How do you say the word history in Biblical hebrew? What word does the Torah use for history? It doesn’t, and there is none. We have a word in modern Hebrew – historia, but there is no Biblical word for history. Instead, the word the Torah uses is zecher – memory. The pasuk in Ha’azinu reminds us: zechor y’mos olam, remember the days of old. Elsewhere it says, Zachor eis asher asah l’cha Amalek, remember what Amalek did to us. In fact, while there is no Biblical word for history, the term zachor in one form or another appears in Tanach 169 times.
What is the difference between history and memory; is it not just semantics? In his haggadah, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack suggests that history is “his story” – an event that happened sometime else to someone else. Memory, is about me, my story – something that happened to me and is part of who I am. History is information. Memory, by contrast, is part of identity. I can study the history of others, but it is academic and has no impact on me. Memory is not about the past, but it is about the present.
This Shabbos, Boca Raton Synagogue celebrates our 30th Birthday and there is no better way than by invoking our memory. Jewish holidays have taught us that we can have memory of events from centuries or millennia ago, memories of events and places we never were. When we identify as part of a special group and see ourselves as full members of a community, history is transformed into our collective memory.
Please take a few moments over this celebratory weekend to review our important history and have it become part of your memory. Share our story with your children, talk about it with your friends, and most importantly, join with us in recognizing and appreciating the incredible people whose vision, hard work and generosity gave us the wonderful community we benefit from today.
THE HISTORY OF BOCA RATON SYNAGOGUE
The story of Boca Raton Synagogue begins in May 1983, when three couples had a vision. Issy and Riwella Bruk, Albert a”h and Tamar Nawy, and Neville and Britt Ziff met to explore the possibility of establishing an orthodox synagogue in Boca Raton.
By the fall, other key founders joined in these discussions. They included Leonard and Trudy Sponder, Jonathan and Marion Santhouse, Stephen and Linda Marcus, Walter and Lillian Gettinger, Louis and Sylvia Thaler, Jerry and Gail Herbst, David and Carol Sclove, William and Debbie Rand, Yacov and Linda Shamash, and Jonathan and Patricia Stein.
On October 23, 1983, the first general membership meeting took place with some 60 people in attendance. Dr. Issy Bruk was named president, Neville Ziff, vice president and Jonathan Santhouse, treasurer.
Chanukah 1983 marked the official opening of the Boca Raton Synagogue. Its first service was held on Friday, December 2, 1983, with 21 member families at the South County Jewish Community Day School. The original Sefer Torah used was loaned to BRS from Temple Beth El by Rabbi Merle Singer. The service was followed by a family Chanukah party on December 4 at the home of the Ziffs.
In 1984, Rabbi Mark Dratch, from Yeshiva University, was hired to become the first Rabbi of BRS and moved to Boca Raton with his wife, Sarah a”h. This was his first pulpit and he began from scratch without even a Shul building. He initiated weekly study groups and weekly Talmud classes.
The first High Holiday services were held in the Boca Teeca clubhouse with rooms available to stay next door at the hotel. Approximately 150 people attended. Martin Judovits and Joseph Rath led the services with Rabbi Dratch presiding.
With a significant number of families committed to the growing Synagogue, Issy Bruk and Neville Ziff decided to explore options for buying land. This was an enormous and ambitious undertaking for such a small group.
What a deal they bargained for! Though Lago Del Mar land had just sold for $250,000 an acre, the Shul land was purchased from Texaco for only $150,000 for all 5 acres. Signing as guarantors for the land were Issy Bruk, Neville Ziff, and Jonathan Santhouse. Steven Marcus provided significant legal support for the land purchase. We are indebted to them today for their foresight, vision, and generosity.
In order to encourage people to buy homes near the future Shul on Montoya Circle, during the next few years, Shabbat services were held at the homes of Gary and Mindy Lieber, Rick and Sue Andron, Steve and Linda Marcus, and Ella Samuels and Yaakov Kronfeld. Shabbat services were also held in the Verde Elementary School. Albert Nawy prepared the laining of the Torah almost every Shabbat. High Holiday services continued to be held at the Boca Teeca Club house and at a model home in Montoya Estates. Holiday services and celebrations, such as Purim, were also celebrated together. 1984 also marked the year when the BRS Chevra Kadisha was formed, with Martin Judovits serving as its first chairman.
