Bet Shira Congregation

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Bet Shira Congregation
AffiliationConservative Judaism
LeadershipRabbi Mark H. Kula
Location7500 SW 120th Street,
Miami, Florida,  United States
Bet Shira Congregation is located in Miami
Bet Shira Congregation
Location within Miami
Bet Shira Congregation is located in Florida
Bet Shira Congregation
Bet Shira Congregation (Florida)
Geographic coordinates25°39′31″N 80°19′2″W / 25.65861°N 80.31722°W / 25.65861; -80.31722Coordinates: 25°39′31″N 80°19′2″W / 25.65861°N 80.31722°W / 25.65861; -80.31722

Bet Shira Congregation is a Conservative synagogue located at 7500 SW 120th Street in Miami, Florida.[1] It has over 550 member families.


In February 1985, a nucleus of families left Congregation Beth David to form a new congregation, Bet Shira.[2][3] The membership grew to 300 families in the weeks that followed. The name "Bet Shira" (House of Song) was selected to reflect the upbeat and dynamic character of the founders.[3] In May 1988, the Letty Roth Synagogue Complex was dedicated as was the Arin Stacey Appplebaum Sanctuary.[4][5]

In January 1990, Mark Kula, a graduate of the Cantor Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, became Bet Shira's new cantor.[6] In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew badly damaged the synagogue.[7][8]

In 2005, the synagogue was serving 500 families.[4] That year, Sam Rosen of Bet Shira Congregation was chosen as co-winner of the Jewish community's Teacher of the Year, Excellence in Teaching Award by the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education.[9] In 2007, the synagogue acquired a Torah scroll that during World War II had been smuggled out of the Polish town of Tarnów, when it was invaded by Nazis and its Jewish population destroyed, and protected by monks in a monastery near Kiev until the Soviet Union collapsed.[10]

Community programs[edit]

Bet Shira holds an annual "Mitzvah day" every year, where volunteers, and members engage in activities such as: Beautification of community sites, planting trees at homes of the disabled and elderly as part of a "Treemendous Miami" project; blood drives; and many clothing,food, toy and medical supply drives to benefit the Miami community.[11][12][13]

The synagogue's Early Childhood Center was also a site of "Project Kavod", a three-year pilot program in improving the culture of employment in early childhood, by the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, which was launched in 2004.[14][15]

Drive-through sukkah[edit]

For the holiday of Sukkot, Bet Shira erects what is believed to be the first and only drive-through Sukkah,[16] a tent in the parking lot of the synagogue that it calls the "McBet Shira Sukkah", allowing the community to participate in the celebration of the holiday from the convenience of their cars.[17][18] Members of the public can drive into the sukkah, park, lower their car window, and say the blessings for the holiday, including shaking a lulav and an etrog, as volunteers hand them snacks at the end of their visit.[17] The idea, put into effect first in 2009, is credited to Cantor Mark Kula, who noted that cars are "integral" to people's lifestyles.[16] He explained that “We sit as we drive; this way, we can sit in our cars in the Sukkah." He also commented that "Perhaps realizing the fragility of the Sukkah will encourage us to drive more carefully.”[19][20]

Clergy and staff[edit]

David H. Auerbach was the founding rabbi of the synagogue. He is from Montreal, Canada, and had served as rabbi of Ahavat Achim synagogue in Atlanta, Georgia, and then senior rabbi of Beth David Congregation in Miami prior to the founding of Bet Shira. Since his retirement in 2005, he is the rabbi emeritus of the synagogue. In 2005, he was followed as rabbi by Micah Caplan,[21] until 2010. In July 2010, Brian Schuldenfrei assumed the post of senior rabbi. Schuldenfrei had been associate rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.[22]

Mark Kula, brother of Rabbi Irwin Kula, assumed the post of cantor in 1987. Mark and his father Morton Kula are the only father and son that have been ordained as cantors by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. Prior to coming to Miami, Mark was the assistant cantor of New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue.

In 2008, the synagogue appointed Renée Rittner as its education director.[23]

Religious school[edit]

The synagogue has an active religious school that serves students from pre-school through the Bar and Bat Mitzvah training. In addition, a Judaica high school program which allows Jewish students to get college credit from Miami Dade College for taking classes on Jewish topics is held in the Bet Shira classrooms.[24]


The congregation is an egalitarian synagogue and is affiliated with the United Synagogue of America. As implied by its name, it is a custom of the synagogue to conduct services accompanied by musical instruments and choirs.[25]

Anti-semitic attack[edit]

