Yesterday and Today

Marion County established the town of Ocala in 1846, and the first Jews in Ocala began arriving shortly before the Civil War. Ocala was one of the first towns in Florida to have a synagogue, established by the United Hebrews of Ocala in 1888. Because of this early foundation, Jewish religious life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was well organized. This was also the period of the Jewish population’s greatest growth and success; Jews were local leaders and business owners who left legacies lasting well into the 20th century.

Jewish migrants first arrived in Ocala during the 1860s and 1870s. Many of the newcomers to Ocala had immigrated to the United States from German speaking lands and then made their move to Ocala from larger U.S. cities such as Jacksonville and Savannah. As the Jewish population grew, they organized the United Hebrews of Ocala, and by 1873, members Louis Fox, Nathan Crown, and Herman Scherwin purchased the land for a Jewish cemetery. The United Hebrews of Ocala began constructing a synagogue in 1884 and completed the structure in 1888. Later known as Temple B’nai Darom (meaning Children of the South) , the United Hebrews of Ocala synagogue was the third to be erected in Florida, after Temple Beth El in Pensacola (1878) and Ahavath Chesed in Jacksonville (1882). Notably, Temple B’nai Darom is the only synagogue in the state with Carpenter Gothic architecture, a style popular among small churches in Florida in the late 19th century. Early leadership of the United Hebrews of Ocala included Fox, Crown, and Scherwin—who helped organize the construction of the temple in addition to the cemetery— and Simon Benjamin—who donated land for the temple and later served as president for ten years. Once local Jewish leaders had established the congregation, the Jewish Women’s Auxiliary directed the social and religious activities of the United Hebrews of Ocala.

Our Spiritual Leader

Rabbi Harold Jaye leads services on the first Saturday and third Friday of each month​. "A native of Columbus, Ohio, Rabbi Jaye graduated from the University of Cincinnati. He was cantoral soloist with the Hebrew Union College choir and has served as cantor at several synagogues. His articles have been published in various magazines and he has appeared on TV shows in Chicago and Maine.

"​Rabbi Jaye "has earned a Phd in Near Eastern and Judaic studies from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. He serves as professor of philosophy and humanities at the College of Central Florida where he has taught classes since 1988.​ He has been awarded the honarary degree of doctor of divinity presented to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion alumni who have 25 years of rabbinical service."

In addition he was honored with the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Teaching Excellence Award, a University Fellowship, Brandeis University, and the Cora Kahn Prize for Sermon Delivery and Oratory, Hebrew Union College. After serving as Rabbi in three other congregations, Rabbi Jaye came here to Ocala. He has been the Rabbi at Temple B'nai Darom for about thirty years.

Expansion of Temple Lot