Palm Harbor, Florida, was a small rural town in 1976 when Temple Ahavat Shalom was founded. Although located only 10 miles north of Clearwater and 20 miles east of Tampa, Palm Harbor was only connected to the Tampa Bay region by a narrow two lane road. At that time, the Jewish community was very small. With the growth of west central Florida that occurred in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, Palm Harbor became a flourishing suburb of Clearwater and Tampa. As the general population grew, so did the Jewish community.
Temple Ahavat Shalom has also experienced considerable growth since its founding by 18 families in 1976, when its primary meeting places were a hotel and a former Chinese restaurant. It is now a vibrant center of Jewish life where we worship in our beautiful synagogue and also study, celebrate life’s joys, comfort one another through life’s sadnesses, establish friendships and rejoice in our shared Jewish heritage. Our congregation, with approximately 600 Temple families, serves Palm Harbor, Clearwater, Dunedin, Eastlake, Tarpon Springs and Belleair. We also serve the West Hillsborough communities of Westchase, Waterchase, the Eagles, and surrounding areas; as well as, the towns of New Port Richey, Holiday, Port Richey, Hudson and Trinity in Pasco County. We have several members who reside in St. Petersburg.
We are a Reform congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. We encourage a commitment to both the liberal principles that have long been a hallmark of Reform congregations and a warm approach to Jewish tradition. We utilize our Jewish heritage to help each member become more appreciative of his or her blessings and more committed to the moral imperatives found in our sacred literature. This approach, we believe, has helped us to create a community that nurtures the best in each of us and a Temple that is a second home for all of us.
Rabbi Jan Bresky (z”l) was engaged to lead the congregation in 1978. He left in 1987 to serve another congregation.
Rabbi Gary Klein became spiritual leader of the congregation in 1987 and continues to serve today. The growth in numbers, vitality of the congregation and the strong sense of community we feel can be attributed primarily to the leadership of Rabbi Klein. His caring nurturing of the congregation and his dedication to its members has helped create a religious community that is both active and caring. We are grateful that our Rabbi accepted the invitation of our lay leadership in 1995 to serve us with life tenure.
Cantor Deborah Jacobson joined our congregation as our first ordained cantor in 2005. During the time she has been part of our congregation, she has enhanced every aspect of our congregation’s life. She has brought her wonderful love of Jewish prayer and custom and her beautiful talent to our worship, our celebrations and our commemorations of the difficult times in our lives. She has also joined our rabbi and our faculty in teaching children and adults. We are grateful that she has joined us and we hope that she remains with us for many years.
Part of the Temple we occupy today was built in 1981. Our sanctuary, office complex, and many of our Religious School classrooms were built in 1993. The Rabbi Gary Klein Youth Center was constructed in 2004. This center serves as a religious, educational and social center for our teens, a place where they can feel at home. The Ariel Goldman Memorial Library and Learning Center was constructed in 2007.
Our households of approximately 600 families are not only headed by young and middle-aged adults, but also senior citizens. We have 75 children in our Krieger Early Childhood Center and 250 children in the Weaner Religious School. Our members are proud to be a part of a diverse group of people who share a common commitment to ennobling our lives and the world through our identification with Judaism.
We invite you to browse our website. If you have any questions or would like to get to know us better please feel free to call Rabbi Klein or Cantor Jacobson at (727)785-8811.