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At new Jewish center, a 'special world' unfolds for all who visit
By Doug Snover

October 22, 2005

Babies sleep in dimly lighted nurseries, tended by women who cuddle and hum to the ones that resist sleep. In another part of the building, older children are attending preschool and kindergarten classes. Still other children are playing on the outdoor playground, although there is a small indoor playground available when the weather is too hot.

The hallways curve past classrooms painted in symbolic pastels. Even the floors are color-coded, particularly the floors in the kosher kitchen. The meeting room uses wood laminates to create a sense of quiet. Only the ceilings, with hanging fluorescent lights and exposed heating and cooling ducts, give the place an industrial look.

Nothing inside the new East Valley Jewish Community Center at the southwest corner of Alma School and Ray roads remotely hints at the building’s past life as an Osco Drugstore.

Inside is a special world built by followers of the Jewish religion but open to anyone who cares to visit.

Blau estimates there are 8,000 to 10,000 Jewish people in the southeast Valley “from Ahwatukee to Apache Junction.”

However, she adds, “We’re open to everyone in the community, to anyone desirous of a quality education and care. After 33 years in the community, you establish a reputation for excellence,” said Ilene Blau, the EVJCC’s executive director for the past 19 years.

This is the first time in its 33-year history that the East Valley Jewish Community Center has owned its facility. Until now, it has operated inside leased space at several locations.

Since August, however, the EVJCC has a place it can call home.

It also may be the only Jewish community center in the country in a strip shopping mall, Blau says.

For that, she credits local mall impresario Michael Pollack, whom she described as “a very generous and a very loyal friend of the Jewish Community Center.”

It was Pollack, she says, who first suggested the EVJCC consider remodeling a vacant “big box” store rather than build an all-new center.

“We were looking at another piece of property when he said in his experience it would be better to buy an existing ‘big box’ building, especially one next to some vacant land,” she said. “He advised us to do just as he does in his business.”

EVJCC officials went to Pollack’s office and looked at his properties, settling on the location at Alma School and Ray roads because it has a vacant lot next to it.

EVJCC is buying the building and land from Pollack for $4.8 million, according to Blau.

Remodeling cost an estimated $1.5 million, Blau said. The challenge “was taking this beast and turning it into this beautiful swan,” she said, proudly surveying the transition.

“At 25,500 square feet of space, we have room for all our many programs, as well as classrooms for the day school, the Preschool/Kindergarten, and toddler and infant care,” she said.

“There is also a wonderful new multipurpose room that can be used as a gymnasium, an auditorium or an event room. The state-of-the-art kosher kitchen is set up for serving both meat and diary, and can accomodate large groups.”

“We also purchased 4˝ acres next to the center, where we have plans to build further facilities, including a swimming pool and fitness center.”

A dedication ceremony tentatively has been set for Nov. 23 but Blau said that might be delayed because EVJCC is negotiating with a special donor whose name could go on the building. She declined to name the donor.

Jonathan Bodow is a Kyrene Corridor businessman who serves as a volunteer board member and leader of EVJCC’s marketing team.

“One of my wife’s colleagues referred us to the EVJCC in 2000 when we were expecting our first child,” Bodow said.

“Because my wife planned to go back to work full time within six months of our son’s arrival, we knew early on that we’d need to find good care close to where we live.”

“My wife, our children and I are Jewish. Having become involved in the EVJCC has enabled my family to make some terrific new friends, and raise our children in a safe, nurturing and encouraging environment,” he said.

“Both of my sons attend pre-school full time at the EVJCC Early Education Program.  As a family, we participate in the holiday events (i.e. Purim, Hannukah), fundraisers and Capital Campaign. Because both of our children have been with the EVJCC early childhood programs since they were infants, the EVJCC’s programs and curriculum enable my wife and me to connect with our Jewish heritage and faith through the boys’ activities.  We think it’s wonderful that the EVJCC offers a variety of programs for people of all ages from infants to youth to teens to singles to families to seniors.”

Bodow, like Blau, stressed that the EVJCC’s services are non-denominational.

“The new building gives us many opportunities to grow and expand our programming, to extend our reach into those parts of the East Valley which continue to grow, and to reach out to new families,” Bodow said.

“We love living in Tempe and are ecstatic that the new building is so centrally located. It is important for your readers to know that the East Valley JCC is open to the entire community and that people do not have to be Jewish or members to participate in events.”



















































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