BY MATT FRANZBLAU
At first glance while driving east on the Nocatee Parkway you would have no idea that you are approaching the third fastest-growing community in the United States. Beyond the lush green grass and towering palm trees sits multiple subdivisions where carefully dug dirt and freshly poured concrete are paving the way for future families to live. While more than 5,000 people already call this burgeoning St. Johns community home, thousands more are expected to flock here over the next few years as more businesses and homes are being built. While the town as a whole begins to take on a more robust presence within Northeast Florida, another smaller community within it is also experiencing a burst in size, and that is the Jewish community in Nocatee, specifically within the Del Webb development.
“When we moved to Florida we knew there was a Jewish presence in Northeast Florida, but we didn’t really realize how many there were here,” said Del Webb resident Susan Holiday. Holliday also serves as the Chairperson of programming for the community’s ‘Shalom Club’, which is now in its second year and has a growing interest among residents. “I think the founding of the group came from the natural desire of Jewish people to be with other Jews,” Holiday explained.
The men and women that make up this club come from all different geographic and ethnic backgrounds as most are Jewish but there are some non-Jews that make up this membership as well.
“Some are spouses and some are just interested who have friends that are Jewish and this sounded interesting,” Holiday added. “Some have come from larger communities like New York, Chicago and Boston, where they have had a more cultural expansive group and they miss the mix of various ethnicities.”
The second Monday evening of each month is when you can catch Holiday along with club President Barbara Alterman and Vice President Marshall Persky, manning their posts, as at 6:30 inside the main room of the community’s clubhouse various speakers, programs and cultural lessons take place.
“It depends on the type of programming we have who shows up but there are approximately 150 members to the Shalom club,” Persky said.
On occasion the group takes their meetings off-site to places like Savannah for its Jewish Food Festival or a tour of Jewish history in St. Augustine.
“We went to see the Anne Frank exhibit at the MOSH and we also got to see a program that was at the Cummer Museum on art during the pre-Nazi era,” Holiday explained. “But those off-site excursions are always in addition to our monthly meetings.”
The Shalom Club is chartered, meaning it’s officially recognized by Del Webb administration and appears in all community literature that is given out to prospective residents. The club also has its own display case in the clubhouse’s hall where the other 36 official community clubs can put out photos, announcements and festive decorations to reflect a particular time of year.
“There’s a menorah and other Judaica in there, so that when walking through the clubhouse visitors and residents alike can see there is a Jewish community here,” Holiday described of the strategic set-up.
“There are also boards all over the clubhouse with revolving messages,” Alterman added. “They post each of the clubs’ events so even when we don’t have something going on it says ‘Shalom Club for social and cultural gatherings.”
There was a lot going on for the Shalom Club last month as it held its annual Chanukah party where more than 120 people showed up to partake in the Festival of Lights and enjoy delicious fried foods.
“We celebrate Jewish holidays (such as Chanukah), but it is definitely not a religious group,” Alterman explained. “It’s more historical and cultural as we often hold programs with a Jewish slant, like when we had someone from the FBI to come and talk about hate crimes.”
With informative and interesting programs such as these and more festive celebrations on the horizon it’s no wonder why this club is among one of the fastest growing in the community.
“We want to become a part of the Jewish culture in Jacksonville, the synagogues, the culture,” Persky added. “A lot of us already give to the Federation and receive the paper so I think that is a natural expansion.”
While the Shalom Club looks to expand its reach and activity level across the border to Duval County, those Del Webb residents interested in participating in the growing group are encouraged to send an email to club president Barbara Alterman at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can also be retrieved by going to the official Del Web community portal home page at dwpontevedra.net , then select ‘clubs’, and scroll down to the list of clubs before selecting ‘Shalom Club’.