the literature and teachings of the Union, they preferred to refer to themselves as Liberal Reform, using the Kippah and Tallit in their services.  Soon thereafter, in 1950, a full time Rabbi and Cantor were hired, followed by construction of a temple in the commercial section of Coral Gables.  In 1956, the Coral Gables Jewish Center changed its name to Temple Judea.

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In the early 1960’s, metropolitan Miami’s Jewish community was growing and young families were moving further south. Rabbi Mordecai Podet served the congregation from 1962- 1964.  His main area of interest was furthering Adult Education. The leadership of the congregation knew that their current location was not going to serve the needs of the families, and they began to re-evaluate how they could address this reality. In 1964, they hired Rabbi Morris Kipper who understood the needs of the traditional families, but was able to attract young families.  (He later became the founder of the High School in Israel).  In 1966, with the help of the University of Miami, Temple Judea was able to purchase the current prominent location on US 1 in Coral Gables and dedicated the existing temple building, designed by the world renowned architect Morris Lapidus.  At that time the membership was 400 families, the school program had expanded to 6 hours/week, confirmation classes were holding retreats and a strong high school youth program was developed.

In 1973 Rabbi Michael Eisenstat came to Temple Judea where he would serve for 23 years until 1996.  During his tenure, in addition to normal rabbinic duties, he authored extensive worship service liturgies; created the Annual community-wide Interfaith Day of Understanding, established a weekly Soup Kitchen for the poor that still exists today.  He was involved in many other community organizations including the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.  

2615 001Through the years the congregation has grown and expansion occurred.  Enhancements such as the Grossman Room, Silverman Music Room, Harrison Library and Reiter pavilion patio, plus the sought-after Margaux Early Childhood School, were added.   The Temple also has added social action programs such as a weekly Soup Kitchen served at a local church in Coconut Grove; periodic Mitzvah Days; and involvement at local public schools. Other programming includes the Eric B. Meyers Scholar-In-Residence weekend; Kalish Artist in Residence; Apple Adult Learning; a lecture series; Torah and Talmud study in multiple locations; rabbi- or staff-led youth trips to Israel, New York City, and Washington, D.C.; rabbi-led congregational travel abroad; and a wide range of support groups open to the community.

2610 001In 1996, Rabbi Edwin Goldberg became Senior Rabbi. Since then, Rabbi Goldberg and the lay leadership have instituted remarkable changes in worship, education, and youth programs. Through worship transformation, both the music and the prayer book for Shabbat Evening services have changed. The congregation’s long range planning effort resulted in the hiring of a full-time youth director (who now will also oversee general programming) and a full time educational director. Youth programming touches the lives of more than 300 children annually, with active programs starting in third grade and continuing through senior high school. Our religious school curriculum has been continually rewritten to stay current with today’s children’s demands. These changes equated to growth, requiring yet another renovation of the building in order to best serve the needs of the congregation as we moved rapidly into the 21st Century. The sacred space renovation was completed in September 2004 and the school addition and renovation will begin the Fall 2013.

Our senior staffing was restructured to utilize a separate cantorial soloist and B’nai Mitzvah mentor, both of whom joined our congregational family in 2004

In 2006 we took the much-needed step of adding a second rabbi, engaging Rabbi Judith Siegal shortly after her ordination. Our goal of full partnership between our rabbis has been fulfilled. Rabbi Siegal is involved in every aspect of Temple Judea’s operation, from delivering High Holiday sermons, to attendance at all Board of Trustee and Executive Committee meetings, and to fundraising for our Capital Campaign. Rabbi Siegal’s growing stature in Reform Judaism also is reflected in her having been elected to the CCAR board in 2010.

We are very proud of our entire senior staff and their continuing efforts to make Temple Judea an outstanding community for the study and practice of Judaism.