Jewish community members in the Gainesville area will soon have a new religious facility available.
The Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center is finishing the new Center for Jewish Life and Learning. The center will open its doors to the public in November, according to co-director Rabbi Berl Goldman.
The $5 million project has been under construction for about two and a half years.
Goldman refers to the new building, at 2021 NW 5th Ave. in Gainesville, as a “multi-use facility.” It will feature a traditional synagogue along with separate kitchens for meat, dairy and Passover to adhere to kosher Jewish dietary laws.
Some other features include a kosher café, study lounge, fitness center, laundry room, guest rooms and residential space for Goldman, his eight children and wife, Chanie.
The center will also feature the first traditional Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath, in Gainesville, which will accommodate people across North Central Florida who previously had to travel to Jacksonville or Orlando to use one.
“Every inch of space was used,” Goldman said. “We desperately needed it.”
Goldman and his family moved to Gainesville in 2000 to open the Chabad center and began offering Jewish day camps, Friday night Shabbat services, holiday dinners and other programming.
In 2001, the Goldman’s bought part of the property that was previously owned by the Paulson family on Northwest Fifth Avenue, but the Chabad’s growing crowds soon demanded more space.
Planning for the new center began in 2005 after having lived in the house for a few years, he said. They knocked down the old building two and a half years ago.
Mary Paulson still lives on her portion of the land.
“In the past, we had to rent, and we were like the wandering Jewish community,” Goldman said. “It’s very comforting to know we finally have a home.”
Goldman said the majority of support for the 23,000-square-foot building came from “kind-hearted” alumni and donors. About $3.5 million was raised, he said, and $1.5 million was financed from a bank.
“The fact that we actually built in the greatest recession is a miracle,” Goldman said.
Jeffrey Meldon, an accident attorney in Gainesville, said he’s been a close friend to Goldman for 13 years. Although he is a member of B’nai Israel Congregation, 3830 NW 16th Blvd., he actively supports Chabad and serves as a co-chairman to the building committee.
“It’s really exciting to be involved with Chabad because it’s such an important part of the community,” he said.
Meldon attended all meetings with the architect and engineer, helped review the building bids and met with bankers to manage the loans. He said getting the zoning approval for the center was a challenge because of the other religious buildings close by.
“It amazes me that in 13 years they could get something like this built,” he said.
Andy Kaplan, the project’s architect, started working with Goldman 10 years ago by exploring different locations for the center. He said the site plan took a long time to develop because it was a sensitive issue for several members of the neighborhood, who objected to the project because of size and unanswered questions.
Kaplan said there was mainly a lack of understanding, but after several meetings and explanations the neighbors were “reasonably supportive.”
“The Rabbi didn’t want to fight with the neighbors,” Kaplan said. “He wanted to make friends.”
Meldon added that he doesn’t feel the pressure to choose one facility (B’nai Israel or Chabad) because he wants to contribute to the education of young people in the area. He said he feels comfortable attending Chabad and especially appreciates how the Goldman’s act as parental figures to students at the University of Florida.
“It really makes me feel good to know that students have a place to attend services,” Meldon said.
The grand opening celebration for the center will be held from Feb. 7 to Feb. 9, 2014.
“The new building is still the home away from home,” Goldman said. “It’s the same home that we remember from our arrival 13 years ago, just with more rooms and more love.”