Saturday, January 19, 2019

Eden Meyers enjoys a sweet treat in memory of Israeli teen Gilad Shaar.

Formerly the JCC in Washington Township, the innovative j.family Ambassador Program, which is under the auspices of the recently renamed Jewish Community Center of Northern New Jersey (JCCNNJ), is creating Jewish-related programs for mothers, fathers, grandparents or caregivers of youngsters under the age of 3. The stated purpose of these programs is to form a community of young families who will bond together and hopefully continue their involvement in Jewish and Israel-based cultural events, and consider enrolling their youngsters in Jewish educational programs. The communities served include 38 towns from Hackensack to Mahwah and New Milford to Oakland. The JCC's building was sold in 2017 and now operates under a lighter, mobile model.

Abby Leipsner, CEO of the JCCNNJ, described the organization as “little by little making its way into the catchment areas it serves through meeting young people in comfortable venues with age-appropriate programs.”

This past Chanukah, the j.family Ambassadors Program brought together over 160 people for a crafts and music program at a local Wegman’s community room. On Sunday, January 21, the program organized Cookies for a Cause at A Little Cake Bakery in Park Ridge. The event was arranged to honor the memory of Gilad Shaar, one of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and brutally murdered in the summer of 2014. According to his mother, Bat Galim Shaar, one of Gilad’s favorite activities was baking, so she keeps his memory alive by organizing baking events in Israel and the US yearly on his birthday. Participants in the baking event were able to roll dough, decorate cookies and, most importantly, meet other local, young Jewish families.

Programs are planned to coincide with Jewish holidays and national events. A Tu B’Shevat event is being planned for January 31, at Temple Or of Washington Township.   Once again, the purpose of the program is to bring local families together in celebration of a Jewish holiday. This spring, programs in celebration of Purim, Pesach and the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel are being planned by the j.family Ambassadors at different venues within their catchment areas.

Two ongoing programs that have met with great success over these past many years are focused on teenagers and older adults. The Active Adult Programs and Lunch, sponsored by Bergen County and the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at Temple Beth Or in Washington Township. It offers a kosher lunch and a variety of activities to adults aged 65 and older. Programs include fitness sessions and painting lessons, as well as speakers and classes. The Open Hearts Open Homes Program, now in its 18th year, offers teenagers from Israel respite from their traumatic experiences, which include being involved in a terrorist attack or losing a loved one in such an attack. These teens are treated to a three-week trip to the US, are housed in homes throughout northern New Jersey, and are toured around New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, for an unforgettable and therapeutic getaway.

The Jewish Community Center of Northern New Jersey is a 100-year-old organization that embraces Jewish values and heritage, while maintaining an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity and welcomes the community at large to enhance mind, body and spirit through cultural, educational and recreational opportunities, without regard to race, religion or ability. The JCCNNJ is in the process of realigning its goals and mission with the greater community and has embarked on a significant process to develop a long-term strategic plan to redefine the organization to meet the evolving needs of the community. For more information, call 201-666-6610
or visit www.jccnnj.org.


By Pearl Markovitz