For the past several years, Jewish life has been on the uptick in the Florida Gulf Coast town of Bradenton, and with the purchase of a new five-acre property to house its Chabad-Lubavitch center, area families will soon have the space to accommodate their growth.

In announcing the purchase, Chabad of Bradenton directors Rabbi Mendy and Chana Bukiet noted that since they moved to the area in 2004, they’ve served the community from several different locations. The first was their own living room, from which they held prayer services; then came the local public school, where they rented space for a time. Next up was a bank about five miles away, and then another former bank.

But over the years, the Chabad House’s menu of classes, holiday celebrations, women’s programs, and Hebrew school has grown to such an extent that necessitated a permanent property. The acquisition gives the Bukiets use of a 2,500-square-foot building, which they hope to renovate for their synagogue, classrooms and offices.

“I haven’t even seen [the property] yet, but I’m sure that there’s a lot of potential there for growth, and we’re going to do it all together,” said Yoav Cohen, who lives in the community with his wife, Jackie. “We really needed the space because we’re pretty confined now.”

Today, the Chabad House draws about 50 people each Shabbat, 300 for High Holiday services, and close to 700 for Chanukah celebrations.

According to Bukiet, a second phase of the expansion will include the construction of an additional building on the new property to house the Hebrew school, in addition to a library, teen lounge, kitchen, social hall, preschool, and a ritual bath, and the addition of an outdoor play area. The entire project has been made possible through the financial support of philanthropist Moshe Tabicinic and the assistance of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.

Jewish residents of Bradenton, Fla., don the prayer boxes known as tefillin with the assistance of Rabbi Mendy Bukiet.
Jewish residents of Bradenton, Fla., don the prayer boxes known as tefillin with the assistance of Rabbi Mendy Bukiet.

“Having a tangible building that Jews can look at as a permanent Chabad House and the source of Jewish life in Manatee County will [lead to an] increase [in our community] exponentially,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, who has been involved since the Bukiets first moved to Bradenton. “Being able to celebrate [Jewish lifecycle events] together in a building of our own will be so great for us. It has been very exciting to see Chabad grow, and to see the Bukiets use this growth to service our community.”

For Pinchos Rodriguez, the new center is a testament to the Chabad House’s impact on Jewish life in the region.

“It’s great outreach for Jewish people in our area and it’s a great thing to do for our community,” said Rodriguez. “I’m very, very happy about it and it’s going to be a big thing for our community and all of the Jewish people in the area.”

Bukiet himself sees it in similar terms.

“It really helps the community when people realize that we’re here permanently,” he said. “The new property will enable us to grow based on community needs, and we’ll have the opportunity to do an enormous amount of things that we couldn’t do before.”