LAKEWOOD RANCH — Rabbi Mendy Bukiet can’t contain his excitement.
A grin — like that of a father who has the perfect birthday gift for his child in the trunk of his car — spreads across his face as he thinks of the fifth anniversary of Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch.
“Five years ... in Kabbalistic terms, the number five means strength,” he says. “And that’s what we’ll carry into our fifth year. It’s not time for a vacation. We need more strength so we can grow even more and be five times as strong.”
The Lakewood Ranch-based Jewish organization will host a Fifth-Year Celebration and Open House at 7 p.m., Aug. 7, at its East County home, 11509 Palmbrush Trail. At the celebration, Bukiet and his wife, Chanie, will unveil five new initiatives and programs that Chabad will launch in honor of its fifth birthday.
“It’s going to be a big surprise,” Mendy Bukiet says. “It’s really going to be wonderful.”
Before moving to Florida, the Bukiets had worked in Jewish community outreach throughout the world. They moved from Australia to the Sunshine State in 2003 to work at Chabad of Sarasota. One year later, they were charged with extending that organization to Lakewood Ranch.
Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch began in the Bukiets’ East County home and eventually moved into a nearby school. Then, after outgrowing that facility, the Bukiets finally were able to move the organization into its current home — inside an old bank off Palmbrush Trail.
“The challenges involved trying to find places that could fit us so we could expand properly,” Mendy Bukiet says. “We did not expect to grow like this so rapidly.”
Today, Chabad serves about 500-600 families regularly through a variety of programs. In addition to its weekly services, Chabad offers a popular Hebrew school, the Jewish Learning Institute and classes as well as programs specifically for women, men, teens and children. The organization also has hosted public celebrations of Jewish holidays in venues such as Summerfield Park, Lakewood Ranch Main Street and Prime Outlets — Ellenton.
“The community has really been there for us — people have been very involved,” Mendy Bukiet says. “People really wanted to see this happen, and it’s nice.
“We have people from all different backgrounds,” he says. “We have people who are dedicated to Judaism. We have people didn’t recognize they were Jewish, and we even have people who didn’t believe in God. But here, everyone is growing in their faith at their own pace — when they want and how they want. It’s like one big, happy family.”
Along with the five new initiatives the Bukiets will launch this week, they also are actively pursuing Chabad’s next home.
“We’ve outgrown this place, and it’s very difficult,” Mendy Bukiet says. “We need proper, walled classrooms and space for our teen and youth programs.
“If things work out, we will buy land or a building where we can actually grow — a permanent place,” he says. “The goal is to stay in the Lakewood Ranch area and keep on catering to the Jewish population here.”
In addition to having enough space for its current programs, a Chabad campus also would allow the Bukiets to fulfill new goals, including a kosher kitchen large enough for catering, a library and a preschool.
“God willing, we can build that kind of home,” Mendy Bukiet says. “We will grow as the community itself grows, and hopefully, people will feel as part of it, and it will have the warmth we have today.”
Contact Michael Eng at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifth-Year Celebration and Open House
WHEN: 7 p.m., Aug. 7
WHERE: Chabad Jewish Center, 11509 Palmbrush Trail, Lakewood Ranch
INFORMATION: Rabbi Mendy or Chanie Bukiet, 752-3030
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