The Coming Revolution
The Miami Herald reports,
Mitchell Chefitz, a motorcyclist, novelist, kabbalah scholar and spiritual “coach” at Miami’s oldest Reform synagogue, never saw himself as a rabbi. Funny, some of his congregants never thought they would join a synagogue.
“Outside of denominational life, I had found a very different way of being a rabbi,” said Chefitz, who for 22 years lead alternative worship services with Havurah of South Florida, a network of home-based study and prayer groups. “There was no pageantry; every word was directed to God.”
Now, as head of Temple Israel, a historic synagogue that sits on a barren lot next to a discount auto parts store on 19th Street and Northeast Second Avenue, Chefitz has ignited a spiritual revival — turning a shell of a congregation into a dynamic urban spiritual center where the Sabbath Queen is greeted with African drums; gay, straight and older married couples mingle; and meditation, yoga and chanting are studied alongside kabbalistic texts and works by Hasidic scholars.
Once the largest synagogue south of New York, the congregation had withered from more than 1,800 families in 1970 to 400 households when Chefitz took over in 2002. Since then, its has gained about 100 members, launched home Torah study groups and turned a deficit of $216,123 into a projected surplus of $76,296. The synagogue has raised more than $250,000 through its Torah restoration project and — for the first time in decades — is attracting enough families to warrant a Saturday morning “Torah tots” program.
“We saw an empty congregation that was dying,” said Chefitz, who’s lanky, wears beatnik-type wire-rimmed glasses and tends to speak in metaphors. “When a ship is dead in the water, you can push it any way you want.”