A massive gathering on a construction site overlooking Orange County didn't celebrate the Jewish community's newest school, community center, office building, art gallery, fitness center, swimming pool or theater.
It celebrated all those things.
Some 1,000 Orange County Jews came together Aug. 25 to tour the future site of the Samueli Jewish Campus, a $65 million, 20-acre site that, upon completion, will be home to Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School, the Jewish Community Center of Orange County, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and numerous Jewish agencies and organizations. "This is the catalyst for the center of Jewish life in Orange County," said Henry Samueli, the Broadcom Corp co-founder who, along with his wife Susan, donated the land for the campus. "So, 20 years from now, you could open a travel book and here it is. This is a place for everybody in the Jewish community to come."
The day officially marked the dedication of the recently completed Tarbut V'Torah Upper School. "It is mind-boggling how quickly they put it together," Samueli said.
Guests toured the spacious new school, which includes state-of-the-art science and computer labs, a professional-quality performance center, a lecture hall for 175 and -- across from a massive playing field -- a high-tech rock-climbing wall. The school has seen enrollment grow by 60 students to a total of 570 this year.
After a series of speeches, guests donned plastic hardhats and toured the future site of the Jewish Community Center, which will share a commanding overlook of Orange County with Tarbut V'Torah on a breezy hill off Bonita Canyon Road in Irvine. Construction on the second part of the campus will start when the Samueli Campus Committee finishes collecting the necessary $20 million. Since spring, 72 families have pledged $11 million.
"This is the single defining point in the development of the Jewish community in Orange County," said Federation president Lou Weiss. The new campus will house the Federation and its affiliated agencies, as well as a full-service Jewish Community Center.
Tantalizing, full-color renderings of the future site sat beside what is now a flat, dusty building pad. The new JCC will include two swimming pools, a 50,000-square-foot fitness center, a 500 seat theater, expanded programs for children from infancy through preschool and the teen years, kosher kitchens and space for weddings and celebrations for more than 300 people. It will serve an estimated 2,500 people per day, according to JCC president MaryAnn Malkoff. "This is our future and it's all about to happen," Malkoff said.
According to one official, Samueli's lead gift came about when Tarbut V'Torah leadership informed him that the school might lose its option to buy the acreage adjoining the school. The Samuelis were introduced to the school by Irving Gelman, the Holocaust survivor who founded it. "We are very selfish in doing this," joked Susan Samueli during the ceremony. "We have daughters who will be graduating from this school."
A cross section of community leaders and activists were on hand for the event, including speakers Ralph Stern, chairman of the Samueli Campus Committee, school president Ed Heyman, the Samuelis, Weiss, Malkoff, event co-chair Adam Muchnik, and Tarbut V'Torah upper school principal Howard Haas.
"What makes this special is the relationship between the JCC and Tarbut, and between JCC and Federation, and between Tarbut and Federation," said Malkoff, echoing the day's spirit. "Having a campus where we can all work together is extremely meaningful."