Jewish Federation of Greater Naples celebrated the beginning of construction of the Nina Iser Jewish Cultural Center with a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday, Nov. 19.

The 20,000-square-foot center is designed to be a gathering place for the greater Naples Jewish community estimated at more than 10,000 individuals. In the last five years, Jewish Federation of Greater Naples’ two largest membership organizations, the Women’s Cultural Alliance (WCA) and Men’s Cultural Alliance (MCA), have grown by nearly 50% and the combined organizations now have close to 2,300 members.

The hour-long groundbreaking ceremony included prayers from four area rabbis, the traditional shoveling of dirt by dignitaries and acknowledgment of many people who helped make the project possible.

“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. “They, along with our many donors, key stakeholders and the entire Jewish community are why this project is coming to life.”

Planning started in early 2018, taking 12 months to consider more than 40 locations, 21 months for rezoning, and 12 months for site and permit approval to start construction, Saperstein said.

About 500 families have brought the center’s fundraising commitment to $12.5 million of a $15 million goal, with $10.5 million to build and furnish the building, and a $4.5 million endowment to help offset increased operational expenses.

Steve Iser and his wife, Nina, were already donors to the building when she passed away unexpectedly. The building is named in her memory. Steve explained that when he and Nina moved to Naples about 12 years ago as a seasonal resident, 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. I am happy to be able to stand here. Next year we will have a new home. I know it will be used to its fullest.”

The 20,000-square-foot center will have a community room with flexible seating, conference rooms, offices, caterer’s kitchen with demonstration capability, parking, and an office and lounge for the Federation’s youth programs, said John DeAngelis, co-founder of DeAngelis Diamond, which is building the center. DeAngelis called the building more than concrete, steel and glass, but a building of “eternal significance.”

The project is expected to be completed by more than 450 workers and more than 30 subcontractors by the end of 2022 with an anticipated January 2023 grand opening. It will be built with 13,000 cubic yards of fill, 1,000 cubic yards of concrete and 50 tons of reinforcing steel, and DeAngelis noted that architect James Knafo designed a “very, very strong building.”

A state-of-the art security system will be installed within the center for increased safety in recognition of increasing incidents of anti-Semitism, which reached record highs nationally in 2020 and 2021.

“I am proud to partner with the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples to ensure the new campus provides a safe environment,” said Florida House of Representatives Rep. Bob Rommel. “In today’s world, we must be vigilant and design facilities for all threats, while building a safe and welcoming cultural center for fellowship.”

The new Cultural Center is being built on the same campus as Temple Shalom, which agreed to lease the property next to its buildings to the Federation for 50 years.

“This marks a new chapter for the Jewish Community of Southwest Florida,” said Daryl Sissman, president of Temple Shalom. “We look forward to having the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples as our neighbors and all the synergies that will emerge. I’m honored to represent Temple Shalom on this historic day.”

The center will be the centerpiece of contemporary Jewish life in Greater Naples, enhancing the Jewish community’s sense of pride and identity for generations to come. The center will support educational, social, leisure, recreational and philanthropic programs of Jewish Federation of Greater Naples, serving young children and families to seniors.

About Jewish Federation of Greater Naples

Jewish Federation of Greater Naples is the thread that runs through the fabric of the Jewish Community, its organizations and services, connecting us all. The Federation supports programs for Jewish people and the entire community in need in the greater Naples area, Israel and throughout the world, providing food for the hungry and counseling for the troubled, spearheading rescue and relief efforts for isolated Jews in distressed regions, and funding innovative Jewish educational and unity initiatives. The Federation creates a sense of community for thousands of Jewish residents in Greater Naples and its surrounding areas by creating and supporting programs to further Jewish learning, identity, pride and culture. Federation meets the challenge of providing for the needs of our Jewish brethren, wherever they may be, from young children and families to seniors. For information, visit jewishnaples.org, call 239-263-4205 or email info@jewishnaples.org.