By Lori Samlin Miller – Chabad.org
Boca Raton has been growing by leaps and bounds for some time now, especially with new housing and development on the western side of the city. Chabad of West Boca Raton has witnessed all this change, and when its doors open for Rosh Hashanah in its brand-new building, it will mark a milestone in this part of Southeast Florida: welcoming area Jews and their guests to worship in the first synagogue in West Boca.
“We’re really only moving down the block,” Rabbi Zalman Bukiet explains in terms of geography. “But it’s really eight blocks if you’re going to walk from here to there,” he clarifies, before adding that “it will be the first synagogue west of Route 441.”
Route 441—better known as Yamato Road to locals—separates what used to be undeveloped land, swampland really, to the west, and the first developed land in Boca, which lies along the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
The new building comes on the heels of 25 years of development and rapid population growth in Southeast Florida in general, and Boca Raton in particular, which sits at the southeast tip of Palm Beach County, alongside the heavily Jewish and earlier developed Broward and Dade counties.
“Drastic changes have occurred in this part of Florida since we arrived here in 1989,” says Bukiet, who directs the Chabad center with his wife, Chani. The rabbi is a native New Yorker; his wife grew up in England and attended a Chabad seminary in France before coming to the United States. They are the parents of four children.
“There have been a lot of physical changes since we got here,” adds Chani Bukiet. “And many spiritual changes as well. Boca itself has really come a long way. It was not built up when we came here. There were still a lot of open fields and farmland back then. There is also a lot more here now for Jews in terms of Jewish observance.”
As the rabbi goes on to explain, “when we first moved here, we had to go into Miami Beach to buy kosher milk. Now there is a separate kosher marketplace; the Winn Dixie supermarket has a kosher bakery and deli; and there are five or six kosher restaurants. And we have several mikvaot and religious schools right in Boca.”
It takes a strong and vibrant community to keep those restaurants and other Jewish-related establishment in business, and according to Rabbi Bukiet, that’s exactly what Boca worked its way up to. There is plenty of demand for the services being provided. He has also seen a significant sector of Boca Jewry transform into a strongly observant Modern Orthodox Jewish community.
There are about 600 members of this observant community who relocated and wound up moving down here; others became more religiously observant since they have been here with the help of Chabad,” he says. “The proof is in the numbers: The area now has 60,000 Jews, and Boca has more than 20 synagogues, including five Chabad Houses [one with a brand-new mikvah] and four other Orthodox shuls.”
‘A Sense of Permanence’
The Bukiets have not only witnessed all this progress, they’ve helped spur it on, encouraging and planting the seeds that are blossoming in this bedroom-community offshoot of the busier, earlier-established East Boca. Families, in particular, have been drawn to the boom of multiple-story housing west of Route 441, away from Florida’s Turnpike and the original, smaller ranch homes closer to the water.
After 20 years in the same location, the Bukiets learned that their lease would end this year and started looking for their own property. The search ended around the corner.
The change in location will relocate the shul literally down the block, though it’s a long block. “It amounts to a move of eight short blocks west,” notes the rabbi. “The old address was Kimberly and Lyons Road, and the new property will be on Kimberly and 441.”
The 12,000-square-foot building under construction doubles the size available for services, classes, Shabbat dinners and more. It will allow plenty of room for an expanded main shul, a weekday shul, a social hall, lecture hall, library, youth video lounge, kitchen and a larger religious school, to be called the Jeff Weltman Hebrew School. Plans for a mikvah are also included.
“I’m excited about having more space for our Hebrew school, which is like my baby,” says Chani Bukiet. “We’re really launching forward from the ground up. The new building provides a sense of permanence, of having our own place. The expanded space will allow us to more comfortably provide for the community.”
To sum it up: The Bukiets say it will be a place where one and all are welcome to pray, explore, experience, talk, laugh and study—where body and soul are nurtured.