SOUTH TAMPA — The Congregation Rodeph Sholom has a lot to celebrate this year.
The Bayshore Boulevard synagogue is welcoming new leadership as it marks its 110th anniversary.
Rabbi Josh Hearshen and Cantor Andres Kornworcel have spent the past few weeks settling into their new positions as head of Tampa’s oldest conservative synagogue.
“I think Rodeph Sholom has a very bright future,” said Hearshen, 34. “I think that it’s got a very strong past and a very strong future.”
Congregation Rodeph Sholom was founded in 1903. Originally, the synagogue was located on Palm Avenue in Ybor City before it moved to its current location in 1968.
Besides the move, the synagogue has seen several significant changes throughout its 110-year history. It now allows women to participate in services and rituals and has grown so much over the years that the synagogue has had to add new offices, classrooms and social space.
Hearshen knows his job as leader requires him to connect with and meet the spiritual needs of the young members of the congregation as well as those who have been members for decades.
His new motto for the synagogue is “Generations of Innovative Spirituality.” He said he wants to send the message that Rodeph Sholom is a religious institution steeped in tradition, which has also grown and evolved with the times.
“We wanted to convey that we are not a new synagogue,” Hearshen said.
Sherri Friedlander, 67, who has been a member of Rodeph Sholom all her life, said the synagogue has moved with the times in a good way. The traditions are the same, but the women are more visible and the young people are more observant.
“It’s a more open place now,” said Friedlander. “It’s more accessible.”
Hearshen wants to continue to expand that feeling in the synagogue.
“My work for this year is going to largely center on developing people’s feeling of community involvement,” he said.
Rodeph Sholom will host a weekend full of family events to celebrate the synagogue’s 110th birthday on Aug. 23-25.
“This is a huge accomplishment,” said Rosann Felder, a member of the synagogue’s board of directors who helped organize the celebration.
In its long history, the synagogue has had its financial and political “ups and downs,” she said.
“But we’ve managed to keep it going for 110 years, and that’s so great,” Felder said. “We just felt like we had so much to celebrate between the community, the congregants and the new clergy that we have.”
Doris Verkauf, Friedlander’s mother, is Rodeph Sholom’s oldest member at almost 98 years old. The synagogue has always been a focal point of her family. Her husband, Sam, helped secure the synagogue’s new location when it moved from Ybor City about 45 years ago.
She said she is honored to be present for the synagogue’s 110th anniversary celebration.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Verkauf said. “It’s not wonderful for me to think about how old I am, but it’s a wonderful thing that I’m here.”