Jewish Community Center
Jewish Community Center logo
|Predecessor||Hebrew Young Men's Literary Association
Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA)
Jewish Welfare Board
|Founded at||Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.|
|Purpose||promote Jewish culture and heritage through holiday celebrations, Israel-related programming, and Jewish education|
|Headquarters||520 Eighth Avenue,
New York City
|Stephen Hazan Arnoff|
A Jewish Community Center or Jewish Community Centre (JCC) is a general recreational, social and fraternal organization serving the Jewish community in a number of cities. JCCs promote Jewish culture and heritage through holiday celebrations, Israel-related programming, and Jewish education. However, they are open to everyone in the community.
The JCC Association is the continental umbrella organization for the Jewish Community Center movement, which includes more than 350 JCCs, YM-YWHAs, and camp sites in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to 180 local JCCs in the Former Soviet Union, 70 in Latin America, 50 in Europe, and close to 500 smaller centres in Israel.
The first YMHA (Young Men's Hebrew Association) was founded in New York City in 1874, its first president being Lewis May. The first official headquarters were the Harvard Rooms, located at 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue. A YWHA (Young Women's Hebrew Association) was first established as an annex to the YMHA in 1888. The New York YMHA and YWHA now operate together as the 92nd Street Y. (Another New York YM-YWHA, unrelated to the 92nd Street location, is called the 14th Street Y, located in the Gramercy/East Village neighborhood.)
The first independent YWHA was set up in 1902. In 1917 these organizations were combined into a Jewish Welfare Board, and were later renamed Jewish Community Centers (or JCCs), though some retain the YWHA or YMHA designation. In the New York City area, many retained the designation (or simply the term "Y" like the 92nd Street Y still does today) into the 1990s.
An example of the objectives of Jewish Community Centers can be seen within the New Bedford, Massachusetts branch's Constitution. In January 1947, the Jewish Community Center of New Bedford listed the following objectives:
- To foster and develop the highest values of Jewish spiritual and cultural life.
- To provide social, educational, literary, benevolent, recreational and athletic activities for the benefit of Jewish men, women, and children of New Bedford.
- To serve the spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical welfare of its members.
- To fulfill the great ideals of American citizenship.
JCC Association offers a wide range of services and resources to help its affiliates to provide educational, cultural, social, Jewish identity-building, and recreational programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. JCC Association supports the largest network of Jewish early childhood centers and Jewish summer camps in North America, and is also a U.S. government accredited agency for serving the religious and social needs of Jewish military personnel through JWB Jewish Chaplains Council.
Some JCCs provide services for people with special needs, such as autism, Asperger syndrome and learning disabilities. In 2008, The Mandel JCC of Cleveland was awarded $652,500 in grant funding to be used for individuals with disabilities. Cleveland-area children and adults with emotional, physical and developmental disabilities now have many opportunities to get involved in fitness, wellness and recreational activities. Whenever possible, activities are inclusive and children are able to fully participate, usually with the assistance of an aide.
As a rule, today JCCs are open to other ethnic groups as well, with a possible exception of strictly traditional Jewish activities. In fact, many JCCs sponsor local events. There are, however, many other activities which people can host at the JCC. For example, in Houston there are rooms to rent and Drivers Education classes.
There are almost two dozen Jewish community centers in the New York metro area, providing a wide range of social, cultural, and educational services, ranging from lectures, concerts, theater performances, and dance recitals to health and fitness classes, job training workshops, and citizenship classes. Although the majority of JCCs are found on the East Coast, with 17 sites in Florida, JCCs operate in many other communities. For example, California has 17 locations—eight in the San Francisco Bay Area and nine scattered through Southern California—and Chicagoland has 10. Almost all of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. now have at least one JCC, and a handful of smaller communities also have locations. JCCs all over the country sponsor film festivals and book fairs, bringing world-renowned writers and directors to smaller communities.
Their programs and activities vary by location. Particularly noteworthy is the JCC in West Bloomfield, Michigan, which is the largest JCC in North America, and possibly the world. The Holocaust Memorial Center, which attracts many visitors to its programs and exhibits, used to be a part of the JCC of West Bloomfield, but recently opened a building of its own. The West Bloomfield JCC houses two gymnasiums which can be made into three gyms using a movable wall, a workout area, an indoor full size and kiddie pool, an outdoor full size pool, a kosher restaurant, a Michigan Jewish war veterans museum, an in line hockey center, a library, ceramics/art rooms, a large multi-purpose room (Handleman Hall), an art museum, an area dedicated to teaching and learning about tzedakah (charity) called Shalom Street, a performing arts theater in the basement, a preschool, offices for summer camps, the previously mentioned preschool, and other administrative offices and organizations. The top floor is completely dedicated to The Jean and Samuel Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit, a Jewish High School which opened in 2000. The JCC building is on the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Jewish Community Campus along with multiple living quarters for the elderly and mentally disabled and an Alzheimer's treatment building.
