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Long-awaited Jewish Community Center puts Miami Beach kids in motion

In the large gymnasium, more than a dozen 6- and 7-year-old boys dribbled, passed and ran drills on the shiny new floors during basketball class.

In the gymnastics room next door, a group of 9- and 10 year olds stretched their arms and practiced proper forward rolls on a blue-carpeted spring floor during a circus class.

And in the lobby, a steady stream of parents came in to pick up membership cards, sign up for classes and take tours.

The buzz at The Galbut Family Miami Beach Jewish Community Center on the Simkins Family Campus Wednesday afternoon, was exactly what board president Jerry Sokol has been waiting years to see.

“It’s absolutely amazing, seeing something we have dreamed of for so long, become a reality,” he said, as he waited for his 7-year-old’s basketball class. “It’s almost too much to put into words.”

Wednesday marked the first day that the new two-story, 36,000-square-foot center at 4221 Pine Tree Dr. was open for programming. From robotics upstairs to jump rope in the racquetball room, parents and kids were breaking in the gym, multipurpose rooms and racquetball court.

“I got chills when I first walked in,” said Nikki Weisburd, whose 6-year-old son Ryan is taking basketball. “It’s something we have been waiting for, for so long.”

The new building is a stark contrast with the original center that was torn down several years ago to make room for a complex that could accommodate Miami Beach’s diverse Jewish population. The original JCC was inside of a two-story house built in 1942.

But building the $12 million complex, meant to unify the Jewish community but open to everyone, was a long road with many delays.

The dream began in 1999, when the city agreed to a 99-year lease on the property. Fundraising was tough and the center asked for extension after extension to meet certain conditions of the lease.

It wasn’t until 2007 that there was a renewed energy to get the center built.

Sokol was able to reinvigorate the enthusiasm, and people started to donate. As of now, the center has more than $11 million in pledges. The goal is to raise a total of $15 million. The Greater Miami Jewish Federation has stepped in to back a $10.4 million construction loan.

Now the years of hard work are beginning to take shape.

Kids – and their parents — were all smiles as they walked the lobby floor, etched with a map of the 12 tribes of Israel and territories.

Sokol’s 7-year-old son Isaac, who came to play basketball, said he loved the new building.

“Everything is brand new,” he said, with a toothy grin. Issac is looking forward to having his sports-themed party at the center in a couple of weeks.

The center – which will offer programs and events for infants to adults -- is only the third Jewish Community Center in Miami-Dade County, joining the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center Sanford L. Ziff Campus in Northeast Miami-Dade and the Dave & Mary Alper Jewish Community Center on the Jay Morton-Levinthal Campus in the Kendall area.

The new center houses a full-service fitness center and a daycare social room. There’s also a full basketball court and pool. People can become members or pay only for certain classes.

So far, just the children’s programs are being offered.

Sokol called Wednesday the center’s birthday.

The fitness center — with dozens of cardio machines, many with built-in televisions —will open Sunday and the pool will open later this month, along with adult programming.

A grand opening celebration is planned for Oct. 21.

Tara Katz, whose son was playing basketball, said it’s hard to believe the center is finally open.

Her son Jacob, 7, said he loves the place and his basketball class.

“So far, so good,” he said.

For more information, or to become a member, call 305-534-3206 or visit