Everything has a way of working out. The Longboat Key Education Center was about to shutter, while Temple Beth Israel wants to broaden its horizons. Their coming together is great for all of Longboat.
Finally, some good news. No, it’s great news. Great news for Longboat Key and Longboat Key residents — that Temple Beth Israel will keep the Longboat Key Education Center operating, albeit under a slightly different name.
And equally important, the Education Center at Temple Beth Israel will continue under the guidance and direction of its heart and soul, its passionate executive director for 26 years, Susan Goldfarb.
Together, the Education Center and Goldfarb have been an important and valuable institution on Longboat Key for 35 years.
Laura Taubes founded the Longboat Key Education Center in 1985. And ever since then, the center has served thousands of Longboaters and snowbirds for six months every year with engaging classes, workshops, lectures and outings that explored the fine and applied arts, humanities, liberal arts, natural and social sciences, and beyond.
As Goldfarb likes to say, “It has been the place to be on Longboat for people who want to live and learn.” Or as the center’s tag line has put it for so many years: “Like college, only better.”
Timing, kismet, serendipity, vision and that saying, “Things have a way of working out,” all came into play for Temple Beth Israel to take on the Education Center.
It goes back to a casual meeting at the Blue Dolphin Café at the Centre Shops. Temple Beth Israel Executive Director Isaac Azerad and Goldfarb talked about collaborating sometime on an event. That discussion resulted in a co-produced concert at the temple that attracted 300 attendees.
Azerad told Goldfarb: “We should do more.”
The concert, in fact, fit with Azerad’s vision for the future of the temple. Ever since he became the temple’s executive director, Azerad has devoted time to studying the temple and region’s changing demographics. One data point: Although the Jewish population in the two-county region has doubled over the past decade, the percentage of Jewish people who consider themselves faith-based, practicing Jews has declined by about the same percentage.
This is not just a phenomenon affecting temples. It’s occurring in all religious faiths. Fact is, the post-baby boom generations largely do not attend church or temple regularly.
For Azerad, this has meant the temple needs to shift with the times and find ways to make Temple Beth Israel appealing to the newly retired baby boomers and generations after. Azerad’s vision: more offerings that are not faith-based but still able to engage potential members and the community at large.
Then along came COVID-19.
“It was the nail in the coffin,” Goldfarb said.
Unable to open in 2020, except for Zoom classes, the Education Center ran out of money. Even after it obtained a loan and federal PPP money, the challenges of manning, organizing and paying for all the Zoom classes was too much. “It was intense,” Goldfarb said.
And especially disappointing.
For almost all of its 35 years, Goldfarb said, the Education Center generated enough revenue to provide classes and programming and open for another year. Before COVID-19, it was offering 175 classes for 2,500 people a year.
“We were hoping things would get better,” she said. “But we had no money to pay rent, no money to pay payroll. COVID killed us.”
In March, Goldfarb said, “The handwriting was on the wall” to close the Education Center. She called Azerad. His response: “Let’s get you over here right away.”
Azerad went to the temple executive committee with the idea for the temple to take over the Education Center. It fit his vision for the future. And given all of the discussions about a town-owned arts, education and community center, Azerad thought the temple could fulfill that role by moving the Education Center to the temple’s campus.
From the executive committee, to the full temple board, to the congregation, the idea garnered unanimous support. Azerad jokes that was extraordinary. “You can never get a roomful of Jews to agree on anything,” he said.
It is meant to be.
For Goldfarb, “It’s a saving grace,” she said.
For the temple: It will help secure its future.
For the Education Center, Longboat Key residents and visitors and the town, the temple’s taking over of the Education Center perpetuates an important Longboat Key legacy.
Over the past three-and-a-half decades, the Longboat Key Education Center has cemented itself as one of the institutions and assets that makes Longboat Longboat.
Like everyone at Temple Beth Israel, elated that the temple will operate the Education Center, Longboat Key residents should be elated as well. We are.
Hearing that Temple Beth Israel, another foundational institution on Longboat Key, stepped forward to keep the Education Center going reminded us of what occurred almost 70 years ago with the founding of the Longboat Key Art Center in Longbeach Village on the north end of the Key.
The art center came to life in 1952 because of the enthusiasm and passions of a small group of Longboaters. They had a passion for art, loved Longboat and were committed to making the island a great community in which to live. It was a grassroots effort. No hand of government or taxpayers needed or involved.
In a way, Temple Beth Israel’s takeover of the Education Center is similar. It’s a private-sector, grassroots effort of a Longboat Key institution committed to its members’ and community’s spiritual, cultural and civic well-being. No hand of government or taxpayers needed or involved.
We are excited to see the next chapters for Temple Beth Israel and the Education Center. It’s great to see one private institution absorb another for the good of their futures and that of the community. We hope Longboaters show the enthusiasm and support this new venture deserves.
A thank-you, congratulations and Godspeed to Temple Beth Israel.
This article has been corrected to reflect the Education Center's number of students and Laura Taubes' title.
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