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Jewish Community Centers

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Jewish Community Centers have been helping people come together for over 150 years. They have aided in networking and charity as well as recreational gatherings. Having started with the goal of assisting Jewish people who had immigrated to the United States, the organization has evolved over time. Now with goals to 'foster Jewish life," they have grown to be places where Jews can learn to express and support themselves.

Before Jewish Community Centers Association of North America was founded there was the Young Men's Hebrew Association in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1854 with plans to help Jews immigrate and also to unite the community as a place for celebration, they provided inspiration for other such organizations. In 1913 the Council of Young Men's Hebrew and Kindred Associations was founded to bring all of these smaller organizations together and help provide the networking that Jews needed at the time. Many Jews were serving the country by fighting in World War I and these institutions wanted to provide funding for rabbis to visit the military posts. In 1917 all of the Jewish groups gathered at a conference and became the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB). This provided the foundation for Jewish welfare that the YMH&KA was trying to achieve.

After the groups merged they prospered with their missions. Once World War II was over the JWB provided a lot of aid for new Jewish immigrants. As from the beginning, the organization offered classes to teach people how to speak English and acclimate to American life and civil responsibilities. Once the majority of immigrants had become assimilated to life in the United States the Jewish Community Centers could branch out into more recreational activities. In the 1950s and 60s Jews across the country had more time and money to spend on these opportunities and the community centers evolved to adapt to their new wants and needs. Many of the services provided then are still provided today.

Most of the new facilities were built in the suburbs to accommodate their target demographic. Many Jews were working and living outside of cities and community centers were in higher demand. These buildings housed many of the services offered including informal education, cultural events and celebrations, performing arts, and athletics or sports events. In addition to these programs were other organizations that aimed to help Israel and increase Jewish education. With such changes in their overall mission the JWB renamed themselves in 1990, officially becoming the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America (JCCA).

One of these institutions is located in Newton, Massachusetts and its branch name is the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center (LSJCC). They describe themselves specifically as "a non-profit agency dedicated to fostering the continuity of Jewish life by serving as a central gathering place for people of all ages and stages of their Jewish life." This fits within the overall mission statement of JCCs which is, "to advance the aspirations of families and individuals to enrich their lives, bodies, and spirits, by providing the best in contemporary programs and experiences, informed by Jewish values for today's Jews and the people in their lives." In order to achieve these goals the JCCs simply open doors to members in addition to founding programs that organize events and outings.

One such program at LSJCC is called Creative Judaica Interfaith. This service provides a way for interfaith families to learn about Judaism and its customs and traditions. While families obviously can have some Jewish background, no one is required to practice Judaism. Creative Judaica Interfaith offers a non-judgmental setting to explore the Jewish faith with professionals from many fields including teaching, art, and music. Recently LSJCC held an event in preparation for Passover, a holiday celebrated in commemoration of the Jews' freedom from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago. At this celebration children of interfaith families were given the opportunity to learn about the holiday and how it is observed, and they even got to put together seder plates for their families. While Passover is a holiday celebrated for religious reasons it can also be a great way to learn about the history of Jews, whether one is Jewish or not.

Another way that LSJCC helps children is through their various vacation programs. Specifically for age groups three to five or six to twelve, this is a place for children to go during time off from school. Acting almost as a camp or daycare, children are given many activities and games both on single days off or entire summer vacations. This not only keeps children occupied, but it engages them in a safe and fun environment while parents can be at work. Some of the activities made accessible include arts and crafts, field trips, swimming and gym time, and participation or observation of theatre. LSJCC also offers overnight and day camps for the summer which include the same types of activities in addition to ones geared toward the outdoors. Some of these outdoors programs might be boating or canoeing, outdoor sports, or camping. The Vacation Program does not only give children somewhere to be but also gives them the cultural experiences, both in and out of the Jewish religion, needed to grow as a person.

The LSJCC does not only strive to help children grow but people with special needs, as well. They have an entire department with goals to enhance the lives of children and adults with physical, developmental, learning, and mental health challenges. The way they try to do this is through offering support and education to help this group become more independent in the community. They strive to make everyone feel included in the greater community and welcome within the JCC, especially, by educating staff as well. Some of the specific programs offered include special needs swim classes, music and dance classes, and support and social groups.

While there are programs like this for people with special needs, there are also some geared toward the older demographic. LSJCC provides classes and outings for senior citizens to socialize and still feel like a part of the community. On site events include daily Kosher lunches, weekly Shabbat celebrations, and various classes and discussion groups. As for off-site outings, LSJCC organizes a variety of day and weekend trips, and the occasional week long getaway (once was a cruise around Alaska). The shorter trips include buses to casinos, theatre productions, and festivals. With competitive pricing the LSJCC charges different amounts depending on memberships. There are fees to be a member of the JCC, and separate fees to be a member of their 55+ travel club. The difference in



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