By Barbara Davis
We moved to Syracuse in 1969. I was working at OCC and my husband was a graduate student at SU. I was pregnant with our first child and was worried about childcare. “You have to go to the JCC,” insisted my colleague, Professor Nancy McCarty. “It’s the best.” One did not argue with Nancy McCarty, and she was correct. It was the best, and my daughter thrived in an excellent program that seemed to do everything right. Naturally, my second child went to the JCC (on Genesee Street then) as did my third. They learned to swim in the indoor pool and went to Camp Friendly in the summer, as did most of their friends.
When, a generation later, my daughters established their own families in Central New York, there was no doubt where they would send their children for preschool. By then, the JCC had moved to DeWitt. By the time my youngest grandchild was born, the JCC even had an infant care program. So six more young members of my family enjoyed the benefits of the JCC’s outstanding preschool.
Mine is not an exceptional story. There are many families who have enrolled several generations of children in the JCC, drawn by a program that for decades has been at the forefront of quality, child-focused, reliable and accessible care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. The indoor pool is a memory, but now there are playgrounds and a gym and gymnastics, sports, music, dance and karate.
The JCC’s executive director, Marci Erlebacher, recently held a meeting of the Center’s board of directors and, looking around the room, realized that three of her board members had attended the Center’s Early Childhood Development Program when they were small. Now they were serving in a leadership capacity for the organization and enrolling their own children in ECDP.
Federation board chair Neil Rosenbaum’s daughter recently had a baby. Returning to work when her daughter was 6 months old was made much easier by the fact that quality care was available for her at the JCC on a schedule that accommodated her workday. Selecting the JCC’s Early Childhood Development Program was a no-brainer. Not only was it the best program, but it was the same one she and her three siblings had attended when they were little. It was like coming home.
These are just a few of the examples of the generational impact of Syracuse’s Jewish Community Center. In addition to providing quality childcare, the Center is home to three of the community’s most important Jewish institutions: the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Foundation and the Syracuse Hebrew Day School. It also offers the only kosher senior lunch program in upstate New York and administers the PJ Library Program. At various times in the past, the J has also housed the Jewish War Veterans, the Epstein School, the Syracuse Community Hebrew School, a Sephardic high holiday congregation and the nascent Shaarei Torah congregation.
The Center also hosts many communal Jewish celebrations, including KlezFest, a community sukkah, a Chanukah party, a decades-old Purim carnival, the Matzo Bakery and the Israeli Scouts. Each week at ECDP, children celebrate Shabbat and learn to recite the appropriate blessings for kiddush and hamotzi. They enjoy apples and honey for Rosh HaShanah, latkes and sufganiyot for Chanukah and hold model seders in their classrooms for Passover. Even though a significant percentage of the children enrolled in the program are not Jewish, they all learn about Jewish celebrations. This has led to some interesting results. A friend of mine named Jim Doherty told me that while he had been very happy with the ECDP program, he was somewhat relieved that his daughter was going to public school kindergarten “because she wants to light Shabbas candles every Friday.” Another cute story involves a little boy whose family held weekly Sunday dinners. At one, the parents asked, “Who wants to say grace?” The 4-year-old ECDP child raised his hand eagerly. His parents were a bit skeptical. “Do you really know how to say grace?” they asked. “Yes,” he said and began “Baruch atah Adonai….”