Rabbi Lehrman: His Life and Art at the Jewish Museum of Florida

From Sept 7, 2011 through Jan 15, 2012.

Rabbi Irving Lehrman (1910-2005) served as the spiritual leader for Temple Emanu-El on Miami Beach for 50 years. He had a huge impact on the Greater Miami, Florida, Israel and world Jewish communities and the multifaith community and built bridges between races and denominations.

Born in Tykocin, Poland in 1910, Irving Lehrman came to the United States at the age of five. He was the 11th generation of a famed rabbinic family that goes back to the 1500s. As a boy in America, he became fond of cantorial music and was invited to sing with Cantor Yosele Rosenblatt.

In 1943, one year following his ordination from the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York with a Masters Degree in Hebrew Literature, he accepted a position as the rabbi of the Miami Beach Jewish Center. After threatening to leave after the first year, the congregation had a campaign to build a “real synagogue” and he remained more than 50 years. He energized a congregation of 200 families to become 1,500 families. His eloquent, informative sermons attracted so many people that they had to line up around the block to await entrance into the services.

Rabbi Lehrman founded the Day School (later named in his honor), earned many honorary degrees, was a national and international Jewish leader and a giant among all clergy. President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to the White House Task Force on Food, Nutrition and Health and to the White House Conferences on Aging and on Obscenity and Pornography. He was named to the Executive Committee of UNESCO. He was the first Floridian Jew to receive the Benemerenti Medal from Pope John Paul II.

Rabbi Lehrman was an active supporter of Israel, a national and international spokesman for Judaism and Jewish causes and motivated many of his congregants to get involved in politics and serve leadership roles in community. Rabbi served as president of the Synagogue Council of America, chairman of the Rabbinic Council for the United Jewish Appeal, chairman of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation United Jewish Appeal Campaign and on many boards of Jewish and interfaith organizations.

Some other honors included namings of a park by the Tel Aviv Foundation and a Recreational Area in Jabotinsky Park in Israel, the Irving Lehrman Chair in Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the naming of 77th Street on Miami Beach.

Rabbi Lehrman’s vision, ingenuity, energy and inspired leadership built his congregation into one of the largest and most important centers of Conservative Jewry in the US. Even with his very demanding schedule, Rabbi Lehrman always found time for his family (wife Belle and children Rosalind and David), to read, teach, walk, swim and draw. He referred to Belle as, “My light and my inspiration.”

Lehrman’s powerful sermons often tied current events to Talmudic teachings. He was as renowned for his thought-provoking sermons as he was for his charcoal portraits of famous people he admired – from presidents and prime ministers to rabbis and legends in the fields of arts, science and literature. More than 20 of his artworks will be shown.

Jewish Museum of Florida
301 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139

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