March 31, 1985, marked the historic groundbreaking ceremony for the first Orthodox Synagogue in Boca Raton. After securing the land, Issy Bruk, Neville Ziff and Albert Nawy formed a committee to draw up building plans for the synagogue, choose an architect, obtain a mortgage, and raise the funds to build. They raised $60,000 and obtained a mortgage for the remaining $100,000. However, it took 20 months, due to zoning issues and approvals from numerous agencies, to complete the process.
In February, 1987, BRS moved into its first building at 7900 Montoya Circle. This original building is now known as the “old shul” and is now utilized by the Sephardic Minyan, WYHS, and the Shul offices. There was no furniture, not even a chair to sit on. Leonard and Sima Rubin came to the rescue and donated 150 chairs. A small portable Torah ark was given to BRS from Anshei Emuna which was used until the funds were raised for an ark designed by Martin Judovits.
The dedication of BRS’s campus included a Torah procession from Captiva to the Shul with dancing and singing. Prominent rabbis from South Florida such as Rabbi Yochanan Zweig were present for this dedication ceremony.
In the spring of 1987, Rabbi Dratch moved on from BRS to pursue other endeavors. Today, Rabbi Dratch serves as the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). Dr. William Rand was elected president and assisted the Shul through some significant financial challenges. In August of that year, Rabbi Mordechai Winiarz was hired as rabbi for the High Holidays. In 1988, he was hired as Rabbi of BRS and remained only until early 1989.
In February 1989, Chani Salamon, Rick Andron, and Michael Friedson began the process of obtaining an eruv for the Boca Raton community. After much work, the eruv was first utilized on Shabbat Nachamu, the first Shabbat after Tisha B’Av, in August 1989. Since that time the eruv has been expanded several times as the community has grown. Rabbi Blumenkranz z”l was instrumental in the design and supervision of the eruv.
In August 1989, during the presidency of Dr. Aaron Kaweblum, Rabbi Mordechai Neuman became the third rabbi of BRS. In the summer of 1990, Rabbi Neuman left BRS to continue his advanced education. Today, he is a prominent psychotherapist and counselor who has written numerous books and has appeared regularly on Oprah.
In the summer of 1990, a rabbinic search committee was formed with Jeffrey Klein and Jack Berkowitz as co-chairmen. After losing three Rabbis in just six years, the search committee worked diligently to find BRS a Rabbi who could lead them for the long-term. During the year the search was conducted, several retired rabbis, including Rabbi Meyer Strassfeld and Rabbi Gene Klein z”l, provided the necessary rabbinic leadership.
In June of 1991, Rabbi Kenneth Brander was hired and he moved to Boca with his wife, Ruchie and their two children, Tuvia and Yoni. Rabbi Brander came to BRS after serving in Lincoln Square Synagogue in NY as the Assistant Rabbi and later Acting Rabbi.
With 85 families in the Shul, he immediately set out to transform BRS into a community that would attract people both locally and from around the country. During Rabbi Brander’s tenure the community grew tremendously, both in membership numbers and in breadth of programming.
The Helen and Julius Reiter Institute of Judaic Studies was formed, offering classes and programs, as well as bringing in Scholars in Residence from around the country and around the world. To further adult education, Rabbi Brander, together with a group of lay leaders, formed the Boca Raton Community Kollel which became home to a number of Rabbis who taught classes, learned with BRS members, and were involved with Outreach Initiatives. During the years of its existence, the Kollel served as a “farm system” that brought Rabbis and Rebbetzins who would go on to serve the community in other capacities such as in Jewish education and in the pulpit. Many of them continue to serve our community today, including Rabbi Ben Sugerman, Rabbi Efrem and Rebbetzin Yocheved Goldberg, Rabbi Moshe and Mrs. Michal Schochet, Rabbi Allan Houben, Rabbi Chaim and Mrs. Rina Lanner.
In 1998 The Weinbaum Yeshiva High School (WYHS), the first Jewish High School between North Miami Beach and Atlanta, Georgia, was formed. In partnership with Rabbi Brander as Dean, Rabbi Perry Tirschwell worked tirelessly to found the school and to grow it into a thriving center for Jewish education. Rabbi Tirschwell left the school in 2012, and now serves as the Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel. Still housed on the campus of Boca Raton Synagogue, WYHS today has more than 250 students and is led by its second Head of School, Rabbi Jonathan Kroll.
