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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


May 4, 2018  RSS feed

Text: T T T

After nearly 29 years, Congregation B’nai Emmunah in Tarpon Springs disbands

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Congregation B’nai Emmunah, a Reform congregation established in 1989 and located for most of its life in Tarpon Springs, will hold its final service on Friday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m.

The temple will officially cease to exist as of June 30, when its contract with Rabbi Lynn Goldstein expires.

In its heyday in 1997, Congregation B’nai Emmunah boasted a membership of 62 families and had 30 children in its religious school. But the congregation has had financial ups and downs, including a filing for bankruptcy after its founding Rabbi Jan Bresky died in 1991, a lawsuit in which two factions battled for control of the congregation, then periods of growth and stability.

Prior to 1997, B’nai Emmunah congregants met in rented facilities in Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and near Palm Harbor. Then the temple bought property at 3374 Keystone Road, near the Pinellas-Hillsborough

Pasco County lines and renovated the house into a sanctuary and offices. That remained the home for the congregation until last year when financial difficulties forced the sale of the property.

Since then, the congregation has been sharing space with Unitarians and Buddhists in a facility in downtown Tarpon Springs owned by the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Congregation President Don Martin said the sale of the Keystone property rendered the congregation debt free and provided enough money to continue paying the salary of Rabbi Goldstein through the term of her contract. Rabbi Goldstein came to B’nai Emmunah in July 2015.

Martin contacted the Jewish Press May 1 to announce the congregation’s final end, calling the closure “painful.”

“I met a lot of wonderful people and caring individuals [at B’nai Emmunah] and we, just like a lot of other little places, got caught up in our inability to bring in youth and enough people,” he said.

The membership, predominately elderly, had dwindled to only about a dozen people, Martin said.

Rabbi Boldberg praised the remaining congregants and said, “I think it is an incredibly sad day when a congregation like B’nai Emmunah is forced to close – not just for those in the congregation, but for the broader community as well. I will miss the members, will miss the warmth and closeness of the congregation.”

Rabbi Goldstein said the bonds of those remaining members was very strong and that their attendance at services and classes was extraordinary. “On any given Friday, there is only one time I can think of we did not have a minyan,” she said. (At least 10 are required for a minyan). She noted that attendance at Torah study and classes was always good. “These are people who are really dedicated and caring. It may have been a small group, but they were there all the time and they loved it,” she said.

The rabbi said she has accepted another position outside of the area.

“Our members are visiting other synagogues and I’m sure [will] settle somewhere in the future,” Martin said.

The final Shabbat service on May 25 will be an opportunity for members to say farewell to Rabbi Goldstein.

When the congregation moved last year, it gave its bima and ark to Hillels of the Florida Suncoast and both were used at the Hillel facilities at the University of South Florida during High Holidays. Linda Wolf, Hillels’ assistant director, said the gift was appreciated and will continue to be put to use.

Also when the building was sold, an eternal light that was on loan from the Museum of Southern Jewish Experience in Mississippi was returned to the museum, Martin said. The light was first lit at a synagogue in Port Gibson, MS, and burned there for more than 90 years before that congregation disbanded.

As for the congregation’s Torah scroll, “We are looking, with the assistance of the URJ [Union for Reform Judaism], for a home for the Torah,” Martin said.

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