JCC of Middlesex County thriving despite the odds
Defying a grim economy and unpromising demographics, the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison has experienced a surge of new members.
As a result, leaders of the JCC, enjoying a unique partnership with the Metuchen-Edison-Woodbridge YMCA, are looking ahead to a rosy future.
“This place is rocking every single moment that this building is open,” said executive director Dorothy Rubinstein. “We have seniors sharing space with preschoolers, who are sharing with everyone else.”
As the JCC celebrates the 25th anniversary of the opening of its current facility, housed in the Lydia and Morris Goldfarb building, it continues to expand programming with a full array of sports teams and exercise classes, cultural events, and classes for all ages.
All of this despite being in an area where synagogues have been forced to merge as the Jewish community has shifted to the southern parts of the county.
“We give people value for their money,” said Rubinstein. “For the price of health club membership, the whole family can join.”
Seven years ago the JCC and the YMCA formed what is believed to be the nation’s only such collaboration when they joined to form The Community Campus.
The JCC got enhanced athletic facilities, which the two agencies share, as well as meeting rooms and an all-purpose room for performances and lectures.
Prior to the partnership, JCC membership was down to 300-400 families, but afterward shot up “pretty quickly” to about 2,000, said Rubinstein.
The Jewish membership is probably the highest in the JCC’s history.
JCC president Eric Nacht said the agency has played an increasingly prominent role in the community, hosting Edison’s annual Hanukka celebration, this year on Dec. 14, and the annual Yom Hashoa commemoration with the township and the Edison-Metuchen Interfaith Clergy Association.
“We’ve become very important in the community in the last five years,” said Nacht. “We’ve never been in such a strong position financially and our future is extraordinarily bright.”
The JCC, which is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, gained some members after the closing of the YM-YWHA of Raritan Valley building in Highland Park about three years ago. Members come from as far away as East Brunswick, drawn by the array of activities, including the Blue Dolphins swim team, which has captured the championship of the New Jersey Swim League — comprised of JCCs and Ys statewide — for 16 of the last 18 years.
Rubinstein said it has begun outreach to the adult communities in Monroe. More than 300 seniors participate four days a week in holiday programs, a social club, trips, and speakers.
Its Bright Beginnings preschool “has a chronic waiting list,” said Rubinstein.
The JCC also runs three summer camps, and Jewish singles programming, Hebrew classes, and an Israel awareness task force with Congregation Neve Shalom.
The JCC is conducting a fund-raising campaign, hoping to alleviate “a chronic debt that the JCC has had since its doors opened that will run through 2011,” she said.
“We are looking for opportunities to expand out programming,” said Rubinstein. “We are not out of ideas, but we are out of space.”