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Synagogues unite in wide welcome

Seeking unaffiliated Jews and others, Pinellas synagogues open their doors and their arms.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published November 4, 2007


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Six Pinellas County Jewish congregations have come together in a historic collaboration to invite unaffiliated Jews, including interfaith families, to Sabbath services next weekend.

The effort, titled Shabbat Pinellas, involves six synagogues stretching from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. Each congregation is preparing to serve those who accept the invitation a special Sabbath dinner and welcome them to the services that follow.

Each will also begin Friday evening's program at the same time and serve the same Kosher meal catered by Jo-El's, a kosher grocery and deli in St. Petersburg.

"It's a unique opportunity that we have been able to come together, six Reform and Conservative synagogues in Pinellas County to collaborate on this effort," said Rabbi Michael Torop, president of the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis.

"We all share a common purpose, to try to do whatever we can to reach out to unaffiliated Jews across the county and to open our doors and express to them a message of welcome that we're here and we have something to offer and please come and take advantage of it," said Torop, rabbi of Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg.

The goal is to get Jews who are not involved in religious life into the synagogues this Friday. The hope is that they will return. The effort is being helped by the Jewish Federation of Pinellas/Pasco Counties, which awarded a $10,000 grant to the Board of Rabbis that is being used primarily for advertising, brochures, yard signs and the Sabbath meal.

Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel in St. Petersburg said some unaffiliated Jews are concerned about finances, but that synagogues are always willing to work with those who cannot afford the dues. Sometimes, he said, older people decide not to connect with a congregation. At other times, people stay away because they are part of an interfaith family and are unsure where they belong.

This weekend's Pinellas County program grew out of a discussion that began three years ago, Luski said. At a meeting of the Board of Rabbis, Luski, president at the time, asked his colleagues about attendance at their High Holidays services. Synagogues traditionally are filled to capacity during the annual services, but attendance quickly drops in the weeks after.

Luski urged his colleagues "to think outside the box" to reach those who rarely or never attend services.

Luski said the effort to encourage Friday's guests to return will be low key. Each congregation will distribute information about upcoming events, including Hanukkah, he said. The newcomers also will receive a brochure listing participating congregations and a primer called, "Celebrate Shabbat," a booklet of Sabbath rituals for families.

Synagogue members will greet Friday's guests and sit with them during dinner and Sabbath service.

"At each congregation, the experience is going to be very similar," Torop said.

"We will have a traditional Shabbat dinner and will include all the standard Shabbat rituals, lighting the candles, singing the songs, challah, blessing children, enjoying a lovely meal together and concluding the meal with more singing and a final blessing, the grace after meals, Birkat Hamazon."

There is no data about the number of unaffiliated Jews in the area, Bonnie Friedman, executive director of the Jewish Federation, said, but a study done over nine years ago indicated there are "25,000 plus" Jewish residents in Pinellas County.

Luski said, "We who are affiliated firmly believe that synagogue life provides for the spiritual needs of every Jew and we would enjoy having as many Jews as possible participate in this spiritual side of Judaism.As well, you have lots of choices, because each congregation is different. Each has a different theological niche, but we're all Jews."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or 727 892-2283.

If you go

Shabbat dinner and services

Friday at 6 p.m. Reservations are being accepted until Monday. . Those unaffiliated with a congregation should call (727) 530-3223.

Participating congregations

Temple Beth-El400 Pasadena Ave. S, St. Petersburg (727) 347-6136

Temple B'nai Israel1685 S Belcher Road, Clearwater (727) -531-5829

Temple Ahavat Shalom1575 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor (727) 785-8811

Congregation B'nai Israel300 58th St. N, St. Petersburg (727) 381-4900

Congregation Beth Shalom1325 S Belcher Road, Clearwater (727) 531-1418

Congregation B'nai Emmunah3374 Keystone Road, Tarpon Springs (727) 938-9000

[Last modified November 3, 2007, 22:21:08]


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