Forty years ago, David and Sharon Cross joined a group of families working to open the North Tampa area's first synagogue.
The 16 families saw a lack of Jewish presence in their developing community, so they gathered together to form Congregation Kol Ami.
The first meetings were held in 1977, starting in family homes, then at a Masonic Lodge. In 1980, Kol Ami hired its first Rabbi and from there, the congregation grew to more than 360 families. In 1998, the synagogue at 3919 Moran Road underwent a major expansion. The synagogue expanded its sanctuary, religious school and youth programs.
About 40 of the families attending Kol Ami today are multigenerational, including the Cross family.
Sharon Cross, who raised three children and saw her granddaughter celebrate her bat mitzvah at the synagogue last year, considers Kol Ami a second family. She is helping organize the 40th anniversary celebration weekend, which will bring back many original members including the first, Leonard Rosenthal.
"Kol Ami has always been about finding spiritual connection by being together and praying together," Sharon Cross said. "It's where all my friends are, where I go for upliftment. It is still a warm and engaging community."
David Cross served as the first president of the congregation. Sharon, who currently acts as the secretary of books, has held many positions.
The biggest difference between Kol Ami in 1977 and the synagogue today is the lack of twenty and thirty-somethings, she said.
"Us original members, we have aged and many of us are in our 60s and 70s," she said. "Many of our children have moved away and we are finding the younger generation is just not as interested or in need of a centralized religious and spiritual home. It's a different generation and they find their social activities in different ways."
Kol Ami is currently in the process of selecting a new permanent Rabbi. Interim Rabbi Howard Siegel will remain in place until August. Board members hope to hire someone enthusiastic about bringing in new families.
"It will be someone who brings energy to the congregation, who continues to show this is a warm and friendly place to be, which is what we have always been, a place to celebrate the joy of being Jewish," Cross said.
Anniversary celebration events will include Shabbat services and dinner at 6 p.m. Dec. 15 and a 40th Anniversary Gala Fundraiser from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Dec. 16. The fundraiser, which will include a live auction, dinner, cocktails and dancing, is $100 per person and babysitting is available. The synagogue will also host a special Hanukkah party at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17. All are invited to the Gala fundraiser, which proceeds go to benefit programs at Kol Ami.
Reservations are required for the dinner and 40th Anniversary Gala.
For more information, visit kolami.org or call (813) 962-6338.
Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]
Grace Lutheran Church, 3714 W Linebaugh Ave., will host Christmas events throughout December.
• A Night in Bethlehem, a live Nativity experience, will take place from 5-8 p.m. Dec. 2. Experience village life, live animals and the Nativity in this walk-through event.
• A concert, The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, will be at 4 p.m. Dec. 10. Presented by the Chancel Choir and Chamber Orchestra, the concert features scripture foretelling Christ's birth and music by G.F. Handel, John Rutter, Bob Chilcott and others. The concert is free but an offering will be collected for the Homeless in the Community Ministry.
• At 9:45 a.m. Dec. 17, celebrate Jesus' birth with birthday party cake, punch, stories, crafts and games. Adults are invited to enjoy coffee, cake and fellowship. Everyone is welcome and the event is free. For more information, visit gracetampa.org.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa, 11400 Morris Bridge Road, will present Verlon Thompson in concert at 4 p.m. Dec. 3. Concert is $15 in advance or $20 at the door. For more information, visit uutampa.org/concerts.
Brandon Christian Church, 910 Bryan Road, is seeking vendors for its 10th annual Craft Bazaar to be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 2. Handmade items only. Inside and outside tables available. For more information contact [email protected] or call (813) 404-9393.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and Christian School will host an outreach event Beer, Hymns and Christmas Carols from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 5 at Beach Bar and Restaurant at Rocky Point, Tampa. Admission is free. Food and drink available for purchase. For more information, visit goodshepherd.org.
Oak Grove United Methodist Church, 2707 Waters Ave., will show the movie Miracles from Heaven at 3 p.m. Dec. 3. Event and refreshments are free. For more information, call (813) 935-4471.