Paying tribute to our Jewish Community Centers

In just a few weeks, the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford will kick off a year of events and activities marking its centennial. Mazel tov!

Since it opened its doors as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and joined forces with the newly established Young Women’s Hebrew Association in 1915, the JCC has served as a hub of Jewish cultural life in Greater Hartford. It is a place where Jews of all affiliations – and of no affiliation at all – can feel comfortable exploring their heritage, and a place where all members of the community, regardless of race or religion, can strengthen their physical and intellectual selves.

After speaking at the JCC’s Jewish Book Month ceremonies in 1963, Nobel prize-laureate-to be Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “The Jewish Community Center of Hartford is, for me, an example par excellence of modern Jewish culture and culture generally.” We believe if Bashevis were with us today, he would still feel the same way.

Not that the road travelled has been without its potholes. Over the years, the JCC has had to negotiate economic hard times, social change, and now and then a community conflict. But time has not diminished the exuberance with which it continues to meet the burgeoning needs of the community it serves.

Let us also bear in mind that the Mandell JCC is part of a larger mission.

The first JCC, the Hebrew Young Men’s Literary Association, was founded in Baltimore in 1854 to provide a safe haven for Jewish immigrants as well as a means of ensuring Jewish continuity. Similar associations soon followed, serving as libraries, cultural centers, and settlement houses. Today, more than 350 JCCs and YM-YWHAs, and their affiliated camps, can be found in cities and towns throughout North America.

Five are right here in Connecticut. These include the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven, founded in 1912; the Stamford JCC, founded in 1916; and the JCC in Sherman, formed in 1994.

Newest on the scene is JCC Greenwich, which opened its virtual doors in the spring of 2011. Dubbed “a community without walls,” this innovative organization has no physical facility, instead, programs are held at various venues throughout the area. Will this be the JCC of the future?

All our Connecticut JCCs are rich in cultural, educational, and recreational programs that build Jewish community life even as they strengthen mind, body, and spirit.

It is customary to wish someone reaching a milestone birthday with the Hebrew “ad me’ah v’esrim” – “[may you live] to 120.” In the case of the Mandell JCC, however, 120 years is just around the corner.

So instead, we’ll go with “yasher koach” – job well done.

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