LEORA ARNOWITZ – Miami Herald
In a four-bedroom house nestled in Miami Lakes, lives an Orthodox Jewish couple with seven children, three slippery turtles and a big dream — to open a synagogue in a neighborhood, which, up until now, hasn’t had one.
On Friday nights and special occasions, they roll out long, folding tables, and their house transforms into a meeting place for nearby Jewish families. The guests come from Miami Lakes, west Miramar and Pembroke Pines and are looking for a taste of Jewish tradition along with a home-cooked Sabbath meal, free of charge.
Rabbi Mendy and Tzippy Weiss gladly host the company, but they dream of being able to hold services in a synagogue, to be able to pair prayer with their social dinners.
And they have their location pegged. They have their sights set on a dusty, 6,000-square-foot building, still under construction in Royal Oaks Office Park.
“We drive by it every day, and we dream of being there,” Tzippy Weiss, 33, said.
But the process of getting it seems to be moving at a rate slower than their pet turtles can crawl. She said the building is priced at $1.8 million, and though she does not know the exact amount collected, she said they are at the “very, very beginning” getting money together.
The building will be paid for by private donations, and the average contribution they receive is between $36 and $100, she said. These donations usually come from families in the area who feel close to the Weiss family and want to help the cause.
As of now, they have not begun an intense fundraising campaign.
“My husband likes to meet the families and build relationships before he asks them for money,” she said. “The truth of the matter is we just want to find the Jews in the area first.”
One way he does this is by sprinkling brochures around Miami Lakes neighborhoods during major Jewish holidays. He also walks around looking for traditional Jewish door hangings outside houses.
One Jew he found this way was Steve Sutnick, 62, who used to go to a synagogue about 30 minutes away in Miami Beach. Sutnick said the distance discouraged him from going often, but now he goes to the Weiss’ every Friday night.
He is one of about 25 to 40 guests they host weekly. The guests change often, as there are about 75 Jewish families they serve. The closest Orthodox synagogue to them is in North Miami Beach, about 20 minutes away. The Weisses make this trek regularly, but many others do not.
Sutnick said while he loves going to the Weiss house for the Sabbath, he sees why they need a building.
“It would be less wear and tear on the home, and they could have more people,” Sutnick said. “As soon as I win the lotto, I’m going to help them build it,” he said half-jokingly.
Mendy Weiss said with the current state of the economy, he expects this won’t happen soon. He hopes to have the building within the next three years.
“I want it tomorrow,” he said. “But realistically speaking, we’re looking at a few years.”