The JCC on the Palisades, has always served the Orthodox Community of Bergen County. Many of us know the JCC as a conglomerate of Jewish life, however it has flourished into an amazing outlet for all facets of life, Jewish and otherwise. “Our goal is to serve all the needs of our Jewish population, including Jewish Orthodoxy,” said Rochelle Lazarus, PR director at the JCC.
There are programs for Seniors, a pre-school, a camp, a café, full service gym and spa, pools, music school, drama school, special services, after school activities, and so much more. What many people may not know is the extent to which these programs have prospered. There are so many programs that the community may not be aware of or simply not utilizing. Many of the non-sectarian groups are happily enrolled and benefiting from these programs.
The JCC Thurnauer School of Music is nothing less than astounding. Dorothy Roffman, founding director of the music school, has her heart and unprecedented drive immersed in the school. The music school has a reputation for being intense, but “we are eager to include as many people as possible, including people with different schedules. The best thing to do is come in and talk to me.”
When speaking with Roffman you feel she genuinely cares for the children in the music school and wants them to have a “lifelong love of music.”
The motivation for the music school began three decades ago, in order to accommodate the Jewish Orthodox children who could not go to Manhattan on Saturday for music lessons because that was the only day they were being offered. Thus, the conception of a Sunday through Thursday music school began. “And now 30 years later we are existing as a major music school in the area,” said Jess Alpert, marketing and communication manager for the Thurnauer School of Music.
The music school strives “to give children the best music education possible. If a child chooses to become a professional s/he will be prepared,” said Ms. Roffman. Scholarships are available for the school, as Roffman stated, “It is very hard to turn people away.”
The School of Performing Arts is another remarkable department with outstanding credentials. There are classes for adults, teens, and children. There are recreational classes as well as professional classes. “Over the last few years we have about 40 kids [from the school] on Broadway,” said Deb Roberts, head of the School of Performing Arts. At the JCC “they gain a real sense of confidence and zest.” All the instructors are accomplished professionals, mostly coming in from Manhattan to teach. There is nothing run-of-the-mill here. The Performance Arts school also serves the adult population; classes include playreading, acting, improve, and singing.
In Health and Wellness, the JCC recently put in some new gym equipment, added new classes for adults and children, including kids Zumba. It offers personal training, Pilates, small group training, and fantastic classes. In addition, there is free babysitting.
JCC University is another new program, offering classes for adults with flexible work schedules. It is an opportunity to revive previous passions, find new interests, meet new people, and stay involved in the developments that shape today’s world. The classes meet on Thursdays.
The JCC has many senior services, as well, including a senior day care program. “Another thing we have is we bring in [yeshiva] day school children to interact with our seniors,” Lazarus explains. “The kids come to the JCC to sing, participate in craft projects, and make holiday meals together with the seniors. A lot of senior centers are very isolated, but here we are not,” said Lazarus.
The JCC recently hired a new director of the Judaic Department, Jessica Wolf-Spiegel. “[We] are working to infuse Jewish values and content into other programs and departments at the JCC,” said Spiegel.
In-house Rabbi Reuven Kimelman hosts a weekly fee-based seminar; this semester’s topic is The Book of Exodus. Also there are free seminars covering the upcoming Jewish holidays Purim, Pesach, and Shavuot. In May, there is also a free fun family camp-like celebration day in honor of Lag B’Omer.
The JCC now has a kosher teaching kitchen, where they host cooking classes, challah making classes with the local Challah Fairy, and challah baking for grandparents and grandchildren. Lazarus feels “there will be a lot more cooking classes being offered in the near future.”
Other programs include the Yom Hashoah Commemoration, Yiddish club, Hebrew Calligraphy, the Kid-ish club, and Hebrew ULPAN.
Of course, an obvious accommodation to the Orthodox Community is that the JCC is observant of Shabbat and Chagim. It is strict policy that it is closed on these days, eliciting a continuous controversy about how the JCC won’t compromise when it comes to religious closures. “Some people feel the JCC should be open for the people who want to come or work-out on Saturdays, but we are a Jewish agency and we will not bend on that issue,” said Lazarus.
In addition, the JCC also has a beautiful Kosher Dairy Café, under the RCBC hashgacha, with a full menu for sit-down or take-out. It offers pizza and salads as well as much more for adults, children, and sports/exercise addicts who need their protein fix.
“I love taking advantage of the amazing after school activities that the JCC has to offer. It is especially nice to have the option to take my kids for dinner there,” said Alyson Small, a Modern Orthodox mother of four.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges the JCC faces is how to market all these fantastic programs. Bonnie Wilson, membership services supervisor, said “we are revamping our marketing strategies to try to get the word out about what we have.” The JCC also runs promotions about three times a year; currently they have $150 off any new membership. Scholarships are also available through an application process. “We try to work with everyone,” said Wilson.
There is no appearance of excellence here; the JCC on the Palisades is the real deal. The foundation is there, Jewish life is there, you only need to take advantage of the great things being offered.
visit https://www.jccotp.org/ for more information
By Kellita Weber