In February 1988, an improperly drawn swastika[26] and anti-Semitic slogans and "Jesus Lives; You Can't Kill Him" and "Accept Hitler, Respect Christ" were plastered across the synagogue, and 30 windows were smashed.[27][28] In response, a neighboring church put a Star of David on its lawn, and its parish donated $1,000 towards repairing the windows.[27][29][30] Miami Sunset High School students painted over the anti-Semitic slurs spray-painted by the vandals.[31] Four teenagers, three of whom were football players at Miami Palmetto High School, were sentenced for having vandalized the synagogue to 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay the $14,800 ($31,400 today) in damages.[32][33]

Two years later, on five occasions in six weeks vandals shot at windows at the synagogue.[34][35] Three teenagers, two of them students at Palmetto High School, were arrested for shooting out the windows.[36]


  1. ^ Betsy Sheldon (2001). The Jewish travel guide. Hunter Publishing, Inc. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  2. ^ Olitzsky, Kerry M. (1996). The American Synagogue: a historical dictionary and sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Co. p. 102. ISBN 0-313-28856-9.
  3. ^ a b "Bet Shira Congregation » History". May 5, 1988. Archived from the original on 2011-10-01. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  4. ^ a b "Song and Service". Miami Herald. May 28, 2005. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  5. ^ "At Bet Shira ..." Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  6. ^ "He's Following in his Father's Footsteps". Miami Herald. January 18, 1990. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  7. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (September 5, 1992). "Religion Notes". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  8. ^ "Storm-Hit Churches, Synagogues, Help Each Other". Lakeland Ledger. November 29, 1992. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  9. ^ "Bet Breira Teacher Receives High Honor". Miami Herald. September 1, 2005. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  10. ^ "Event Touches on Sacred Scroll". Miami Herald. October 14, 2007. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  11. ^ "Call to service answered on Mitzvah Day". Miami Herald. February 15, 2007. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  12. ^ "Good word for a good deed". Miami Herald. February 8, 2007. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  13. ^ "Walking tour of Kampong garden offered". Miami Herald. February 15, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  14. ^ Goodman, Roberta Louis; Flexner, Paul A.; Dale Bloomberg, Linda (2008). What We Now Know About Jewish Education: Perspectives on research for practice. Torah Aura Productions. p. 479. ISBN 978-1-934527-07-8.
  15. ^ Patricia Bidol Padva. "Informed and Passionate Dialogue: Transformative Community Change Initiatives" (PDF). Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  16. ^ a b Hines, Bea (September 20, 2010). "New senior pastor finds a Sweet Home". Miami Herald. Retrieved June 24, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ a b "Watercooler Stories". UPI. October 5, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  18. ^ "Judaism: Pinecrest temple has drive-through 'sukkah', Showing a modern twist on a Jewish holiday, one temple has erected a temporary drive-through spot for prayer and reflection". Miami Herald. October 2, 2009. Archived from the original on October 25, 2012. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  19. ^ Robert Hamilton, Bet Shira Congregation again to offer ‘drive-thru’ Sukkah, South Miami News, retrieved June 23, 2011
  20. ^ "Drive-through sukkah makes prayer easy". UPI. October 4, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  21. ^ Steven Vajda. Golden Bracelets, Common Threads. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
  22. ^ "New era begins at Bet Shira Congregation". Sun Sentinel. July 12, 2002. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  23. ^ "Neighbors". Miami Herald. July 31, 2008. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  24. ^ "Judaica High School". The Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education.
  25. ^ "Worship". Archived from the original on 2011-09-26. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  26. ^ "Window-Smashing Vandals Deface South Dade Synagogue". Miami Herald. February 29, 1988. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  27. ^ a b Nancy McVicar and Heather Dewar (September 10, 1988). "Year After Miami, Jews Remain Uneasy with Pope". Ocala Star-Banner. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  28. ^ "Vandals Damage Miami Synagogue". The Telegraph. February 29, 1988. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  29. ^ "Kristallnacht Elicits Haunting Memories". The Press-Courier. November 10, 1988. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  30. ^ Nancy McVicar and Heather Dewar (September 16, 1988). "One Year Later, Jews Remain Uneasy with Pope". Herald-Journal. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  31. ^ "Outraged Sunset Students Paint Over Ethnic Slurs". Miami Herald. March 4, 1988. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  32. ^ "Teens Ordered to Pay for Temple Desecration". Miami Herald. May 21, 1988. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  33. ^ ""Very Hard to Understand", Father of Arrested Boy Says". Miami Herald. March 4, 1988. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  34. ^ "Vandals Strike Again at Temple". Miami Herald. January 6, 1990. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  35. ^ "Hate Crimes". Miami Herald. January 8, 1990. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  36. ^ "Teens Arrested in Slingshot Raids on Synagogue". Miami Herald. June 2, 1990. Retrieved June 24, 2011.

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