Under Rabbi Brander’s vision, coupled with the hard work of community leaders, the Shul membership was rapidly growing and it was evident that a new building addition would be needed. Thanks to the generosity of Billy and Debbie Rand, on September 20, 1992, the ground-breaking for the new Rand Sanctuary took place. Martin Judovits was the Chairman of the building committee and Elaine Trachtenberg headed the effort to chose the décor and supervise the building process.
The Boca Raton Community Mikvah, the first Mikvah complex in Palm Beach County which includes a Women’s Mikvah, a Men’s Mikvah, and a Keilim Mikvah, was built at the same time.
The Hahn Campus was dedicated on February 21, 1999, when Jerry a”h and Lynn Hahn donated one million dollars to BRS in order to “burn” the mortgage. To accommodate the tremendous growth of the community youth, Lenny a”h and Sima Rubin and Merv and Elaine Jacobs graciously donated the Youth and Senior Center in 1999. We are grateful to Elie a”h and Guila Berdugo who built the wing and graciously dedicated the Berdugo Beit Midrash. In 2004, the second floor known as the Education Center was added to the Youth and Senior Center. We are grateful to Hommy Tannenbaum for his help and supervision in the construction of the second floor, and he was ably assisted by Esther Gomlin and Daniel Katz.
BRS’s first Youth Director was Avi Frier, who was hired in 1992 with his wife Sharon. The Youth Department has grown tremendously over the years, under the leadership of Youth Directors – Yocheved Hande, Laura Welch, Joseph Stansky, David Orbach, Zvi Goldfischer, Cheryl Mirsky, Rabbi Josh and Simone Broide, Tziporah Gelman, Rabbi Yaakov Green, Betty Maikhor, and Gwenn Lerman. Today, the BRS Teen and Youth Department is led by Rabbi Uri and Aliza Pilichowski.
The Sephardic Minyan was first organized in 1993 by a diverse group from Iran, Iraq, Yerushalayim, Morocco, and more. The Sephardic minyan has grown and today has two daily morning minyanim, an evening minyan, and two minyanim on Shabbat morning. Moshe and Gali Nadav came in 2008 from Israel; Moshe serves as the Chazzan of the BRS Sephardic Minyan.
The Hashkama Minyan was initiated by Dr. Roni Raab on Shabbat Bereishit, October 1993, for those looking to learn, spend time with their children or work at Youth Groups. The Hashkama Minyan has grown rapidly and today enjoys a weekly Kiddush, followed by a weekly men’s Chaburah organized by Rabbi Chaim Lanner.
In 1999, a young Kollel Rabbi, Efrem Goldberg launched the Lome Explanatory Service. It was an incredible opportunity for people of all backgrounds to learn about Tefilla: the meaning behind the words, and to enjoy a slower paced service with singing, divrei torah, and of course, its own Kiddush at the end. After Rabbi Goldberg became Assistant Rabbi it was led by Rabbi Yechiel Morris, Rabbi Avi Heller, Rabbi Shanan Gellman and today it has morphed into Friday Night Live, led by Rabbi Josh Broide.
In 1998, it was determined that BRS needed an Assistant Rabbi. Rabbi Josh Fass, one of the Kollel rabbis at the time, emerged as the clear choice. Rabbi Fass, together with his wife Batsheva, took on a large role within the community and touched many lives. In 2002, he realized his own dream and launched the now-famous Aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh with his partner, BRS member Tony Gelbart. Since that time, NBN has helped over 30,000 people make Aliyah.
Following Rabbi Fass, BRS has been blessed to have many outstanding Assistant Rabbis who have each contributed in their unique way to our community. Rabbi Efrem Goldberg followed Rabbi Fass and today serves as BRS’s Morah D’Atra. After serving as Assistant Rabbi, Rabbi Aaron Levitt taught at Hillel Day School and today serves as Assistant Principal at the Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, Texas. Rabbi Ovi Jacob served as Sephardic Rabbinic Intern before becoming Assistant Rabbi and today is an entrepreneur working in New York. He was succeeded by Rabbi Barak Bar Chaim, who now serves as the Rabbi of the Daniel Abraham Synagogue in Palm Beach.
