Monday, December 9, 2019

Meet Me at the JCC

If you ask a cross-section of Jews what they associate with the “JCC,” you may get a variety of answers. That is because the JCC offers a large swath of services to a very large variety of people.

In 1851, the first YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in North America was established in Montreal, Quebec. 23 years later, on October 10, 1874, the first Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) was founded in New York City with Lewis May as its inaugural president. In 1888, the first Young Women’s Hebrew Association (YWHA) was established by Fannie Liebovitz. The first independent YWHA was created in 1902. Although these two New York-based Jewish versions of the YMCA eventually merged into what is known today as the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, there were two other YMHA/YWHAs in New York City: the 14th Street Y and the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights/Inwood. In 1917, these latter two organizations merged into what is now known as the Jewish Welfare Board.

In 1951, the YMHA, YWHA and the Jewish Educational Alliance, merged into a new organization renamed Jewish Community Center (JCC). Today, not all branches use the term JCC or the even more brief “J.” Some maintain previous titles, such as the aforementioned 92nd Street Y, several JCCs in Brooklyn, NY (The Boro Park Y, Jewish Community House (Bensonhurst), Kings Bay Y (Sheepshead Bay) the Bronx (Riverdale YM-YWHA, Riverdale, NY), Center for Jewish Life (CJL) in East Brunswick, NJ, and the Jewish Community Alliance of Jacksonville, FL.

An organization that ties over 350 North American JCCs, YMHAs, YWHAs and camps together is the New York City-based JCC Association (JCCA). JCCA offers aid and support to the JCCs throughout North America, providing educational, cultural, social, and Jewish identity-building programs and initiatives to their respective constituencies. JCCA supports the largest network of Jewish pre-schools and summer camps, and offers critical services to the special needs population. The JCCA is also accredited to serve the religious and social needs of military members and their families, through the Jewish Welfare Board Chaplains Council.

JCCs tend to be found in larger Jewish communities where they may be supported by the local Jewish population. After all, they need charitable donations to function. There are almost two dozen JCCs in the metro New York area, 17 in Florida, 17 in the state of California (eight in the San Francisco area) and Chicago features ten JCCs. The JCC in West Bloomfield, MI (a suburb of Detroit) is the largest JCC in North America, if not the world.

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