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Our History

For many years, the Tallahassee Jewish community worshipped together at the Masonic Temple on Adams Street. A student rabbi from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio would come to lead the service for the High Holidays each year. By 1937, the city of Tallahassee had grown to 16,000 residents. There was no public hospital or many paved streets. The Florida State College for Women (what is now Florida State University) only had an enrollment of 1,500 and the Jewish community had no synagogue.

In 1937, some 25 Jewish families of Tallahassee met and organized to consider forming an official congregation and building a synagogue. They unanimously approved the founding of a congregation and resolved to raise funds immediately for the purpose of building a house of worship. The organization, called the Tallahassee Jewish Community, Inc., elected officers; President Sam Mendelson, vice president Albert B. Block, secretary H. H. Bluestein, and treasurer Sam Robbins.

In September 1938, the Florida Federation of B'nai B'rith Lodges adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of a religious leadership program for the Jewish students at the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women. The following month, the state B'nai B'rith contacted the Tallahassee Jewish Community requesting the organization of a B'nai B'rith lodge in the city. On December 6, 1938, B'nai B'rith Lodge #1043 came into being at a dinner at the Wakulla Springs Hotel. The meeting had been called so that the Tallahassee Jewish Community and the B'nai B'rith Lodge would have the opportunity to get acquainted with Rabbi David Max Eichhorn, who had been recommended to fill the position of rabbi for the local community. He would also serve as Hillel director for both the Florida State College for Women and the University of Florida. Both groups were pleased with Rabbi Eichhorn and engaged his services officially in a three-party contract.

Also, in 1939, Mrs. Sarah Levy of Washington, a resident of Tallahassee, presented to the congregation a block of land on South Copeland Street, bounded by St. Augustine and West Lafayette Streets, as a site for the proposed new synagogue and community center. This was given as a memorial to her late husband, William Levy.

On February 24, 1939, Tallahassee's first rabbi was initiated at a service held at the Masonic Temple. Rabbi Edmond Landau of Albany, Georgia, conducted the Friday evening service, followed by words of greeting from Albert B. Block, representing the Tallahassee Jewish Community; I. L. Eisenson, representing B'nai B'rith; H. H. Bluestein, representing the community, and Dr. L. R. Christie, representing the Tallahassee Ministerial Association. Rabbi Israel Kaplan of Jacksonville, delivered the rabbinical charge, and Rabbi Eichhorn delivered the response.

Ground was broken on the Temple Israel synagogue building on July 12, 1939. On October 12, 1939 the formal Cornerstone Laying Service at the new building was conducted by the Florida Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. This was most appropriate because the Jews of Tallahassee had conducted their religious devotions in the halls of the Tallahassee Masonic Lodge since just after the Civil War.

Finally, on February 23, 1940, exactly three years after the first organizational meeting, the new Temple Israel was dedicated.

Over 70 years later, Temple Israel has grown to become the largest Jewish institution on the I-10 corridor between Jacksonville and New Orleans, serving South Georgia, South Alabama, South Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle with over 350 members. 

Sun, February 18 2018 3 Adar 5778