LAKEWOOD RANCH -- There is no formal synagogue, no new prayer books and the Torah is on loan from Temple Sinai in Sarasota.
The lack of ritual objects belies the special appeal of the start of the Jewish high holy days Wednesday for Kehillah of Lakewood Ranch.
The new conservative congregation, or "masorti," has about 28 members, mostly from the Lakewood Ranch area.
Following Jewish tradition, Kehilla is a sacred community of Jews joined to seek God, to explore and live out their understanding of Jewishness, to share joys and sorrows and contemplate the meaning of life.
Rosh Hashanah is a two-day celebration, believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, beginning at sundown Wednesday.
Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, marks the end of the holy days starting the night of Oct. 3 and ending Oct. 4.
The group will celebrate in a small, reflective way during Rosh Hashana, the new year, and again on Yom Kippur, a time of fasting and intensive prayers for repentance over a 25-hour period.
Since they don't have a bricks-and-mortar synagogue, Kehillah of Lakewood Ranch is celebrating its first Rosh Hashana with a special service at 10 a.m. Thursday at State College of Florida in Sarasota.
Hal Lewis, who once studied in Sarasota and Tampa, lives and worships in Chicago, has agreed to be the congregation's spiritual leader for the holy days.
"The approach we're taking to our services is considerably different from what might be available in other congregations. Ours will be more participatory, interactive and less frontal. There will be no preaching. Our worshippers will sit together and uncover and discover from the prayer book and readings from the Torah what has
relevance in our daily lives," Lewis said in a phone conversation from congregation President Brenda Schimmel's house, where he is a guest for the celebrations.
"We are going to drill down to understand what it really means to forgive in a contemporary sense, from a business sense and a family sense. The prayer book is a kind of mirror to see ourselves reflected, not just in the words of the liturgy, which can seem old-fashioned, but how we can see these applications in our current lives," he added.
He said the Jewish population is growing in Lakewood Ranch.
"We knew there was a need, so when we started our group, we decided to call it 'Kehilla' for our 'community.' We've really worked together and each person has taken their motivations, skills, and strengths and helped. It's been wonderful and fun," said Schimmel, a member of the Jewish community in the Manasota area for more than 40 years.
She said she hopes to attract younger Jewish families to the new fellowship.
Kehilla of Lakewood Ranch has been blessed with support from Jewish congregations across Florida, Schimmel said. They received the Torah, the written doctrine of faith, with a colorful cover on loan from Temple Sinai; the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures from a synagogue in Davie; and books to accompany Torah readings from a synagogue in Boca Raton.
Anyone is welcome to attend holy days services. No membership is required. Donations are asked to pay for services at the college.
More information about the congregation is available at kehillaoflakewoodranch.com.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.