- Guest Writer
Nina Iser Jewish Cultural Center to open in January
The Nina Iser Jewish Cultural Center, more than five years in planning and construction, will open in January, a gathering place for the greater Naples Jewish Community, estimated at more than 10,000 individuals.
The 20,000-square-foot cultural center is located on the campus of Temple Shalom which agreed to lease the property to the Federation for 50 years. The Nina Iser Jewish Cultural Center will support educational, social, leisure, recreational, and philanthropic programs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples.
Pending Collier County’s final certificate of occupancy, which allows the center to open, the Federation is planning a public grand-opening celebration in January.
The idea for the center grew out of the Federation board’s strategic plan in 2017. Planning to build a center started in early 2018. With more than 40 sites considered, finding the location took 12 months. Rezoning of the property took 21 months, with the site and permit approval 12 months. Construction began after a groundbreaking in November 2021.
“I’m so appreciative of all the support, active engagement, assertive pushback when needed, and always full commitment to our Nina Iser Jewish Cultural Center,” said Marc Saperstein, chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples building committee at the groundbreaking. “They, along with our many donors, key stakeholders, and the entire Jewish community are why this project is coming to life.”
In the last five years, the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples’ two largest membership organizations, the Men’s Cultural Alliance (MCA) and the Women’s Cultural Alliance (WCA,) have grown by nearly 50% and the combined organizations now have close to 2,300 members.
“The growth of the Federation since incorporation in 1992 has brought us here,” said Jeffrey D. Feld, President, and CEO. “We are seeing the culmination of five years of planning and dreaming and are moving to the exciting moment where the Jewish community and the rest of Southwest Florida will be able to experience and see our impact. We would not be here without the support of our donors and community.”
While fundraising continues, at press time $13.2 million had been raised for the $11.5 million building with a $4.5 million endowment to maintain the center.
Steve Iser and his wife, Nina, were already donors to the building when she passed away unexpectedly, and he gave a lead donation to have the building named after her. Steve explained that when he and Nina moved to Naples more than ten years ago as seasonal residents, they had difficulty meeting people and making friends until they became involved with Jewish Federation.
“It wasn’t until Nina got involved with the WCA that we started to meet a lot more people,” he said. “Actually, we called Naples ‘Camp Naples’ because there was so much to do. Next year we will have a new home. I know it will be used to its fullest.”
The 20,000-square-foot cultural center will have a community hall with flexible seating, conference rooms, offices, a caterer’s kitchen with demonstration capability, parking, and an office and lounge for the Federation’s youth programs.
The center was built with 13,000 cubic yards of fill, 1,000 cubic yards of concrete, and 50 tons of reinforcing steel. A state-of-the-art security system is installed for safety in recognition of increasing incidents of anti-Semitism, which have reached record highs in recent years.
John DeAngelis, co-founder of DeAngelis Diamond, the center’s builder, called the building more than concrete, steel, and glass, but a building of “eternal significance.”
In the courtyard is a special Chanukiah created by artist David Hess from Baltimore. “This will be used for future community Chanukah celebrations, and the rest of the year will be a beautiful piece of art,” Feld said.
Special Mezuzoth, which contains small parchments with scripture verses, will mark the center as a holy place and will be affixed to the center’s doorways in a special ceremony. The Mezuzoth were created by Yad LaKashish, an organization that helps senior citizens in Israel supported by the Federation.
“The Mezuzoth will provide a connection to Israel and a symbol of generation to generation,” Feld said. “We are very excited for the Nina Iser Jewish Cultural Center to be coming to fruition.”