Congregation Kol HaNeshama began with a dream shared by three couples who envisioned a thoroughly inclusive synagogue. Their synagogue would embrace all Jews and accept different ways of observing Judaism; its services would be meaningful and stimulating; it would be a warm, friendly, caring 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. Upon moving to Florida from Massachusetts, they left behind a contemporary synagogue. There, they had come to treasure meaningful services that were informed by tradition but enhanced by intellectual discussion, uplifting spirituality and joyful music and singing. They wanted more of the same in Sarasota, and the others agreed.
The team of six offered varied skills to the countless responsibilities and endless work of creating a new congregation. Stan took charge of communications and technology; John oversaw legal matters and served as treasurer; Linda, Leona and Kayla concentrated on setting a tone of friendliness, interaction and warmth.
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. The culminating instrument is the human voice (breath), in song and prayer. We praise God – and express our gratitude for life, love, family and community – 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, leading eventually to Jennifer Singer. Since then, she has studied for and earned rabbinic ordination. Excited and proud, the congregation installed her as its full-time rabbi on Feb. 18, 2017.
Members of KH consider their rabbi second to none and are grateful for all she provides. A resident of Sarasota since 1998, she is known and respected throughout the community for her energy, enthusiasm, compassion and knowledge. She is an extraordinary teacher and bridge-builder.
They also value their lay leaders. Current president, Donald N. Baum, is a Professor Emeritus from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His long academic career included seven years as chair of the Department of Economics, several years overlapping with his service as director of Graduate Studies. 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 and Linda Milberg.
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. 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. I am excited and energized by our current move, especially by the idea of creating a sanctuary space that we can make our own. We have the opportunity for the space to reflect our history and the special place we have become. I am gratified by how many members have stepped forward to support this next step, showing the current strength of our congregation.”
(Toby is currently co-chair of our Transition to Our New Space Committee.)
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.”
(Regina is now serving on our Rabbinic Review Committee.)
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”!
(Maureen served on the Relocation Committee and now she is working on matters concerning parking at our new location and on fundraising.)
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.”
(Linda is now working as a resource to the Website Committee and liaison for the Relocation Committee.)