We take special pride in our Satellite Minyan, BRS West. The synagogue, located on the Hillel Day School campus, was organized by Hindy and Zev Friedus, Steven Berkeley, and small group of lay leaders in 2002 in coordination with Boca Raton Synagogue; conducted its first weekly shabbat minyanim in 2003; and has since quadrupled in numbers. In 2005, the Shul hired Rabbi Avi Heller to serve as the Rabbinic Intern and in 2006 hired Rabbi and Rebbetzin Mordechai and Hadassah Smolarcik to lead the congregation. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Smolarcik continue to serve this growing synagogue that now proudly offers all shabbat and yom tov ser-vices; youth programming; daily daf yomi classes; a womens’ shiur; and shabbat divrei torah and classes.
In 2005, Rabbi Brander left BRS to assume the position of inaugural Dean of the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University. In appreciation for his vision and leadership during a transformative time, the Board bestowed Rabbi Brander with the title of Rabbi Emeritus.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, who had been serving as Assistant Rabbi and oversaw much of the daily operation of the Shul at the time, assumed the position of Senior Rabbi for one year. Midway through that year, the Congregation voted unanimously to bestow a five year contract to its new young Rabbi.
Under Rabbi Goldberg’s leadership, BRS continues to grow, having gone from 450 families to over 700. Our motto “Valuing Diversity, Celebrating Unity,” was developed and continues to inspire the programs, activities, and philosophy of our community. The Adult Education program has expanded and today offers incredible programs such as “People of the Book,” advanced Chaburas, three daily Daf Yomi’s, and much more. The Chevra Kaddisha, led by Yvette Kaweblum, has over fifty volunteers and provides tahara needs at two local funeral homes.
In 2010, Rabbi Philip Moskowitz joined BRS as Assistant Rabbi. Together with his Rebbetzin, Arielle, the Moskowitzes play an invaluable role in our community and have contributed greatly to our growth and programming.
BRS has had numerous administrators through the years, including Hommy Tannenbaum, who faithfully filled that position voluntarily for four years. In 2010, Matthew Hocherman joined the BRS team as the Synagogue Administrator.
In 2010, under the leadership of Alan Berger, the K.A.D.I.S.H. (Keeping Alive with Dedication the Interest in, and the Study of the Holocaust) committee completed the building of a Holocaust Memorial, designed by Martin Judovits. The dedication was attended by hundreds of people and was highlighted by a keynote speech from Chief Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau.
Rabbi Goldberg’s Shabbos Shuva Derasha in 2010 launched the BRS commitment to help create an Outreach Revolution in Boca Raton through the first annual “Share One Shabbos.” With the leadership and support of Rabbi Broide’s Boca Raton Jewish Experience, BRS members are active in reaching out to the greater Jewish population in our area and spreading the message and values of Torah.
BRS has become a flagship AIPAC Synagogue, bringing a large Synagogue delegation to AIPAC’s Policy Conference each year. Additionally, Boca Raton Synagogue is proud to host annual partnership weekends with the Orthodox Union (OU), Yeshiva University (YU), AIPAC, Friends of the IDF, and Yachad. In an effort to grow larger and smaller at the same time, the BRS Chevras program began. Today, the Empty Nesters, Mommy and Me, Zumba, Music Chevra, Sunrise Minyan at the Beach, Maimonides Society, and more all meet regularly and enjoy belonging to a small group within a large community.
Stan Smith began the Bikur Cholim Society to allow dozens of BRS members to visit Jewish patients at Boca Regional Hospital daily. In 2010, the Shabbos Room was dedicated at the hospital so that observant family members have a place to stay and their food needs met over Shabbos and holidays. The Chesed committee led by Michal Marcus serves the Chesed needs of the community including providing bereavement meals, new baby meals, rides to doctors and more.
Under the leadership of Rabbi Simcha Freedman and Sarah Brudnoy, the BRS Social Action Committee has been active and vocal in advocating for Israel through programs, rallies and letter writing campaigns. In 2008, the BRS Men’s Club held its first annual Hodu Bowl flag football tournament. The Sisterhood contributes greatly through organizing the annual Mishloach Manot, providing Bar and Bat Mitzvah gifts, and running social and educational programs.
While the history of Boca Raton Synagogue is relatively short in years, it is long in accomplishments. We are all deeply indebted to our past Presidents, Officers, Board Members, Committee Chairs, and Pillar Society Members who have made it all possible and whose commitment makes our future so promising.