Our History

Our History

Congregation Kol HaNeshama began with a dream shared by three couples who envisioned a thoroughly inclusive, warm, friendly, and caring synagogue community. Such a congregation did not exist in Sarasota until Linda Charnes and Stanley Yudin, John and Kayla Niles and Murry and Leona Brochin (of blessed memory) established it in 2007.

Linda and Stanley were the catalysts. In Massachusetts they had found a contemporary synagogue featuring meaningful services, uplifting spirituality, and joyful music and singing. They and the others wanted to build a similar community in Sarasota.

The team of six applied their varied skills to the countless responsibilities and endless work of creating a new congregation.

The founders chose Kol HaNeshama as the synagogue’s name because of its significant meaning –“every living thing” (will praise God). The phrase comes from the last chapter of the Book of Psalms, which includes descriptions of the use of many musical instruments in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. We praise God when we sing, learn, and celebrate together in the spirit of Kol HaNeshama.

For several of its early years, KH engaged rabbinical students from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College to fly down for weekend services in the winter and at the High Holy Days. As the congregation grew, other service leaders were engaged, culminating in hiring Jennifer Singer, a member from the beginning. She went on to study for and earn rabbinic ordination with the support of KH. Excited and proud, the congregation installed her as its full-time rabbi on Feb. 18, 2017.

Rabbi Jennifer led KH with energy, enthusiasm, compassion and knowledge. She helped the community weather the challenge of the Covid epidemic. This included the search for a new home when the South Gate Community Center shut down for a time.

When services resumed in 2021, they were held at St. Wilfred Church social hall, which it was hoped would be a permanent home. When that wasn’t possible, KH was able to return to its previous location at South Gate, now graced with a custom ark for our Torahs.

Rabbi Jennifer retired in December 2022. Rabbi Carl Astor served as a six-month interim rabbi. He and his wife Sharon quickly became integral community members, and the congregation appreciated his wisdom and kindness.

An extensive search brought Rabbi Sigal Brier to the KH pulpit in July 2023. Israeli-born, Rabbi Sigal was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and also earned two master’s degrees. She is an inspirational teacher, artist, musician and yogi. Her knowledge and enthusiasm brought new life to KH.

KH has had a cadre of hardworking and capable lay leaders over the years. Current President Richard Belle grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, did his graduate work in NYC, and now lives full time in Bradenton with his wife Marie. He has been a college professor, specializing in international relations, arms control and political theory, and later worked as a survey researcher and communications officer, as well as creating a consulting firm. A member since 2016, Richard was a major force in KH’s search for a place to call home and helped lead the rabbinic search process.

He was preceded in office by remarkably dedicated, talented men and women, many of whom served for more than one term: Stanley Yudin, Linda Charnes, Kayla Niles, Toby Deutsch, Regina Rand, Scott Barde, Maureen Binderman, Susan Mair, Linda Buxbaum, Janet Nagourney, Linda Milberg, and Donald Baum.

Each past president’s term(s) held unique challenges and achievements. Several shared their thoughts and memories.

Stanley Yudin: “What I am most proud of is our work toward reaching Kayla Niles’s foremost goal – the creation of ‘the KH culture’ of family and community. We established this feeling of family and community by greeting each other before services, sharing Shabbat lunch after services and asking visitors to introduce themselves during services. At KH, we never let a stranger in our midst be a stranger for long! One positive result has been that the social circle of most members, including my wife and me, centers around other KH members. We created a new, extended family for many transplanted northerners who left friends and family behind to start over in beautiful Sarasota. I believe the extraordinary KH community is the main reason KH is successful. To me, bringing Jews together makes our synagogue a holy place.”

Linda Charnes: “As a founder of Kol HaNeshama, and the second and third president, I was primarily involved in creating the basics of a congregation. We hired student Rabbis, set up membership and worked on developing a synagogue culture that was kind and caring. One main goal was to create services that were intimate, joyous, and meaningful as well as contemporary.”

Toby Deutsch: “I have been part of the KH community since our first Shabbat service. I am most proud of helping to bring us to the point where we could make Rabbi Jennifer our rabbi, first part-time and then full time. It has been gratifying to see new people join and then step into leadership roles. We have become a community that is resilient and has a momentum that will enable it to survive and thrive, even as some members move on.”

Regina Rand: “I was co-president with Scott Barde from 2014 to 2015 and then became president during a very contentious time, when we were divided regarding whether we should stay within the Reconstruction denomination or leave it, which we did. As challenging as this time was, I think Kol HaNeshama emerged stronger and more resilient than ever.

After my presidency, I remained on the board for a few more years and volunteered to be in charge of special events. I found this position demanding but also satisfying.  It has been my pleasure to watch Congregation Kol HaNeshama grow and flourish during subsequent years.”

