By David Podos
Q: How long has the Jewish Community Center been here in Utica?
A: We have been here in our present location, 2310 Oneida St., since 1972 as the Jewish Community Center. But there has been a presence of a Jewish Federation in Utica for quite a bit longer.
Q: What are your programs and services that you offer and does someone have to be Jewish to receive these services?
A: Well, let me first give you a brief history on the beginning of Jewish Community Centers across the country and why it came to be. So, the Jewish community movement started in the mid-1900s throughout the country. It was partly because back then there were no places in many of the major cities in the United States where the essence of what was going on was Jewish so Jewish people wanted a place where they could congregate and share their heritage.
Also, in the mid-‘50s and ‘60s many Jews were not welcome to become members in many different country clubs as well as many different community centers. So, Jewish community centers began to pop up throughout the country to fill that void.
Here in Utica, the Jewish Community Center still offers opportunities for our Jewish neighbors and Jewish residents through out the area to come and meet other Jewish people and share their heritage while receiving all the services and programs that we offer. That said, it is critically important for our community to know that the Jewish Community Center is open to all regardless of ethnicity and or faith and that everyone has the opportunity to take advantage of all our services and programs.
Q: Thank you for that clarification and the historical background. So, what are the programs that the center provides?
A: We provide a number of services such as: education, physical fitness and cultural programming services for the residents of the greater Mohawk Valley area. As I just mentioned, it is open to everyone.
In regards to our educational services, I am proud to say we have one of the best pre-school programs in the area. Presently, we have 150 children in that program and out of 150 kids only two are Jewish, so, once again you can see that we are open to all. For adults we have some wonderful services. We offer physical fitness training, yoga classes, Zumba classes, as well as basketball, volleyball and indoor soccer which both adults as well as children participate in.
Q: How many members do you have?
A: We changed a bit on that. We used to be only a membership-driven organization. We still have some paying members who are primarily local Jewish families who have supported the center for years. But now we are a pay-as-you- go center for services/programs rendered. For instance, one of our big sources of income is our pre-school program. We have other sources of income from people renting our gym for basketball or volleyball. We have an auditorium that is available to the public for rental use from birthday parties to live musical events and so forth.
Q: This past summer the Jewish Community Center held its first Jewish cultural festival called Jewtica. How did that work out and will this turn into an annual festival?
A: It was a great success—and yes, we are planning a second festival for next year and hopefully for many years ahead.
Q: How many staff do you employ?
A: At this time, we have 26 staff.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: Our biggest challenge, as I see it, is to make sure the community understands that we are a center serving all people, that we are not exclusive but inclusive. Also, to let everyone know who comes here (for what ever services) that we are a secure building and that everyone is safe.
To learn more about the Jewish Community Center, visit www.jccutica.net or call-315-733-2343.