The Harry Lebau YM-YWHA of Union County has been a fixture on Green Lane in Union long enough now — 47 years — that only its hard-core old-timers remember its roots in Elizabeth. The organization, a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, was founded in the port city 130 years ago, in 1883.
It began as a club based on the Young Men’s Hebrew Literary Association clubs that had been established in cities around the country over the previous 40 years or so. The first venue was Temple B’nai Israel. The Y moved into its own building, at New Point Road and Livingston Street in Elizabeth, in 1918, shortly before it merged with its ladies’ auxiliary to form the YM-YWHA. It moved to its present home in 1966.
On Friday, Aug. 16, as the Y’s summer camp was coming to an end, Jani Jonas, the center’s assistant executive director, and Jackie Baranoff, the marketing and membership director, were already moving into action finalizing plans for the lineup of events designed to celebrate the 130th anniversary.
The events marking the milestone, they said, will start with a festival and a talk, and the publication of a kosher cookbook of members’ favorite recipes.
First up is a “Jewbilee” on Sunday, Oct. 6. According to Baranoff, who acknowledged that she came up with the name, it will be a big party for the whole family. The program, from 1 to 4 p.m., will feature carnival rides, music, kosher food, and a performance by the basketball playing Court Jesters, a group of top-level former college and professional players who showcase their skills with a mix of comedy.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach will appear at the Y on Sunday, Oct. 13. His topic is still to be announced, but Boteach — an author and former TV reality program host, and friend and one-time mentor to Mayor and Senate candidate Cory Booker — is known for his provocative views and entertaining delivery. The titles of his books, Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy, published in 1999, and Kosher Jesus, published in 2012, make the point. Newsweek magazine named him one of the 50 most influential rabbis in the United States three years in a row, placing him sixth in 2010.
“People can register on the day, but reserving seats in advance in strongly recommended,” Jonas said. “It’s the first time Shmuley Boteach has spoken at the Y, and we’re expecting a crowd.”
As for the recipe book, members are being invited to concoct new dishes or submit their favorites to be included in a book being assembled as an anniversary memento.
In addition to the anniversary extras, the Y will offer its traditional fall features. On Sunday, Oct. 27, the community is invited to attend the Camp Chaverim open house and reunion, with an introduction to new programs for next summer’s camp season.
On Sunday, Nov. 17, the Y will hold its 12th annual Jewish Fair and Expo. The event — now an established late-fall tradition in the community — will be free as always, and will feature an array of entertainment from kids crafts to talks and demos for adults, food, music, and vendors offering an opportunity to get in some Hanukka shopping.
The anniversary, according to past presidents and current annual campaign cochairs RoAnna Pascher and Mark Bloomberg, is a chance to “reflect upon the deeds of loving-kindness which the Y has performed over these many years.” In a letter to members, they recalled how the Y served as “a haven” for those whose power was cut during Superstorm Sandy last fall, and “a second home” for parents, kids, teens, seniors, and unaffiliated people — as well as synagogue members — seeking Jewish learning.
“Through good times and bad, for over 130 years, the Y has remained a constant beacon spreading its warm glow and canopy over our community,” they wrote.
Jonas said, “This is a place where cultures collide. We’re proud to be multi-cultural and we welcome people from all parts of the community, but we are Orthodox-oriented. We’re one of the few remaining institutions in the region that’s closed on Shabbat and the High Holy Days, and we provide glatt kosher meals, and we have a mashgiah [kosher supervisor] on site.”