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A closer look: one Hillsborough synagogue


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 23, 2000

Congregation Schaarai Zedek

LOCATION: 3303 Swann Ave., Tampa. (813) 876-2377

SERVICES AND PROGRAMS: Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. Hebrew school is from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sundays. Midweek Hebrew school is Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Synagogue's programs include religious school, adult education, three youth groups, Tot Shabbat and Bagels and Blocks programs for toddlers and their parents. Call synagogue for details.

HISTORY: This reform synagogue was established in 1894 and met in the old Masonic Temple at the corner of Franklin and Washington streets. The synagogue was built at its present location in 1957 and has been remodeled.

LEADERSHIP: Rabbi Richard J. Birnholz has led the congregation for 14 years. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Texas in Austin. He also earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in Hebrew literature from Hebrew Union College -- Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He received an honorary doctorate four years ago from Hebrew Union College. Birnholz has been married to his wife, Donna, for 32 years. They have two sons, Steven, 29 ,and Michael, 26. Mrs. Birnholz works as a secretary in the synagogue's religious school.

RECENT SERMON TOPIC OR THEME: Preaching from the book of God.

MEMBERSHIP: There are 950 families. The average membership age is 38.

NOTABLES: Birnholz explains the difference between Orthodox and Reform Jews. "Orthodox is more literal in keeping the letter of the ritual law. Reform Jews can change the dictate of the ritual law as long as it preserves the spirit of the law."

The synagogue's groups mentioned above work at the Metropolitan Ministries soup kitchen on a monthly basis. A group of ninth-graders goes into the fields in Wimauma to lend assistance to migrant workers.

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