A New Traditional Synagogue is Dedicated

18 December 2011, 22 Kislev 5772

ADL representative Robert Tanen presenting the Award Banner to the City of Mount Dora

On Sunday, December 18, 2011, in Mount Dora, Florida, a new traditional synagogue was formally inaugurated.

The inauguration ceremony followed the custom of the Spanish and Portuguese communities. Rabbi Steven Golden served as Ḥazzan. The Minḥah service was followed by the Hakhnasat Sefer Torah, bringing in for the first time a newly repaired Sefer Torah to the Mount Dora synagogue. This Sefer Torah was donated to the new synagogue by Rabbi David Bauman’s shul, Temple Israel of Long Island. Inauguration blessings were given by Rabbanit Dr. Rachel Solomon, Rabbi Dr. Hayyim Solomon, Rabbi Dr. Eugene Shafir and Hakham Dr. Isaac S.D. Sassoon.

After the Inauguration Ceremony speakers from the synagogue and from the community gave remarks. Hakham Sassoon gave the keynote address and Parnas Robb Seltzer spoke on behalf of the Synagogue.

Speakers: MountDora Chief of Police Randall Scoggins (left), ADL’s Robert Tanen (right)

The rest of the Inauguration Programme was given over to those who spoke with respect to the hate-crimes of July and the Mount Dora Community’s response.

In July of 2011 the shul building was desecrated early one Shabbath morning, before dawn, by vandals who spray painted particularly vile anti-Semitic and vulgar things on the then-newly-painted exterior walls and windows. The City of Mount Dora and the members of the non-Jewish community responded to this hateful act in an exceedingly supportive and embracing manner towards the synagogue. The general community took complete responsibility for the restoration of the shul, and the official law enforcement response was swift and effective.

Robert Thielhelm, Mayor of Mount Dora gave the first official remarks, and was followed by Melissa DeMarco, the former Mayor who led the Community’s response to the hate crime. Former Mayor DeMarco encapsulated it all when she said, “We (the Community and the Synagogue) belong to each other now”. Mount Dora Chief of Police, T. Randall Scoggins spoke on behalf of the Mount Dora Police Department on their role in apprehending the perpetrators. Sue Purdy, the Assistant State Attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit spoke on the successful prosecution of the case as a hate crime. Robert Tanen, the Anti-Defamation League’s Associate Regional Director for Florida then presented the City of Mount Dora the ADL Community of Respect award. This is only the second time the ADL has given this award in Florida.

Former Mayor Mel DeMarco giving remarks

The Traditional Congregation of Mount Dora was founded in 2008 by Rabbi Dr. Hayyim (then a student at the Metivta) and Rabbanit Dr. Rachel Solomon. For three years the congregation met in conference rooms of hotels or in private homes. In 2010 a site was identified for the future home of the synagogue building - downtown Mount Dora, right at the North edge of the commercial district, within easy reach of several residential neighborhoods. Renovations commenced and in early August 2011 the Congregation began holding services informally in the building. Yamim Noraim services were celebrated there for the first time that year.

Remarks to the Traditional Congregation of Mount Dora and the City of Mount Dora

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Robert Tanen, Associate Regional Director, Anti-Defamation League

Mayor Thielhelm, Chief Scoggins, Melissa DeMarco, Rabbi Sassoon Rabbi Solomon, Clergymen and women, citizens of Mount Dora and the surrounding communities, distinguished guests:

After hearing such amazing words on this dais from all facets of the Mount Dora community, I feel honored and privileged to have the last word at this important and historic event.

My name is Robert Tanen, and I am the Associate Regional Director for the Florida office of the Anti-Defamation League, informally known to the community as the ADL. The ADL is an organization that has been around nearly 100 years, and its mission statement has remained the same from 1913 through today: to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure the fair treatment of all individuals alike.

Our agency is probably most well-known for its decades of monitoring and exposing domestic hate groups from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum. And we are certainly proud of our work in that realm.

But we could not do that type of work without also simultaneously engaging in the battle to educate our youth about the power of respecting diversity, in order to stop hate before it starts. Which is why ADL created its Community of Respect Initiative – an innovative, community-wide, anti-bias declaration, rooted in our successful school-based No Place For Hate program, which offers cities, businesses, organizations, and houses of worship the opportunity to support their local schools by sponsoring them in their quest to develop innovative and creative programs on their school campuses to promote respect and diversity.

But in the instance of the collective response to the anti-Semitic defacing of this institution, Mount Dora did more on its own to send the message embedded in our No Place For Hate initiative than any ADL sponsored training could possibly provide. Vaclav Havel, the famous Czech playwright, dissident, and statesman – who sadly passed away this morning in his northern Czech home – constantly repeated a phrase for several decades while enduring hardships under Soviet communist rule: “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred,” he said. Collectively, you stood as role models for your children, you set a positive example for all of Florida’s cities to follow, and you stated loud and clear – with one voice – that hatred and bigotry against any group of people will not be tolerated in this city; not then, now not, not ever.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that the media is here with us today – because these types of stories are all too often lost in the shuffle of the 24/7 news cycle. Truth be told, if more people took a page out of Mount Dora’s book and really paid attention – truly paid attention – to the lessons that this small town gave the world, just maybe – just maybe – we might begin to find the cure for the disease of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.

And so today, to honor the City and the people of Mount Dora for their role in coming to the aid of Rabbi Solomon and his congregation in their time of need, and for subsequently catching and prosecuting the perpetrators with hate crime charges, it brings the Anti-Defamation League great joy to declare the City of Mount Dora “A Community of Respect.”

Mayor Thielhelm, Congratulations


The Traditional Congregation of Mount Dora
Proud to be Jewish in Lake County
848 N. Donnelly St, Mount Dora, FL, 32757
Phone: (352) 735-4774