I Was Young When I Ran a JCC, But I Didn't Design It
I started out my morning today with a visit to Kiev's new JCC Halom, the city's first Jewish Community Center.
(Interesting enough my morning began with a slight change of plans that was a reminder that I was in a different part of the world, but I won't elaborate on that.)
The JCC Halom was launched just over a year ago, and I was pleased to be greeted by its director, Anna Bondar. What couldn't help but immediately strike me was that Anna is very young. I would later find out that she was chosen as the JCC Director at age 29, the very same age at which I was hired to be the JCC Director in Harrisburg in 1998. I felt a kinship.
But, unlike Anna's situation, I was taking over a JCC that had existed for many decades. In Anna's case, she had led a process to develop a JCC from scratch.
Prior to the creation of Halom, what existed was a Jewish Family Service, largely providing services to the eldery. Those JFS services are integrated into the JCC, but, what exists today - short of not having a swimming pool or fancy fitness equipment (although I got plenty of exercise there today, as there also is no elevator in the four story building) - is in many ways the same kind of services that you would expect to find in a JCC in the United States.
Halom features a beautiful early childhood center. There's a daily senior adult program for active older adults, for which Anna told me three of the favorite senior activities are ping pong (there are daily competitions), salsa dancing, and karaoke. There's fitness space with classes including zumba, yoga, and pilates, and meeting space for workshops. The top floor boasts a beautiful teen lounge, where teens have formed their own youth group and receive training to serve as madrichim in programs and the JCC summer camp. And there is a theatre space, with a capacity of around 120, which is the place for concerts, performances, and holiday celebrations. When the weather is suitable, large gatherings are held in the rear parking lot.
Their biggest challenge according to Anna...attracting young people in their 20's and 30's to be engaged in Jewish community. It seems some challenges are the same all around the world.
And, interesting enough, she explained that many parents who have their children in the early childhood center, where Jewish tradition is taught, end up learning about Judaism from their children, having grown up themselves at a time that religious practice was suppressed.
Knowing that I started out as a young JCC Director twenty-some years ago, Anna asked me my advice on how she could grow their participation. My response, as would be the same almost anywhere, "meet people where their interests are."
But it was clear to me that there is growing interest in Jewish community in Kiev; and Anna, and the beautiful Halom JCC, are going a long way to meet those interests.