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JCC to Celebrate 125 Years of Service to Louisville

The Jewish Community Center will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year, and with so many opportunities to celebrate, you’re sure to find a few in which to participate.

“We have one of the oldest Jewish community centers in the country, with a long, rich history, said Ralph Green, committee co-chair. “Many of those in the Jewish community who have been active here grew up at the JCC.”
“The JCC has been in Louisville for 125 years, which is a big deal,” said Michelle Tasman, committee co-chair.

Louisville’s JCC began as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association on January 14, 1890, after several years of people meeting informally in literary and social clubs in the city. The minutes of the charter meeting said the organization would be “an Association, the objects of which shall be the moral, religious, educational, social and physical advancement of its members.” Dues were set at $6 per year. By the end of that year, a gym – at a cost of $3,500 –had been constructed on the east side of First Street between Walnut and Chestnut streets.

Though there were many YMHAs in other cities at the time, the Louisville YMHA was the first to construct its own building, the first to hire professional staff (a physical education instructor) and the first to have gym classes for women.

The YMHA changed its name to the JCC in the summer of 1955, when the new building at Dutchmans Lane opened with 7,000 members. It became a critical social meeting place for Jews who had moved from close-knit neighborhoods in the city to the suburbs. Since then it has been a vital place to connect to the community as well as a place to serve the area’s pressing needs, such as senior adult nutrition, educational services, health and wellness and cultural arts.

A new JCC logo that incorporates the 125th year anniversary will accompany all events and marketing for the year to celebrate the commemorative year.

“The JCC or the ‘Center’ has proudly served the community for 125 years, said Sara Wagner, chief operating officer of the JCC. “In preparing to celebrate a history that is so vibrant and meaningful it was obvious we needed a cadre of talented volunteers to lead the effort. We are so fortunate that three couples stepped up to co-chair the yearlong celebration including; Joanie and Craig Lustig, Shellie Branson and Ralph Green and Michele and Aaron Tasman.”

Joanie Lustig, co-chair of the committee with her husband Craig, said the overall objective for 2015 is to celebrate this major milestone and the positive effects the JCC has had on people. “Anyone who has been touched by the JCC – by camps, clubs, fitness, cultural arts, etc. – is invited to remember the past and celebrate the future of the JCC,” she said.

There will be at least one event per month to celebrate, and likely many more, so there’s no reason not to participate.

Were you a member of Pi Tau Pi, Mu Sigma, Resnick, Rauch or Condores? You can reunite with old friends or make new ones at one of the first events, the 125th Anniversary Tip-Off on Sunday, January 25. The University of Louisville Cardinals basketball game versus University of Pittsburgh Panthers will be broadcast in the gym, and those who were in clubs at the JCC between the 1960s and the early 1980s and their spouses and friends are invited to attend. This is a great opportunity to bring old and new friends together and enjoy an away Cards game. Co-hosts of the event include Mark Eichengreen, Guy Lerner, Mark Behr, Mark Perelmuter, Doug Gordon, Scott Trager, Hunt Schuster and Glenn Levine. Kosher deli food will be served, and reminiscing is encouraged.

The gym will be made into a lounge area, said Shellie Branson, committee co-chair. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Joanie Lustig said there will be another Tip-Off event for those 45 and younger, but the plans are still in the works. There will be a special event in May with theater journalist and author Eddie Shapiro scheduled to discuss his book, Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater. There will be a Fourth of July celebration and a fall festival, too. A Sports Hall of Fame Dinner is planned for August, a Dreidel Dash is being planned for in the winter and all the events will culminate with a JCC 125 Gala in January 2016, which will celebrate the future of the JCC, Joanie Lustig said.

Branson likened the year’s events to a reunion. “Many of us grew up here and many in the community aren’t members here anymore, and we would like to get everyone who has ever been involved in any way shape or form to be involved,” she said. “It’s a nice way to reunite people. There were staff and coaches we all remember and we’d like to get them back here. We’d like to reunite people who were in BBYO together or played basketball together … a lot of different groups.”

Wagner agreed: “I hope everyone will find a place to join in this celebration. We welcome everyone as we look to reunite people whose lives were touched by the JCC or newer members who are just falling in love with us for the first time,” she said. “I am really looking forward to this year. There are tens of thousands of people in our community who grew up loving our camps, swim team, arts programs, sports and more. Generations of leaders developed their skills in our teen program, and we continue to be a ‘second home’ for seniors. There is so much to celebrate and so many great reasons to bring people together.”

Green said he’s excited about the yearlong celebration. “I’m most excited for the opportunity to have members of the Jewish Community who may have not been active in a while to come back and rediscover it and add to the vitality of the Jewish community,” he said.

The JCC used to have fund-raisers that were well-attended and a lot of fun, but a lot of them haven’t even walked in here in a long time,” Branson added.

Craig Lustig said one objective is to reenergize the community, particularly the Jewish community.

“Particularly those who have not been in the building in a long time, since we’ve had the locker rooms redone, there’s new cardio equipment and there will be renovation of the entrance to make it easier for people who have trouble walking up steps, people will be pleased with how nice it looks and how nice will be in the future.”

Green agreed. “(The JCC) has a rich history, and this is a real milestone. We want to stay a viable and active community center in the future,” he said.

Branson said the gala is what she’s most excited about, to “celebrate the yearlong planning event with a gala, and to try to include just as many people as we can.”

Green said his hope is to get a lot of people involved. “I hope everyone will try to participate in at least one event, and I hope to see a lot of old and new faces being active at the JCC,” Green said.

Tasman is looking forward to the fall festival because it’s an opportunity to get families together and have fun and see what the JCC has to offer.

“So many people’s childhoods were spent there and their adult lives, too, and it’s a great way to bring people back to the JCC and make new long-lasting memories there,” Tasman said. “I think everyone should be there, so get off your tushies and come!”

If anyone would like to get involved, there are several committees available, Branson said. “We would love to help everyone find a place to volunteer.”

Wagner stressed the JCC’s importance to the community: “The JCC today remains a constant for lifelong Louisvillians as well as newcomers looking to connect with the Jewish community. We are often the first stop when newcomers move to town looking for social, Jewish programming, teen, preschool  and cultural arts. I am so proud of our history and tradition and I am looking forward to our incredible future. I hope you will join us whether you attend a class, program or serve as a volunteer on one of our many committees. Not only is this Louisville’s JCC, this is your JCC, so be a part of it!”

For more information on the Tip-Off, visit: https://jewishlouisville.org/event/jcc-125th-anniversary-tip-off/.

To volunteer, contact Sara Wagner at 502-238-2779.

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