Jewish Community Center envisioned for Lakewood Ranch

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Dozens of congregations have taken root in the Lakewood Ranch area, often moving from rented space in schools or commercial buildings, and eventually moving into their own brick-and-mortar structures.

The Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch could be the next to take it to the next level.

Rabbi Mendy Bukiet confirmed this week that the five-year-old congregation is working toward creating a Jewish Community Center.

“We dream big,” Bukiet said, adding that a Jewish Community Center was envisioned at the time of the congregation’s founding.

The Chabad has been in talks with Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch for several months, and is preparing to launch fundraising efforts.

In January, the Chabad will have an auction and dinner at the Polo Grill.

“We are making the Polo Grill kosher for one night,” Bukiet said.

And though he won’t be performing his comedy routine, Jackie Mason is among those expected to attend.

“We hope to raise enough money to kick off a building fund. People are very excited about it. We are hoping Jews and non-Jews alike will attend,” Bukiet said.

Brian Kennelly, president of LWR Commercial Realty, said SMR has identified a possible location for the proposed center on five acres north of State Road 70.

“There is a need in the community,” Kennelly said for the center.

SMR has always taken the view that faith groups are important components of building a new community, he said.

Although Bukiet is an Orthodox rabbi, he said the proposed Jewish center would serve Jews of all persuasions, regardless of whether they are observant or their level of faith.

Bukiet said that he and is wife, Chanie, believe in the concept of loving every single Jew.

“We are creating a community that can service every single Jew regardless of affiliation,” he said. “Our goal is to create something that works for the entire Jewish community. That is the wonderful part, you don’t have to label yourself. We have to be there for each other and support one another,” he said.

That has been a consistent message from Bukiet since he hosted his first event at Lakewood Ranch, an ice cream social attended by about 20 people on May 23, 2004, at Lakewood Ranch Community Center.

Ron Hyatt of University Park, who has been a supporter of the congregation since its founding, said he strongly supports efforts to bring a Jewish Community Center to Lakewood Ranch.

“They are just wonderful people, “ Hyatt said of the Bukiets. “They came from a place where they had a very complete Jewish community with all the things observant Jews need in their lives. They came to a place where they knew almost no one and the access to the things they needed like kosher meat was not available.”

Although the Bukiets come from a traditional Jewish background, they open their arms to everyone, regardless of their level of religious education or knowledge of Hebrew, Hyatt said.

Rabbi Mendy Bukiet said establishing a Jewish Community Center is especially important given the hardships that come from a tough economy.

“The need is only expanding and getting greater because of everything going on,” Bukiet said.

The Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch meets at 11509 Palmbrush Trail, Lakewood Ranch. For more information, call (941) 752-3030

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contact at 745-7021.