Scott Barde: When I became President of KH, the congregation was undergoing a transition from a small social/religious group to a congregation that required numerous organizational upgrades. I was pleased to institute more detailed financial and budgeting methods, to coordinate with the Rabbi regarding religious practices and to manage the leasing and insurance arrangements. These issues were required to get us to the next phase of growth. Judy and I have always enjoyed and valued the intimacy of KH, even as the membership has continued to grow. Thanks to Kol HaNeshama, we have developed friendships that enrich our lives and will last forever.”

Maureen Binderman: I was a KH co-president three different times and loved each experience. One of our greatest challenges was growing our membership, and grow it we did! Our most significant successes were the hiring of Rabbi Jennifer Singer and increasing the “KH spirit”!

Linda Buxbaum: “Our greatest challenge during my presidency was negotiating our first long-term contract with Rabbi Jennifer and ensuring that we raised the funds to support that contract.”

Linda Milberg: “My term as president began just as COVID-19 became real. Zoom became our lifeline and we had to create a whole new experience. Our Chesed Committee went into overdrive as they worked tirelessly to ensure that we were all connected. Rabbi created new ways to pray, to learn and to relate, while I looked for a new home for us, renegotiated the Rabbi’s contract and put policies into place to transition KH into a more professional organization–all without ever meeting in person!  I enjoyed the opportunity to work with extraordinary, dedicated people who are looking to the future with bright hope.”

Donald Baum: “The ancient Chinese curse, may you live in interesting times, best sums up my presidency. Here is my take on some of the interesting times we experienced.

Covid hit in March 2020 during Linda Milberg’s presidency. South Gate shut down. After considering a few possibilities, the board decided, based on Reverend Ginny’s warm invitation, to accept St Wilfred’s offer to house our congregation.  Our plans to resume in-person events were repeatedly thwarted by new Covid waves. Finally, in fall 2022, we restarted in person services culminating in the dedication of the KH Sanctuary at St. Wilfred. After Reverend Ginny’s sudden death, our lease was terminated. Fortunately, South Gate had reopened, and we were able to return to our beloved former home. Rabbi Jennifer decided to retire effective December 31, 2022. Rabbi Carl Astor agreed to serve as our interim Rabbi. We conducted a successful search for a new permanent Rabbi, Sigal Brier.”



A New Shul by the Bay

Thirteen years ago, we started a new shul by the bay,
Small at first but then it grew to the size it is today.
We were barely a minyan of chartered members
Who tonight are celebrating more than just 13 Septembers.

We say September since it has been KH’s busiest month
Annual renewals, Rosh Hashanah and welcoming a new bunch.
We started out as an alternative minyan at Temple Beth Sholom.
The Sufi Center and a Lutheran church were also our home.

KH finally settled down when it moved into Southgate
Which for 9 or 10 years was our sacred home until late.
As we prepare to move into very new premises–
Continuing to build community will be our main emphasis.

At the beginning, with so many of us away from our kin,
We sponsored Yom Tov feasts from which you wouldn’t get thin.
First was an annual Rosh Hashanah eve dinner–
Then a full annual Seder from which you also wouldn’t get thinner.

In the early years everyone had to take on a role:
Board duties, ushering, chair set up: duty sharing our goal.
At every service, members prepared both Motzi and Kiddush.
And we wished each other a gutten Shabbes as they say in Yiddish.

We started out with a very old loan Torah that needed repair.
Eventually we bought our very own whose fonts were very clear.
Latter we acquired yet another Torah through a family donation.
Upon arrival at SRQ Airport we held a welcoming celebration.

With our mixed multitude, we elected to be different in orientation.
Initially, Kol HaNeshama established as a Reconstructionist affiliation.
We chose the Reconstructionist Prayerbook to be our Siddur
But use the Conservative Etz Hayim Chumash to also be fair.

Early on, we recruited lay leaders to lead all our worship.
Reconstructionist talent came to help enhance our fellowship.
Eventually we engaged Rabbi Jennifer to lead us in prayer–
Well before her rabbinic ordination did occur.

You know you are a real shul when the following take place:
B’nai Mitzvahs, weddings, funerals and baby namings in our holy space.
Kvetching, gossip, disagreements and differing opinions—
Occur infrequently but like in all synagogues may be observed at minyans.

Unfortunately, many founders have passed on to the big stage above.
We remember them at Yizkor services and on their Yahrzeit with love.
This KH B’Mitzvah production that we are celebrating this evening
Would not have been fully possible without their being.

It’s fascinating to us how we have survived as a congregation.
The pandemic changed how we operate – with masks and mitigation.
However, our rabbi, leaders and volunteers have kept us together
Via Zoom technology during all kinds of weather.

Yashar koach to all for keeping our community on track.
We, like many others, appreciate KH having “our back.”
May we continue to flourish–from strength to strength.
We hope we didn’t bore you by this poem’s length.

Mazal tov and Happy B’Mitzvah, Kol HaNeshama!

by KH members Marden and Joan Paru – April 17, 2021


Mail: Kol HaNeshama

PO Box 21655

Sarasota, FL 34276

Phone: 941-244-2042
CLICK HERE to Email Us



South Gate Community Center

3145 Southgate Circle Sarasota, FL 34239



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