In the early 1970’s there was very little choice for SW Florida Jews seeking a local congregation. There were two Reform temples on Cape Coral, but no place in Fort Myers to gather and worship. Faced with this situation, a small group of Jews, most coming from a more traditional background, began gathering in each other’s’ homes for Shabbat worship. As word spread and numbers increased, the group moved to the music room at Cypress Lake High School by the mid-70’s. Services were conducted by lay members of this informal congregation, and numbers continued to grow.
As the group continued to expand, its needs exceeded what the high school space could offer and it moved to a Christian Church located on the corner of Colonial and McGregor. The young congregation purchased its first Torah, for $2500, from a synagogue up north, and stored it in an Ark purchased and trucked down from a synagogue in Sarasota. The second-hand Torah was stored in a second-hand Ark in a Christian church!
By 1977, the group had evolved into a core congregation that was ready for its own home. Members found three store fronts in the Dragon Plaza on 41 near the corner of Crystal. Congregants knocked down walls and created a sizable space, which served the group well until 1982.
That year, the land on A&W Bulb Road was procured and plans set for construction of the synagogue. When permits were initially refused, members plunged forward with construction, risking their capital on the hope that local officials would have a change of heart. Persistence won out and permits were granted, and the permanent home for Temple Judea was established. Starting with only the Sanctuary, space was added that became the pre-school, social hall, kitchen and office areas we know today.
Temple Judea has welcomed members from all walks of life over the years, including a college all-American basketball player who later played professional ball. Members have held prominent government, corporate and media positions around the country and SW Florida, and that tradition continues to this day.
While synagogues of other denominations have sprung up around SW Florida, Temple Judea continues to provide the community with a welcoming, Conservative offering of Judaism, and continues to grow and prosper.