After two years of behind-the-scenes planning by an advisory team shaping a new home for Orange County's Jewish organizations, a more visible version of the 30-acre, $65 million Samueli Jewish Campus will emerge in a coming-out party planned in Irvine Aug. 25.
Using the theme, "Building the Dream Together," organizers are inviting the public to tour a slice of the county's prime real estate and what is one of the largest Jewish building projects in the nation. A little imagination will still be necessary, though.
So far, the smaller part of a grand design is the first to be realized. Throughout the summer, 300 construction workers scrambled to complete a two-story addition of classrooms, labs, library, theater and auditorium that will serve as the high school campus of Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School. Work is supposed to start soon on the adjacent, state-of-the-art community building, whose completion is envisioned as a unifying, even transformative milestone for the county's Jewish residents.
"Anytime you give people a sense of permanence, it allows others to sink roots," says Ed Heyman, Tarbut's president, who believes that the completed campus will nurture a more vibrant Jewish community by offering services that will draw from the county's farthest corners.
Two-thirds of the project's financial support comes from two local philanthropists, Henry Samueli, co-founder of the Irvine-based Broadcom Corp., and an anonymous donor. (Samueli also helped underwrite construction of two synagogues: Aliso Viejo's Temple Beth El and The Samueli Center for Progressive Judaism in Ra'nana, Israel, which opened in June.) Of the $20 million still needed to fund the local campus over the last year, more than half has already been pledged by about 75 families, and organizers are confident they will obtain the rest before construction is set to begin in October.
"This kind of money from the community at large has never been raised before," says Ralph Stern, chair of the Samueli campus advisory committee.
The new high school, which will allow Tarbut to double its capacity to 1,000 students, will also be open for inspection. Students serving as tour guides are to describe what will go on behind the school's walls and 50-foot-tall palm trees come Sept. 3.
While a panel of community volunteers has hashed over the project's many details in monthly meetings during the last two years, many give credit to the committee's chair for the project's unflagging progress.
"People say this project wouldn't be happening without Ralph, and they're not talking about his checkbook," says Mary Ann Malkoff, president of the Jewish Community Center, which will relocate along with other Jewish agencies from the existing 40,000-square-foot campus in Costa Mesa to a spacious 120,000 square feet.
Preferring to shun the limelight himself, Stern, 58, dismissively describes himself as merely "the bus driver" who agreed to take on the organizing task so the community would not bypass a rare opportunity. "How often does a community get this financial support?" he asks.
Stern, owner of Anaheim's CareCredit LLC, which provides financing for dental patients, is legendary within the Jewish community for his own generosity. "He's one of the few who came to me unsolicited," says Irving Gelman, the founder of Tarbut, whose Stern Sports Center is named for its benefactor. Stern and his wife, Suzanne, also lent their support to building Tustin's Congregation B'nai Israel and in endowing a chair for teaching Holocaust education at Chapman University.
Developing the Jewish campus, Stern says, requires vision, strategy and a management team. "The elements it takes to run a business apply here almost identically," he says. "People don't follow me; they follow the vision. I don't think it's a unique talent," he says modestly.
Stern is a native of South Africa's Cape Town, where his parents fled from Germany. He earned a master's degree in business from Stanford University in 1967.
He takes pleasure in giving and is happy to serve as a role model, particularly to his three sons. "It's an opportunity to create something wonderful for ourselves as well as the future," he says.