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Cornerstones of Faith: Beth David Congregation—Miami’s Pioneer Synagogue

Along canopy-lined Coral Way sits a striking architectural treasure featuring a large dome and six supporting columns. It’s the synagogue built in 1949 for the Beth David Congregation, Miami’s pioneer synagogue originally founded in 1912 and representing an important part of our neighborhood’s cultural and historical roots.

What’s behind the remarkable edifice is equally as impressive. Contained within are the 1,000 seat Falk sanctuary, a bimah (platform for Torah reading and prayer service) of Brazilian mahogany, the peaceful Scher prayer chapel, a chandeliered Spector ballroom, two state-of-the-art school wings and computer lab, the Simons library, the Traurig reception hall and the historic Beck Museum of Judaica. The museum includes in its impressive collection a Persian Torah from the 1600s, a travel-size Torah from Bavaria, a Hungarian prayer schedule with moveable clock faces and pop-up Rosh Hashanah cards from pre-war England and Germany.

Steeped in tradition, Beth David provides full-service programs for more than 450 families and strives to be a welcoming place for strengthening Jewish identity and heritage, while continuously evolving to meet the needs of the fast-changing surrounding neighborhoods. Programs and services are led by the new leadership team of Rabbi Hector Epelbaum, Cantor Julie Jacobs and Education Director Debbie Hafetz.

Rabbi Hector Epelbaum joined the Beth David Congregation in fall 2006, and has served in pulpits in the U.S., Israel and Argentina.

“Beth David is a place to find meaning and purpose; a place to find God through our worship and our social experiences; a place to gather together to form a religious community, to sanctify life, to perform deeds of caring compassion and philanthropy; a place where we can acquire the knowledge and the desire to live as learned and committed Jews,” Rabbi Epelbaum said. “Beth David is more than a synagogue, more than a house of prayer. Beth David is a place where tradition and values inspire us to live modern and meaningful lives. Beth David is the most exiting way to renew the holy and to make holy every new challenge.”

In addition to his work at Beth David, Rabbi Epelbaum is a board member of the Israeli Cultural Institute for Miami and Puerto Rico, Vice President of the Greater Miami Rabbinical Association, chaplain at the Hebrew Home of Miami Beach, a columnist for Diario Las Americas, and was recently named by Mayor Manny Diaz as part of his Faith-Based Advisory Council.

Beth David programs designed to encompass the religious, social and cultural needs of the congregation are offered to all those interested in participating. These include concerts, speakers, and live music with traditional prayers, as well as a unique program to attract young Jewish professionals in the Brickell, Roads and Coconut Grove Neighborhoods: Rock Shabbat followed by speed dating. An Early Childhood Center enrolls children 18 months to 5 years old and the Jewish Day School serves grades kindergarten through 5th.

“Downtown Miami and the Brickell neighborhood are undergoing tremendous transformation with new businesses, new condos, and many new residents,” remarked one congregant. “Beth David Congregation strives to attract and suit the needs and ideas of the people, as well as maintain the years of Jewish tradition.”

Cantor Jacobs described the musical events taking place at Beth David: “We have concerts throughout the year from Florida Grand Opera recitals, Jewish Symphony Orchestra, Cantorial, and Klezmer. In the planning stages are a cultural arts program that will feature local talent from Jazz to Jewish to Latin, and benefit concerts to support causes such as Autism research.”

A creative Congregational School provides classes for children and their families to enrich their Jewish identity through worship, study and community, and a teen program is also provided.

“The beauty of the educational programming at Beth David Gordon Schools is that the quality of the academic curriculum is matched by the quality of the Jewish values that are transmitted,” Education Director Hafetz said. “Our students are not only learning information, they are learning how to live good lives.”

Unique and progressive Friday night Shabbat services have been added and are highlighted by a variety of themed nights such as “Tot Shabbat” (Happy Feet). A Spanish speakers’ service with prayers in Hebrew and sermon in Spanish is offered, and a Miami-suited Shabbat Passion features a live band setting of traditional prayers to Latin rhythms.

In the planning stages for next year are a congregational mission to Israel to celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday, the Rock Shabbat Service for young Jewish professionals, an elementary school production of “Annie” and a Summer Theatre Camp.

Beth David is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and retains the practice of traditional Judaism while addressing the needs and aims of modern Jewry.

Beth David Congregation is located at 2625 SW 3rd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33129, Tel: (305) 854-3911. Email info@bethdavidmiami.org. Web site:  www.bethdavidmiami.org

Cornerstones of Faith is an occasional series by BHA News on the Brickell area’s houses of worship. Article by Donna DeCarlo

From BHA News, Vol. XVII, No. 2, Summer 2007