Shir Shalom Staff
Michael Joseph, Rabbi
Ann Eisenstadt, Office Manager
Temple Shir Shalom is an inclusive Reform Jewish congregation located in Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida. Our members and friends engage meaningfully with one another and the broader community through social events, worship, study and social action.
Rabbi Michael Lewis Joseph became spiritual leader of Temple Shir Shalom in July 2004 after previous service to congregations in Norfolk, Virginia, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Rabbi Joseph received his rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1989.
Rabbi Joseph was born and raised in Port Washington, New York, oldest of three brothers. He graduated from Yale University in 1980, and worked for four years as a cook and chef in gourmet restaurants in Boston and San Francisco. He met his wife, Debbie, as a fellow first-year rabbinic student in Jerusalem in 1984, and they married in December 1986.
Michael and Debbie have two children: Edie, born in 1990, and Ben, born in 1992. Rabbi Joseph is an award-winning amateur photographer whose work has been featured in the Gainesville Sun and exhibited at the Alachua County Public Library and several local galleries.
Temple Shir Shalom traces its origin to an idea shared by just a few local families in early 1984. These families felt that Gainesville needed a congregation that would espouse the values of Reform Judaism, focusing on welcome, inclusion, and Jewish education for all who were interested. The first official meeting of the congregation was held on August 29, 1984, at which time a newly constituted Board of Directors ratified a Certificate of Incorporation that had been filed earlier in the month in the office of the Florida Secretary of State. The first Annual Meeting of the congregation was held on December 13, 1984 in the conference room of an office building on 13th Street. (Union of American Hebrew Congregations), which was approved in May 1985.
During our earliest years, the congregation counted twenty-four founding families, of whom several are still active members. Our celebration of our 25th Anniversary in 2010 was based upon our application to join the Union for Reform Judaism (the the congregation met for Shabbat worship at the local Unitarian Fellowship, and for the High Holidays in a hotel ballroom. Our Religious School first met in borrowed office space before moving for several years into the Thomas Center. Worship and study were led by various lay members of the congregation, with an occasional visiting ordained rabbi for special occasions. In 1988, Mr. Bernie Zeldin, then a newcomer to Gainesville, became the semi-official "lay rabbi" of Temple Shir Shalom, owing to his Jewish learning and his experience with a number of other young congregations around the country.
During eight years of service, Bernie tutored and led almost 40 students through their b'nai mitzvah, helped 15 adults through conversion to Judaism, and officiated at a variety of other life cycle events. After a six year absence from Gainesville, Bernie returned in 2002 and has continued to inspire many with his expert teaching. In 1989, Temple Shir Shalom acquired its current property on 8th Avenue in Gainesville, after much work on fundraising and a late evening session of the Gainesville City Council that was attended by nearly all of the 43 families who then made up the congregation. The small house on the property was converted into a functional temple building, and the congregation finally had a real home.
Membership grew steadily through the ensuing years, leading the congregation to engage the services of Rabbi Earl Jordan as part time spiritual leader in 1999. Again the congregation grew as its ability to serve the community grew, and a beautiful new Sanctuary and social hall were added to our building in 2002. When Rabbi Jordan retired in 2004, the congregation decided it was ready for its first full-time rabbi. After a search process coordinated with the Union for Reform Judaism, Temple Shir Shalom selected Rabbi Michael Joseph to be its leader, beginning in June 2004. The remarkable success of Temple Shir Shalom in its short existence is a source of much pride, but such endeavors are never really finished. In 2007 the congregation purchased the property on its east side, and renovated the house on the new property to serve as classroom and office space.
In 2009, extra space in the building became the home of the Jewish Council for North Central Florida, creating a "Jewish campus" for all of Gainesville on 8th Avenue. The Rabbi, congregation, and Board of Temple Shir Shalom are all working actively to provide the very best environment possible for Reform Judaism to flourish in Gainesville for the benefit of all who seek the warmth and comfort of a caring Reform congregation. Temple Shir Shalom enters its second quarter century with energy and optimism for a very bright future.