For Sixteen Years—Extending the Hand of Jewish Welcome
In the summer of 2005, an eclectic, determined group of Jewish friends met to discuss their idea of forming an inclusive Jewish congregation that would be member-focused and member-led, and that could survive on exceptionally modest dues. They named themselves Chavurah (a group of friends) Ner Tamid, dedicated to keeping alight the flame of Jewish spirituality, culture and history.
A steering committee was formed, consisting of Miriam Goolsby, Elaine Mittler, Rena Morano, David Jacobson and Meg Durshimer. The first challenge facing this core group was how to create a viable congregation that could offer a full range of services and programs to its members on dues which were set at double chai ($36) per year. It was agreed that lay leadership would officiate at services, and that the Chavurah would rent space for services and religious school.
In the early days Miriam (z”l) was the self-proclaimed shamas, who decorated, shopped, took care of the kitchen, and built the Ark. Elaine, board president, planed and organized events and spearheaded membership activities. David’s skill as an accountant was put to good use as he developed and managed the congregational budget. As rabbinic advisor, Rabbi Barbara offered ideas for creative and participatory services and festivals, led the annual Purim Spiel and maintained contact with local press and media. Meg taught and nurtured our Sunday School students and served as editor of The Beamer, CNT’s original newsletter. Rena led lively and spiritually moving services, mentored young people and adults to become Bar and Bat Mitzvah and as Education Director developed new and exciting learning experiences for children and adults.
Milestones piled up in rapid succession. Rabbi Barbara Aiello agreed to serve as rabbinic advisor; Thanks to the Berkan and Durshimer families, Miami’s Temple Beth Am donated a Torah scroll which resided in the portable Ark on wheels alongside of Ner Tamid’s original six-inch tall kosher Torah. The first Jewish Living and Learning Sunday School was inaugurated with a class of seventeen children. A book club (ChavuRead) met regularly, a caring committee established, and Tikkun Olam projects proliferated.
The first Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were celebrated in 2005. Lynne Belford and Judie Littel jointly celebrated as adults, followed by several teens, including Joey Capriotti, who journeyed to Italy to have his ceremony with Rabbi Aiello.
In those early years, Ner Tamid began several traditions that continue today. For more than a decade congregants have served holiday dinners at Our Daily Bread, collected food and blankets for migrant families, crocheted cancer caps, contributed Jewish items for troops through Project MOT, and collaborated with Jewish Family and Children Services on projects to help seniors and school children.
In 2008 Ner Tamid proudly affiliated with the Sarasota Manatee Jewish Federation as a recognized congregation. Membership has grown to about one hundred members, and to this day Congregation Ner Tamid has stayed true to the ideals which led to its founding.