As the new $28 million Jewish community campus of Princeton Mercer Bucks gets set to open in December, community members gathered amid the steel beams and rutted mud of the unfinished structure to celebrate a community milestone.
About 100 community members attended the March 28 “topping off” champagne ceremony at the 77,000-square-foot facility, located on the sprawling 80-acre campus on Clarksville Road in West Windsor.
They joined with leaders of the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks and local rabbis and elected officials to mark the placement of the last steel beam in the structure.
Afterward, scores of people climbed a ladder to sign that beam to mark the moment for posterity.
“Signing that last beam really gave people a lasting connection and was a real opportunity for community leaders and investors,” said chief executive officer Lee Rosenfield. “The campus is going to be the Jewish downtown, the central meeting place for Jews of all denominations, affiliated and unaffiliated, and for both Jews and non-Jews to come together.”
The Matthew and Staci Wilson Jewish Community Campus will be the home of the Betty and Milton Katz JCC of Princeton Mercer Bucks as well as the federation, the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, and the Jewish Community Foundation of Princeton Mercer Bucks.
Rosenfield said the JCC will offer a state-of-the-art gym and indoor pool, classes and programs, concerts and shows, and specialized programs for teens, children, and seniors as well as a camp and preschool program. In its second phase, it will offer an outdoor pool, tennis courts, playing fields, and a walking trail.
“This community has been on a journey to build this campus for a long time,” said Rosenfield. “Now we will have this place where the whole community can benefit….
“We are excited to celebrate our Judaism and the ties that bind us together. There is a kind of synergy, a point of entry here, especially for the unaffiliated, to find a way into being part of Jewish community.”
The complex will also include meeting rooms, a kosher cafe and kitchen, and a family park.
Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor led the assembled in Sheheheyanu, a blessing of thanskgiving.
“The campus will be a draw for Jews who are not currently actively involved in the community,” said former federation president Daniel Brent of Princeton, “and it will serve as a positive vehicle for strengthening ties among various elements of the Jewish community. It will be a source of pride for everyone who comes about the thriving and exciting Jewish life in this area.”
Howard Cohen, cochair of the campus development committee, recalled that “three years and 18 days ago I stood on this property telling you about a Jewish field of dreams and vision for this property.”
“Today it is no longer a field of dreams but a reality,” he said. “By the end of the year this Jewish community field of dreams will be turned into a central hub of Jewish life in the Princeton Mercer Bucks area. We are building it, and they will come.”
Matt Wilson of Pennington, a leading donor and committee member, spoke of the confidence with which the community undertook the project at a time of economic downturn.
Allan Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, offered congratulations. “I started out the day in Boston at one of the oldest JCCs in the country and now here I am at the newest,” he said. “What you have done here is incredible.”
As he surveyed the enthusiastic crowd, federation executive director Andy Frank said, “This is an occasion for happiness.”
Marcia Stern of Ewing said she was sad to see the campus move to its more centralized location. She taught preschool at the old JCC for many years, she said wistfully. “It was such a wonderful place; we were there every day.” But, she added, she is excited at the prospect of again having a gathering place for the community. Indeed, she said, some of her former students were now involved as adults in the new project.
JCC board president Lynne Azarchi recalled growing up in Trenton, where she often went to the century-old JCC of the Delaware Valley in Ewing, which the new campus is replacing. She recalled its camp and dances in the Kramer Lounge. “There was nothing like it,” said Azarchi. “I grew up there and my parents grew up there. We thought of the JCC as our second home.
“It is very emotional to stand here today. I can’t even put the words together in my mind it’s so joyful.”