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Our Story

In the Beginning

The creation of Temple Beth Israel certainly testifies to what a small number of dedicated individuals can accomplish.

The story begins in 1979 when Sydney Flanzbaum (z”l) and Hy Lefkowitz (z”l) undertook an informal survey to determine the desire to establish a Jewish congregation on Longboat Key. The remarkable enthusiasm the idea generated led to well attended gatherings in private homes followed by services held in a local bank starting in October of that year.

Rabbi Albert Shulman (z”l), a retired spiritual leader from South Bend, Indiana, generously advised Beth Israel's founding members about organizing and broadening the reach of the fledgling congregation. He and his wife, Rose (z”l), played a beloved role in the Temple's development. When the charismatic rabbi with flowing white hair and commanding voice offered the final benediction at services, many felt as though Moses himself stood before them

The irrepressible Florence Katz (z”l) equipped with her ready pitch pipe quickly formed an impressive choir making beautiful music a hallmark of the Temple she served as choir director for the next twenty-two years.

Rabbi Shulman’s ecumenical pursuits became another distinguishing congregational attribute. The religious dialogue he initiated with Bishop John Nevins of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice prompted the decision to hold joint Yom Hashoah observances and the establishment of Catholic-Jewish relations that remain strong today.

Rabbi Shulman also played a key role in conceiving the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service whose hosting rotates among the congregation serving Longboat Key and St. Armands.

On the Rabbi Shulman’s 90th birthday, then Beth Israel president Ed Shapiro (z”l) remarked “We who have known Rabbi Shulman are well aware of the goodness that emanates from him and the positive influence his presence has on all of us…he made us better people, better Jews.”

A Home of our Own

When attendance at Friday night services began to grow dramatically the congregation’s thirty founding families gratefully accepted St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church’s offer to use its social hall. However, the desire for a permanent spiritual home soon spurred Temple leaders to acquire property that Longboat Key’s preeminent developer, the Arvida Corporation, had designated for religious institutions.

Sol Levitz, Judge Nathan Kaplan, Paul Klingenstein, and Herbert Shift lead a whirlwind fundraising campaign that resulted in a groundbreaking in May, 1983. Only ten months later, thanks especially to members Bradford Saivitz (z”l), an engineer, his son Richard, an architect, and Sydney Pomer (z”l), a professional builder who supervised the project, the new Sanctuary first held Shabbat services in March, 1984. Union for Reform Judaism's President Rabbi Alexander Schindler (z”l) presided at the building's formal dedication on December 14th, 1984.

Fri, February 3 2023 12 Shevat 5783