Five years ago, a newly ordained rabbi and his wife of 10 years decided to open a Traditional synagogue in central Florida, an area with very few Jewish families. Was that because historically, it had been a KKK center in the late 1800‘s? Or just because most Jewish families gravitated toward Miami? Was this plan meshugeneh? Nuts?
Maybe. Maybe not.
This story includes a horrific episode of anti-Semitism, and an overwhelming community response. The congregation includes Orthodox families who bought houses within walking distance from the synagogue, as well as Jewish men and women who drive to shul.
Rabbi Hayyim Solomon graduated from Florida State University with a PhD in nuclear physics. His wife, Rabbanit Rachel Solomon is a physician; an internist practicing in the tri-city area of Mt. Dora, Eustis, and Tavares. They began their synagogue on their back porch in Mt. Dora. Services were held outside, or in the Solomon’s living-room. The first community Seder was in a congregant’s house on Heim. Their son Benjamin was born at Waterman Hospital, and the Lakeside Inn was host to the very first Brit Milah in Mount Dora.
Over time, the congregation expanded and they moved to a conference room at the local Hampton Inn. Then to a room at the National Academy for the Deaf, and finally they “pulled the trigger” and purchased the old Link’s Stationary building on Donnelly Street in Mount Dora, FL and spent nearly a year in renovation. The Synagogue Building of the Traditional Congregation of Mount Dora was inaugurated on December 11, 2011.
Six months before the inauguration, two weeks before renovation was to be complete, in the early hours of Saturday, July 9th, the clean, white walls of the shul were spray painted with what Rabbi Hayyim described as, ““multi-talented bigotry.” The Heritage News had to photo-shop the hateful images before they could print them. Over one hundred members of the community began to arrive with equipment: buckets, paint, and brushes to remove the desecration. Rabbi Hayyim said:
“By the time I arrived, not only were there police and sheriffs, but the Mayor, a Councilman, the GC, and several of the local Christian clergy. The cleanup effort had already been organized and was underway.
“We moved to Mount Dora, we started a synagogue in Mount Dora, because we believe Mount Dora was the right place for us. What occurred in the wee hours was not Mount Dora. What occurred as the day went on, that was Mount Dora.”
ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) was proud to designate the City of Mount Dora as a Community of Respect™ on December 18, 2011 in celebration and recognition of the strong sense of community and solidarity that characterizes Mount Dora.
And now, 18 months after the spray-painted hate on the new walls of the synagogue, the shul continues to welcome new members, grow its religious school, weekly events, and outreach. From Cordon Bleu pizza/movie nights to deep parsing of the weekly parsha, to a Hannukah auction, TCOMD thrives.
What is “Traditional”? Rabbi Hayyim says: TCOMD “provides a safe-space for Jews of all kinds, from all backgrounds; we are supportive, encouraging, but never judgmental. Lake County may seem like a Wilderness from a Jewish perspective, but once you’ve walked into the tents of your brothers and sisters here in the Tri-Cities, you’ll know that you’ve found in the Traditional Congregation your Home for Genuine Judaism.”