At Rosh Hashana, New Jewish Community Center about to start construction in Palm City


Paul Ivice, Special to TCPALM

Published 2:29 p.m. ET Sept. 7, 2018 | Updated 9:16 p.m. ET Sept. 7, 2018


PALM CITY — On the verge of Rosh Hashana — the Jewish New Year, which begins Sunday night — plans are being finalized for a new community center at the Chabad Jewish Center of Martin & St. Lucie County.

Next year this time, when the Jewish calendar turns from the year 5779 to 5780, Rabbi Shlomo Uminer hopes to be in the midst of construction on the $2.5 million, two-story center on Chabad's 2½-acre campus on Sunset Trail.




It's the next logical step for Uminer, 48, and his wife, Daniella, co-directors of the center, which they founded when they moved here from Brooklyn 23 years ago.

Plans for the 9,000-square-foot community center, were approved earlier this year by Martin County. Nearly $1 million has been raised in donations and pledges.

 “This is an exciting and significant milestone for the Jewish community, and the community at large," Uminer said. “It’s more than a building. It’s a home where every experience will be permeated with love and meaning, based on the three loves of spirituality, education and care for every individual.” 


Necha Gittle, 7, gets a little help from her father Rabbi Shlomo Uminer in cutting the end of a rams horn as they make a shofar during the Spectacular Shofar Demonstration- Shofar Factory on Sept. 14, 2014, teaching the process of making a real shofar at the Chabad Jewish Community Center in Palm City. The new two-story, 9,000-square-foot Jewish community center in the works, which will be constructed on the Chabad’s 2-1/2-acre site on Sunset Trail in Palm City is expected to cost $2.5 million.  (Photo: HOBIE HILER/TCPALM)


The Chabad Jewish Community Center, the first of its kind for the Treasure Coast, will have a social hall, kosher café, sanctuary, mikvah (ritual bath), an educational wing, sports facilities and art and media rooms for its camp, preschool and Hebrew school. 

The Uminers moved here "looking to open a Jewish center in a place that needs it," the rabbi said. “I would rather go to a place that really has a greater lack, and really has nothing anywhere, and this area had nothing.”

They began their Chabad center with just a handful of people. It now has up to 500 families taking part in its offerings. 

University of Miami geography professor Ira Sheskin, who has been studying the changing Jewish population in the United States since 1982, said Chabads now are among the most successful Jewish organizations because charge no membership dues, are warm and friendly, and “are meeting people where they’re at Jewishly.”

Chabads have a strong presence on many college campuses and appeal to retirees who were active in synagogues up north but tend not to join a congregation after they move to Florida.

Sheskin's most recent study of the Jewish community in Martin and southern St. Lucie counties, conducted for the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County in 2004, found 5,800 Jews, plus another 900 snowbirds who were here from three to seven months a year.

Uminer is trying to bring many of them together.

“What we’re trying to do is be a place where everyone can connect, where everyone can feel at home," he said.

Susan Couture — a snowbird from Rhode Island since she and her husband, Stephen, retired a few years ago — said that’s the feeling she had when she first walked into the Chabad when she arrived in Martin County and was “looking for an open and welcoming Jewish community.”

The daughter of two Realtors, Couture compared it to someone walking into a house that is the perfect fit.

“You just walk into a place and a feeling comes over you and it makes you feel you’re home,” she said.

Fundraising for the new community center is continuing, and will be ongoing, even after it's completed, Uminer said, because funds will be needed to to operate and maintain it.

Growth of the Palm City Chabad organization is welcome news to other religious leaders in the Jewish community.

“We are very pleased that Chabad in Palm City is growing and thriving, and that they are planning an expanded facility for their members," said Rabbi Shafir Lobb of Congregation Eitz Chayim in St. Lucie West, who also is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Treasure Coast, in email.

Especially welcome, she said, will be the Mikvah and a local kosher cafe.

Likewise, Rabbi Matthew Durbin, of Temple Beit HaYam in Stuart, was encouraged by the upcoming community-center construction, calling it "an important resource to our community.

"Having such an opportunity will strengthen our Jewish community. I look forward to continuing our relationship with Rabbi Uminer, as we have had in the past, sharing holidays, like our Hanukkah celebrations and the festival of Purim together," Durbin said in an email. "I welcome the opportunity to become a closer Jewish community."

For his part, Uminer said, the New Year and the launch of community center construction coincide for a reason.

Rosh Hashana, he said, “is a time we renew our relationship and love of God and our commitment to acts of goodness and kindness, so it is a very special time to be starting a new, exciting milestone in this community.”