Balloons and streamers greeted guests Sunday in the lobby of the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center in Oceanside, which held its grand reopening celebration after closing due to superstorm Sandy.
It took 12 weeks to restore the 57,000-square-foot building, which was flooded with 4 inches of water by the storm, said Arnie Preminger, the center's president and chief executive officer.
"The water was sludge. . . . It was filled with saltwater from the ocean," he said. "Everything had to be removed."
The center replaced about 4 feet of walls in nearly every room, as well as flooring, fitness equipment and furniture. Superstorm Sandy also damaged the heating and electrical systems of the center's Long Beach facility, which took in 6 feet of water and was gutted, said Preminger, adding that officials hope it will reopen within the next two months.
Both buildings incurred about $3 million in damages, he said. Most of the damage was covered by insurance, said Preminger, and several donors -- such as the UJA-Federation of New York, which donated more than $500,000 -- stepped up to help.
"Reopening the building was such a high priority because it really lends itself to helping people regain a sense of normalcy," he said. "More than anything else, that's what was missing after the storm."
Returning to a routine was important to members Erica and Jason Leflein, who, along with their 3-year-old son, Cameron, were displaced for six weeks -- living with family in New Jersey, while waiting for heat and electricity to be restored in their Long Beach apartment.
"I think it's very important for him, especially to be able to see friends," said Erica Leflein, 36, of her son, who was excited to see familiar faces at the festivities. "One of the biggest issues that he's had is not being able to see people that he used to see."
Maxine and Sandy Kriss were happy to return to the fitness room, where Sandy, 72, is a part-time trainer.
"I think it's spectacular. . . . Everything is brand new," said Maxine Kriss, as she walked on the treadmill. "It's very important to feel that you can pick up where you left off when there was such devastation."
The center will also hire case workers to help those suffering from Sandy-related damages for at least the next nine months, Preminger said.
The reopening included face-painting, mah-jongg and child-friendly entertainment, and the Friedberg JCC -- home to 7,000 members -- also presented about eight synagogues and schools with plaques because they allowed the center to temporarily use their facilities for programming after the storm.
"If the shoe had been on the other foot, they would have been there for us," said Ian Brecher, vice president of the Oceanside Jewish Community Center, which housed the after-school program, senior adult and bereavement programs. "This is what community is all about. . . . We're all in this together."