Senior reform Rabbi Jaime Klein Aklepi will celebrate her 18th year at Bet Breira Samu-El Or Olom on Saturday, Jan. 10, with a party and fundraiser at the synagogue, at 9400 SW 87th Ave.
Renowned for her warmth, wisdom and inventiveness, Aklepi’s lasting positive influence has made an indelible impact on the Jewish community, both locally and internationally.
“Even before I came to the synagogue, I was always thinking, ‘What’s the best way I can serve a changing community?’” she says. “From those days until today, I am most proud of the way I enjoy a challenge and the mindset I bring to Judaism and the synagogue.”
That mindset was nurtured by a genuine passion for knowledge and spirituality. After graduating high school, Aklepi relocated from New York to attend Brandeis University in Massachusetts and received a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. She then traveled to Jerusalem’s Hebrew-Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion, was ordained and earned a Master of Arts in Hebrew literature. Upon returning, she moved to Miami in 1993 to serve as director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center at the University of Miami and instituted the inaugural Birthright Program, a nonprofit foundation with the express goal of uniting young Jews and allowing them to experience Israel firsthand.
“I was a young rabbi, only out a few years, and it was a great lesson to see how the power of an idea can really change the world,” she says. “Birthright has changed the young people’s view of Israel and it changed Israel’s economy when it was really hurting.”
In 1997, she was welcomed by Rabbi Barry Tabachnikoff and Bet Breira as an associate rabbi. At that time, she was only the second female rabbi in South Florida’s history. In 2004, she was chosen as senior rabbi following the passing of Rabbi Tabachnikoff.
“At first, I was the youngest, and now I’ve become the mentor,” she says. “It’s very comforting and fulfilling to be in that place now.”
Her mentoring and leadership skills were employed expertly in 2009 when she was instrumental in merging Bet Breira with the conservative congregation of Samu-El Or Olom. The process, which could have proved arduous in less capable hands, was graced with an optimistic glow under her guidance.
“We saw the merger as an opportunity to welcome people who enjoy a variety of worship styles,” she says. “Bet Breira means ‘House of Choice’ and this was a way to expand religious and spiritual choices in the community. That was the thinking; ‘Can two synagogues, one reform and one conservative, create something new together?’”
A past president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami and immediate past president of the Southeast Association of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Aklepi has never stopped looking for new ways to grow. She recently completed an online certificate program at Notre Dame focusing on transformational nonprofit leadership, and hopes to apply her new knowledge in healthy, progressive and positive ways, starting with her fundraising celebration this January which promises “dining and dancing.”
“What all this is about is helping people find meaning in their own lives and you find that by doing something for others,” she says. “What we’re supposed to do is be a part of a community that cares for each other and makes the world a better place. That’s what I hope to continue doing.”
For more information, go to www.bbsoomiami.org.