Our History

On October 14, 1894, 31 men and women met in the home of M. Henry Cohen to form the first synagogue in Tampa. Schaarai Zedek (Gates of Righteousness) was selected as the name. The Corporate Charter was granted on December 15, 1894, and the congregation rented space on Florida Avenue. Rabbi D. Jacobson became the first Rabbi.

In 1901 a new spiritual leader, Rabbi Friedman, brought a more modern interpretation of Jewish ritual, causing dissension between the Reform and Orthodox members of the congregation. After the split was judicially resolved, Schaarai Zedek’s Constitution was changed to read: “The form of worship shall be in accordance with Reform Judaism.” In March 1903, Congregation Schaarai Zedek affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

From 1903 to 1904, the congregation was without rabbinical leadership. Rabbi H.S. Stollnitz became the spiritual leader from 1905 to 1906. From 1907 through 1920, the congregation was again without a Rabbi. Rabbi George Benedict served as Rabbi from 1920-1923. Schaarai Zedek welcomed Rabbi L. Elliott Grafman in 1924. By January 6, 1924, the records note 40 members. A new synagogue, built on Delaware and DeLeon Streets, was dedicated on December 19, 1924.

In 1930, Rabbi David L. Zielonka became our spiritual leader and served the congregation until his retirement in 1970 and Rabbi Emeritus until his death in 1977. Groundbreaking for our present temple was held on January 26, 1957. Rabbi Frank N. Sundheim became Associate Rabbi in 1966. He assumed the duties of Senior Rabbi in 1970.

In 1986, Rabbi Richard J. Birnholz was named Senior Rabbi. He continues to serve as Rabbi Emeritus.

In 2018, Rabbi Joel Simon returned to Congregation Schaarai Zedek as Senior Rabbi. He previously served here from 2007-2015 as Assistant and Associate Rabbi, and we welcome him back as our new Senior Rabbi.

Today, our Temple family is made up of close to 4,000 adults and children spanning four generations. We have been very fortunate to have strong spiritual leadership and an active membership throughout our 125-year history.