Judith Siegal moved with her family from her New Orleans hometown to become assistant rabbi at Temple Judea about eight years ago.
“I came to Coral Gables for Temple Judea, looking for a spiritual home for my family,” she said.
Her quest was more than satisfied; today, she is the senior rabbi of the 600-family congregation, one of the oldest Reform congregations in the county.
The history of Temple Judea, founded in 1948, and the role that it has played in building Coral Gables’ Jewish community is the subject of a new exhibition at the Coral Gables Museum. The exhibit features documentary-style videos, historical photographs, and sacred objects to depict the congregation’s 66-year history. It started as the Coral Gables Jewish Center in a residential neighborhood off Palermo Avenue.
Miami Beach architect Morris Lapidus — who designed the Fontainebleau, Eden Roc and Lincoln Road Mall — designed the temple’s current building, at Granada Boulevard and U.S.1. It opened in 1966; the city designated it a historic structure in 2013.
“The more we can educate people about other people, then the more we can break down those religious barriers, especially with what is happening in the world today,” said museum director Christine Rupp.
Rupp and her staff became interested in featuring the history of the temple, approached its members with the idea and matched them up with a curator, Bill Iverson, who worked with Marcel Lecours and Amanda Sica from SimpleFly Creative, a Coconut Grove ad agency and design firm.
Iverson worked with the temple’s archives committee to sort through more than 60 years of files, documents and photos to create a consistent storyline.
“I’m not Jewish, which I believe made it much more interesting because I saw things that I believe some of the temple members may [not notice],” he said.
Iverson found a lot of symbolism in the structure of the temple, which he said many members did not know about, like the three arches in the front of the building and bronze inserts in the temple doors.
“I learned a lot about the symbolism of the three arches,” said Rita Rothrock, a temple member who helped manage the project as one of the volunteers.
The three pillars that Iverson and the design team planned the exhibit around — House of Prayer, House of Learning and House of Assembly — illustrate the different aspects of Reform Judaism.
A replica of the temple’s bronze doors illustrates how each of the 12 inserts stand for each of the major holidays. The exhibit matches up the holidays with photos of temple members while celebrating.
“I saw a whole bunch of what I thought were drama or play photos—those were photographs of Purim,” Iverson said. “I wanted to be able to show what these holidays look like.”
One of the more striking displays in the exhibit is a 200-year-old Torah found in Prague after the Holocaust, and was nearly destroyed. Temple Judea had the Torah painstakingly restored, a year-long project with a professional scribe.
The congregation’s first rabbi, Morris Kipper, was heavily featured in the exhibit. Under his leadership, the congregation made a land swap with the University of Miami to build the temple at its current location. Kipper worked with Lapidus on the design; he was the one who came up with the three arches’ concept.
Kipper joined the temple in 1964 and stayed until 1973, when he and his family moved to Israel to help start Alexander Muss High School there. Kipper returned to the States in the ‘90s, serving on the staff of Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, and ultimately becoming the founding rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah in Parkland. He passed away in 2010.
His wife, Leonor Kipper, works in Temple Judea’s archives committee, which helped provide information and historical artifacts for the exhibit.
“He would have been happy to see this exhibit,” said Kipper of her late husband. “The temple has been a lifelong place in our hearts.”
Audrey Komrad and her husband, Gene, became members in 1967, just after the new temple opened. Komrad got teary-eyed as she and her husband looked at the exhibit.
“When you get to our age, it’s nice to live the past,” said Gene Komrad. “It reawakens something.”
If you go
‘Building a Sacred Jewish Community in the City Beautiful’ will be an exhibit at the Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave., running through Nov. 2.Regular admission fees apply: Members are free, adults, $7; students with ID and seniors, $5; children 6-12, $3; children under 6 are free.