Seven decades of service

Seven decades of service

Jewish Community Center marks milestone anniversary

The Ruth Hyman Jewish Community Center of Greater Monmouth is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
The Ruth Hyman Jewish Community Center of Greater Monmouth is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

The Long Branch Jewish Community Center was born in 1939 after an “inspired” capital fund-raising campaign that brought in just under $8,000.

It would move to Deal in 1971. And today, after several expansions and name changes, the JCC of Greater Monmouth County is still providing inspiration through a spectrum of recreational, social, and cultural activities.

The 70th anniversary will be marked at a celebration Sunday, Nov. 15, at Jumping Brook Country Club in Neptune.

“We’re proud of everything we do,” said executive director Aaron Rosenfeld. “We serve a diverse Jewish community in Monmouth County, and we are always looking for ways to serve each and every part of that community. It’s not an easy task.”

The JCC now boasts a membership of 3,500, having grown “substantially” over the last 25 years, according to Rosenfeld. Its budget has increased from $1 million to $5 million in that time.

While some of that expansion can be attributed to growth of the community, he said, many of those members were attracted by “the vision of our leadership.” Key among those leaders is Jess Levy, who has been on the JCC’s staff for 25 years, starting as assistant executive director in 1984 and rising to become CEO.

Levy left that position about a year ago to run the JCC’s Axelrod Performing Arts Center, the 550-seat theater that opened in 2005.

The center’s policy of not scheduling performances and rehearsals on Shabbat and other holidays makes it “probably the only theater group in Monmouth County and beyond that accommodates observant Jews,” said JCC marketing director Jill Garbi.

As far back as 1941, the JCC launched the first United Jewish Appeal campaign in central Jersey. Thirty years later, the campaign merged with other nearby UJA campaigns to form the Jewish Federation of Greater Monmouth County.

During World War II, weekly dances were held and two basement rooms were converted into a lounge and recreational space for soldiers. The building also housed the first high school of Hillel Yeshiva, which is now in Ocean Township.

In the mid-’70s, what was then called the YM-YWHA experienced a growth spurt, constructing a 40,000-square-foot addition, including a pool and physical education wing, and in 1977 changed its name to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Monmouth County. A western Monmouth County branch was added two years later in Manalapan.

In tribute to local philanthropist Ruth Hyman, the lead donor in the expansion and renovation of the building in the late ’90s, the Deal facility was renamed in her honor.

“Meaningful Jewish experiences,” said Rosenfeld, are provided through workshops, classes, lectures, Hebrew classes, women’s Torah study groups, and “family-friendly” holiday events.

Rosenfeld cited a “bedrock” of the JCC — its array of children’s programming starting with its infant-toddler program, which takes babies at six weeks. It also runs Alef-Bet and Kindervelt programs for toddlers, and nursery school, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten programming.

The JCC sends buses to both day and public schools to gather children for its after-school enrichment programs, runs a summer camp for preschoolers through teenagers, and has now set its sights on providing special-needs programming.

Special programming is provided on Friday afternoons for yeshiva students who are dismissed early, easing a problem for their working parents, said Garbi. JCC staff members also go out to day schools to provide physical education programs. The Yeshiva of the Jersey Shore is housed at the JCC.

“We believe in collaboration,” said Garbi. “We collaborate with many agencies throughout the community.”

Seniors are also provided with more than 16,000 kosher meals-on-wheels annually and on-site nutrition programs, weekly current events discussions, exercise programs, and theater trips.

“Most meals are delivered here and the western part of the county around Marlboro and Manalapan,” said Rosenfeld. “They either pick them up here and we also send out meals to the JCC in Marlboro, where volunteers make and get those meals out. We really serve the entire county in that sense.”

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