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Longboat Key Friday, Apr. 16, 2021 1 year ago

Longboat Key Education Center merges with Temple Beth Israel

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The Longboat institution will now be known as the Education Center at Temple Beth Israel once the merge is official.
by: Nat Kaemmerer and Mark Bergin

Longboat Key Education Center has found a new home at Temple Beth Israel. 

Former Town Commissioner and TBI member Irwin Pastor said the organizations are working with the town to move the center’s operations from 5370 Gulf of Mexico Drive to 567 Bay Isles Road. The school will finish out the season in its Centre Shops location, move to TBI on June 1 and start the fall semester there, said the center’s executive director, Susan Goldfarb. 

“It’s basically saving the Education Center from closing, which was about to happen because of a particularly severe economic condition created by the pandemic for Susan and her folks,” TBI executive director Isaac Azerad said. “Instead of closing, she finally found a home. And that is great news for Longboat Key. You have 35 years of being an institution on the island. We didn't want to see that close down.”

Goldfarb and Azerad emphasized that the Education Center will remain a secular organization. Goldfarb, who will become program director, has heard from teachers and students who have said they’ll follow.

“There's nothing that she offers that we would object to or change,” Azerad said. “On the contrary, we would think of accepting more people to certain classes, if we can accommodate them.”

The Education Center and TBI have worked together in the past, starting with a concert in February 2020. For about three years, Goldfarb and Azerad had discussed working more closely in the future, but when the pandemic hit, that future came sooner than expected. 

“It was just an idea that we'd bandied about, but then this season we were suffering so badly financially that we can't pay our rent and can't pay ourselves and can't pay for operational expenses,” Goldfarb said. “We invested a lot in Zoom and it didn't pay off. People that used to come, 500 a day, we're down to nobody a day. I saw the writing on the wall.”

Temple Beth Israel has hired Goldfarb and her staff to operate the Education Center at its facility.

“We’re bringing in people that do this for a living, so there’s not going to be any learning curve,” Pastor said. “We’re going to pay for these people, we’re going to bring them in and we’re going to get the job done.”

The temple is not charging the Education Center rent nor has TBI bought the Education Center's assets, Pastor said. This is somewhat similar to the Paradise Center’s previous situation, which operated out of the temple for about a year before moving into its permanent Bay Isles Road location. However, Paradise Center employees were never employed by the temple.

Pastor, who has experience with multi-million dollar capital campaigns, said the long-term plan is to begin a third-party campaign to raise money to find them a permanent facility. It’s too soon to tell, but possible locations include TBI’s property or the Town Center Green, Pastor said.

Town Commissioners over the last two years have discussed potential programming at a proposed arts, culture and education center, built with private funds on land now planned as an outdoor venue. An agreement with Ringling College of Art and Design to fund-raise for, build and operate such a building fell through in 2019, leaving the town without a partner with which to move forward.   

“We believe that the community is going to be really excited because of the vision of a Town Center, we believe that you look at it as a puzzle,” Pastor said. “Like The Paradise Center with the health and fitness, and then you get an Education Center coming in as part of the puzzle, adding the culture and the arts, etc. This is really the vision of what the Town Center is supposed to be.”

Pastor said the not-for-profit educational organization, which was founded by Laura Taubes in 1985, typically provides up to 2,000 classes per year. It’s something he wanted to make sure was sustainable for the future, he said. 

“I'm sad that I have to leave the Centre Shops, but I'm happy that I have somewhere to go,” Goldfarb said. “And it's not just anywhere. It's a great place to go where people are excited to have us.”

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