Reform Judaism With Latin Flavor Takes Root in Miami

Sinai Academy Is Very Unusual Jewish School

Beach Day: An Orthodox Jewish woman takes in some sun in Miami.
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Beach Day: An Orthodox Jewish woman takes in some sun in Miami.

By Uriel Heilman

Published February 01, 2014.
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“We love the way Reform Judaism emphasizes community service and tzedakah and all those things you don’t always get at a Jewish school,” said Eidelstein, who moved here from Panama 11 years ago. “It’s about bringing your Jewish values and traditions into the greater community.”

Just as important for many Sinai families is preserving their Latin ties, something they say is more likely in Miami than in other American cities. Aside from the ubiquitous Spanish culture, Miami’s proximity to Latin America enables many immigrants to commute during the week to maintain their livelihoods back home.

Ilan Naibryf, 14, an eighth-grader and president of the student council, has a typical Sinai background. His family immigrated to Miami from Argentina when he was 2, but his father still commutes for work to South America, where he is a carpet tile manufacturer. Ilan’s mother, Ronit Felszer, teaches in one of the Spanish-immersion early childhood classes. At one point, the family pulled Ilan out of Sinai and tried public school, but quickly found it did not suit them.

“It’s not just the academics at this school,” Felszer said. “It’s the community.”

More than an hour before dismissal time, parents begin showing up at Sinai to chat in a picnic area near the main entrance. At school celebrations and cultural events, parents bring in homemade empanadas, chorizo or arepas. Many school families have bought homes near the school, creating a real community and, buyers say, boosting surrounding real estate values.

In the meantime, Sinai is planning for growth, with expansion slated for the early childhood program and middle school, as well as early talk of starting a high school. If they succeed, it would be the only Reform Jewish high school in the United States.

“We have this exciting new population,” said Posner, the head of school. “It’s a little bit of a laboratory to see when a new community becomes a part of an existing community.”


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