Just a little more than a half year old, the new Charles & Brenda Saka DSN Community Center on Norwood Avenue in Oakhurst has already demonstrated its value as an essential community resource.
Housed in the 30,000-square-foot Harry & Ruby Franco Building, the DSN offers a 4,400-square-foot fitness center, a full schedule of fitness classes, sports leagues, cooking classes, and outings.
The center was established in 2007 largely to serve the needs of Deal’s Syrian-Jewish community (“DSN” stands for “Deal Sephardic Network”) and, according to its website, “our programs are deeply connected to the traditions of our Sephardic community.” It works on events with Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean, a day school with many Sephardic students, and Bikur Holim, a nonprofit mental health and social service agency in nearby Oakhurst.
“The DSN Community Center is a life-changer for the Jewish community on the shore,” said executive director Sam Sitt. “Youths, teens, singles, adults, and seniors are getting together within our center in a healthy and safe Jewish environment. We are taking Jewish kids away from the wrong places and giving them a place where they can be involved in social and recreational activity that is healthy.
“Since 2012, the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County has generously supported DSN’s teen programming. For 2015, they have committed a $20,000 grant to DSN towards that end. We are very appreciative and proud of their partnership,” according to Sitt.
Many of the area’s Syrian-Jewish residents keep a foot — and homes — in the beach community and in Brooklyn. The community is said to total some 75,000 members.
Sitt says the center serves the Brooklyn community through its summer programs and a partnership with the Sephardic Community Center in Brooklyn.
Prior to the opening of the center last December, the DSN operated out of space in public and private facilities, which hampered its ability to mount ambitious scheduling, Sitt said.
He praised Charles and Brenda Saka and Harry and Ruby Franco, whose names appear above the entranceway, for their “vision and leadership” that helped make the center possible.
Harry Franco, who died in 2013, served as a commissioner of the Borough of Deal for 16 years and as mayor for 17 years. “He oversaw the expansion and improvements to Borough Hall and many improvements to the beach facilities, including the Deal Casino beach club,” said Sitt.
Ruby, meanwhile, was always “supportive of all the time and energy he spent to be the great leader he was.” Their children remain active in various community institutions.
Charles Saka is founder and CEO of Sakar International, a consumer electronics company. The family’s foundation supports a range of Jewish institutions and synagogues, including Hillel Yeshiva, Congregation Magen David of West Deal, and the Sephardic Social Center (located adjacent to Magen David of West Deal). Their son Jeffrey is currently president of the DSN’s executive board.