MANATEE -- With 11 congregations from Bradenton to North Port in The Synagogue Council of Sarasota-Manatee, people shopping for a temple in this area have quite a few choices.
Sunday's Communitywide Synagogue Open House likely helped some make a decision.
The congregations rolled out the red carpet for the event designed to re-engage some of an estimated 15,000 people in Manatee and Sarasota counties who identify themselves as Jewish but are not members of any congregation, said Laurie Lachowitzer, a councilmember.
Temple Beth El, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton; Congregation Ner Tamid, 4802 B 26th St. W., Bradenton; and newcomer Kehillah of Lakewood Ranch, 8220 Natures Way, Lakewood Ranch were listed as the Manatee County congregations holding open houses.
Temple Beth El had a live
ly open house, including one man, Gerald Paradise, who is not Jewish but said he is thinking of converting.
"I love Israel," Paradise said when asked what motivated him.
Paradise was joined at Temple Beth El by Judy Bellen, who teaches Religion in America at State College of Florida and brought three students to experience a temple for the first time, including Cammi Rigg, 21; Marques Norwood, 20; and Chad Coleman, 22.
"It's very interesting," Rigg said of her experience, which included temple member Kate Richmond blowing a ram's horn.
Paradise received an opinion from Temple Beth El member Sheri Weiss as to why become a Jew and join Temple Beth El?
"It's the food," Weiss said with a grin. "No, I'm kidding. The food is great but the real reason is that we Jews take seriously our duty, given to us by God, to take care of each other."
"Make that our duty to take care of both Jews and non-Jews," Temple Beth El Executive Vice President Sandy Clark reminded Weiss.
Weiss said Temple Beth El has been "warm and friendly" since its inception in 1974, which also makes it Manatee County's oldest congregation.
If history, food and warmth aren't enough to sway Paradise, Temple Beth El is throwing in something new and musical this year.
A new soloist, opera-trained Deborah Polkinghorn-Suta, is joining Temple Beth El Cantor Alan Cohn to create a cantorial duet, which Temple Beth El officials say is the first of its kind in Manatee County.
The duo will be showcased during Temple Beth El's new program called "Sing Out! Shabbat," at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 during the normal Friday Simchat Torah service.
"Sing Out! Shabbat" will also feature Richard Jorgenson on woodwinds, Joy Yelin on keyboard, Rob Taylor on guitar, banjo and percussion and Albert Rosenstein on guitar.
Kehillah of Lakewood Ranch started in July 2013 and meets at the Windsor residence home on Natures Way at 10 a.m. the first and third Saturday of the month, and at 6 p.m. the second Friday night of the month followed by a pot luck dinner and 6 p.m. the fourth Friday of the month with wine-and-cheese social and a service.
The fledgling congregation has about 24 members, said secretary Anne Schimberg, who entertained some curious guests Sunday.
"We realized there was no Conservative presence in Lakewood Ranch so we decided to create our own friendly community," Schimberg said. "What we have learned is that there is a growing Jewish population in Lakewood Ranch."
The congregation has no rabbi yet so members lead services.
The four founding members are Len and Ann Schimberg and Herb and Brenda Schimmel, Brenda Schimmel is the congregation president.
The 11 congregations of the Synagogue Council of Sarasota-Manatee include Humanistic Judaism, Kol HaNeshama, Ner Tamid, Jewish Congregation of Venice, Kehillah of Lakewood Ranch, Temple Beth El (Bradenton), Temple Beth El (North Port), Temple Beth Israel, Temple Beth Sholom, Temple Emanu-El and Temple Sinai.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.