One recent addition to the family of JCC's in North America is The JCC in Manhattan. This eleven story building situated in Manhattan's Upper West Side neighborhood opened its doors in the winter of 2002. The JCC offers a diversity of programs, from parenting to fitness, and each year the organization produces Israel NonStop, a week-long festival presenting the most interesting and innovative Israeli musicians, authors, theatrical groups and films.
In 2011, the Joan and Alan Bernikow JCC of Staten Island installed solar panels as part of a solar thermal system. The solar panels are expected to reduce 27,500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of planting two acres of Douglas fir trees every year. Its two dozen 10-foot solar panels will keep the building’s hot water at a constant temperature of 180 degrees. Up next is the installation of a photo voltaic system, which will use solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. This is part of JCC’s vision of environmental sustainability, which benefits the community both ethically and economically.
The Robert & Dorothy Ludwig Schenectady JCC became well known for their "million likes" photo that went viral in less than 48 hours. The photo showed 3 of its camp staff holding a sign that said "Our boss said that if this picture gets 1,000,000 likes that our summer camp can get an outdoor movie screen." In less than a week the picture received over 300,000 likes and it was one of the most successful uses of social media ever by a JCC.
Incidents and security
In recent decades, several incidents that have taken place at JCCs and other Jewish-related locations across the United States and Canada, as well as the September 11 attacks, have prompted JCCs in all areas to increase security at their facilities. Some of these events have included:
- The 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires resulted in 85 deaths and over 300 injured persons.
- In 1997, a woman in Toronto was charged with kidnapping and other crimes in the unauthorized removal of her 5-year-old daughter from a JCC childcare center. The woman, a registered nurse who had previously lost custody of her child following a divorce, led police on a high-speed chase and crashed, causing minor injuries to both.
- In the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting on August 10, 1999, a white supremacist opened fire and wounded four children and one adult. All survived, but the shooter was later convicted of homicide in a separate incident.
- In the Seattle Jewish Federation shooting on July 29, 2006, one person was killed when a Muslim man named Naveed Afzal Haq opened fire. This shooting was in response to the offender's anger at the United States for the Iraq War and its support for Israel.
- In the Overland Park Jewish Community Center shooting on April 13, 2014, a white supremacist opened fire in the parking lot of the JCC of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas and at a nearby Jewish retirement home. Three were killed in the incident and two others were shot at but were unharmed.
New security measures now being implemented include the mandatory display of photo ID (for non-members) upon entry to the building, background checks of prospective employees and members, and police officers or security guards being stationed on premises. Childcare areas now have their access restricted to those who have legitimate reason to enter, and removal of a child, which is tightly monitored, is permitted only by custodial parents and guardians and other authorized adults. In addition, many other new security features now reduce the likelihood of non-members gaining access to member-restricted areas.
- Tal Brody, who was drafted #12 in the NBA draft but opted to play for Israel, began playing basketball at the Trenton JCC.
- Jake Cohen, who plays basketball for Maccabi Tel Aviv, played for the Philadelphia JCC team which won a gold medal at the 2007 JCC Maccabi Games. He scored 33 points in the finals.
- Ross Friedman, Major League Soccer player
- Bruno Sammartino, former 2-time WWF (now WWE) champion. It was at a YMHA in Pittsburgh that he discovered weight lifting.
- Ingrid Michaelson, indie-pop singer-songwriter. Student of the JCC of Staten Island's Dorothy Delson Kuhn Music Institute. While there she met vocal coach Elizabeth McCullough, who worked with her through high school.
- Cullen Jones, Olympic gold medalist for swimming, was a childhood member of Metro Express, a swim team at the JCC MetroWest in West Orange, NJ.
- Sandy Koufax, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, played basketball at the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst as a teenager.
- "History of the Greater Baltimore JCC," Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore website. Accessed June 12, 2015,
- "YOUNG MEN'S HEBREW ASSOCIATION," Jewish Encyclopedia. Accessed June 12, 2015.
- Jewish Community Center Records, 1944-1977. [Manuscript Collection]. (MC 21). Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Dartmouth, MA.
- JCCs of North America
- Torahs for Our Troops
- JCC Metro Detroit
- The Frankel Jewish Academy
- "Solar energy initiative at Staten Island JCC". SILIVE.
- Levi Epstein (March 23, 2011). "One on One with Tal Brody". Algemeiner. Retrieved April 1, 2011.
- Robert Slater (2000). Great Jews in Sports. J. David Publishers. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
- Mallozzi, Vincent. "U.S. Swimmer Hopes to Inspire". New York Times.
- Sandomir, Richard. "Koufax's Roundball Once Trumped His Fastball". New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
- Jewish Community Centers of North America
- David E. Kaufman, Jewish Community Center, Jewish Women Encyclopedia
- JCC of Staten Island, sijcc.org
- Jewish Community Centers Association (St. Louis, Mo.) collection; I-372; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY, and Boston, MA.