Year After Fire, Jews Reclaim JCC For Hanukkah

Allan Appel PhotoOn the seventh night of the Festival of Lights, while kids from Krypton as well as Planet Earth did the Hanukkah limbo, 30 Schwinn indoor cycles were being checked out for dramatically expanded indoor cycling and spin class activities.

Also on the horizon: New facilities for roller hockey and pickle ball, a makers’ space, three more ADA-compliant shower facilities, a high end cafe with a kosher marketplace, and a climbing wall for all ages. Plus a quiet room for rest, spirituality, and mindfulness.

That ongoing vision of keeping Jewish traditions while upgrading, expanding, and adding cool new activities emerged Monday at a Hanukkah party at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater New Haven.

In the spirit of the holiday, it was a night for triumphant rededication of a treasured communal institution in the wake of devastation.

A fire broke out in the sauna of the 35-year-old facility at 360 Amity Rd. a year ago, on Dec. 6, 2016. It destroyed many of the JCC’s usable spaces. JCC leaders led a community-wide soul-searching about what the community should do next: Find new spaces elsewhere? Or rebuild the central facility?

The final decision:  Return home and rebuild on site, using the disaster as an opportunity to add needed new features, said JCC CEO Judy Alperin.

While kids lit the menorah and and played Hanukkah games at the Hanukkah party Monday night, Alperin toured a reporter around some of these new spaces coming into being and described the progress so far.

The JCC received $1.7 million in insurance money after the fire. That covered clean-up and restoration.To invest in the future of the 35-year-old campus, the JCC determined to add about $800,000 in upgraded facilities and new amenities and programs and fire safeguards.

To make the institution is in the midst of a $2 million capital campaign while returning to Amity Road stage by stage, beginning with JCC classic activities like pre-school child care and after-school programs while creating infrastructure for new programs.

Alperin said the pre-school and after-school programs were fully opened by this summer. The swimming pool was back in operation in September. By the end of this month the new enhanced health and wellness center will be inaugurated.

The facility has opened up previously smaller, room-ed spaces both on the first floor and in the basement to dramatically expand the exercise areas with TRX training gizmos to augment other weight, personal training, and cardio equipment. Also in the works is a climbing wall with challenges across the generations Tthe large fabled gymnasium floor will be divided into two areas: a redone wooden basketball floor covering two thirds of the broad space, and the other third with a multi-purpose floor that can accommodate a new range of sports like roller hockey, pickle ball, and lacrosse, said Alperin.

A whole set of pads had recently arrived, to be used to create the roller hockey rink, she said.

Alperin is particularly jazzed about a “high end cafe” being created in opened up interior space in the main crossroads of the expansive building. It will be run as a partnership with local java pedaler Willoughby’s Coffee and contain a large interior area for a marketplace of the best area kosher food options.

You will be able to buy a challah or take home a shabbat dinner in a box, she added. Or just hang with your latte and watch football on a big screen or work on your laptop with vastly improved wifi in a space powered by “a fiber optic backbone.”

Down the hall from the marketplace, Alperin pointed to a private space in the works for nursing mothers and new families; and nearby spaces for “the maker community,” one for the messier crafts and a separate space for the cleaner activities like jewelry makers.

Lining the corridor where these new spaces will emerge, Alperin described rotating exhibitions by area artists also well as the holdings of the Jewish Historical Society.

She estimated all this being completed by February or, at the latest, early spring, with a March grand ribbon-cutting. The sauna area, where the fire broke out will be the last area to come on line and with new facilities and all new lockers.

That was all good news to Henry Rugerman, who plays basketball on the JCC team for 11-year-olds and learned to swim in the JCC pool. His little brother James loves the pre-school, which the Westville family has been utilizing for years.

The JCC is well on the way to raising the $2 million to cover costs of the indoor cycling space and the other new amenities, along with new fire safety systems, Alperin said. “I’m incredibly optimistic. We’re matching people with their passions.”

Her own fitness path at the JCC-coming-into being: “I’m going to do the climbing wall and the indoor cycling. I just sat on one of those bikes, and they’re so cool. I just need to find the time.”

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