The JCC’s Bulletin dates back to the 1930s, when it was a premier source of news for the local Jewish community. We are proud to continue this tradition of keeping our JCC community informed via our virtual Bulletin.
The bulletin circa 1974
As we come to the season of giving thanks, I want to share an experience I am extremely grateful to have taken part in. Earlier this month, I was proud to join UJA-Federation on a rabbinical and community leadership solidarity mission to Israel.
While in Israel, our group had the opportunity to visit with evacuees and staff and volunteers from UJA-funded agencies who are doing life-saving work on the ground. We also met with families of hostages and attended the funeral for fallen IDF Staff Sgt. Lavi Lipsgitz.
The country never felt so heavy. Heavy with grief and in mourning, Israel was quiet. And for those who have been to Israel, you know Israel is always bustling. This time the country felt somber.
At the same time, everyone we encountered expressed their gratitude for our presence.
“Thank you so much for all you are doing. We could not get through this time without you. You have done so much for Israel and the Jewish people.”
Imagine… Thanking us just for being there, when they are hurting so much. Yet, the expression of how much we need each other during these difficult times was so profound as we shared hugs and cried together.
For me, I had a very personal experience while our plans were changing on the fly due to ongoing security concerns. When we were told that we would not be able to go to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon as planned, we quickly regrouped to visit the Dead Sea where about 3000 displaced families are staying.
To give some context, between the survivors of the Gaza envelope that have been relocated from the region, to the communities in the north evacuated because of attacks from Hezbollah, more than 250,000 people have been relocated. Everyone left their homes like refugees and left everything behind. For those surviving the attack, many had nothing remaining to move. Entire villages were completely destroyed.
When we arrived at the Dead Sea, we entered into the David hotel and it became clear that Kibbutz Be’eri was being housed there. A community of just 1,100 people, Kibbutz Be’eri had 130 members killed and 40 kidnapped into Gaza—including men, women, and children.
My uncle Gili Molcho is the manager of Kibbutz Be’eri, so when we finished the tour, I asked our guide if he was there. He quickly got on the phone and called him to see me. I had never expected to see my uncle during the trip, and honestly, when I saw him, we just ran to each other and I cried like a baby. It was a moment that I will never forget in my life.
This community of Be’eri felt betrayed and abandoned. Everything they believed to be true about their safety, security, and the infrastructure to protect them failed. However, what they do have is complete faith in the Israeli people.
Hearing from my uncle that despite the devastation, the focus now is the effort to provide emotional support, housing, and basic necessities was a moment of pride for me. For he knows what needs to be done to support these families that need him.
During our trip, we witnessed the resilience and unity of Israelis in the face of this darkness, and it has been truly inspiring. Thousands of volunteers are showing up to support families, provide essential supplies, feed the soldiers, and pick crops, ensuring food does not go bad. Everyone, and I mean everyone – is doing something.
This spirit of resolve that we are in this together permeates. There is a collective unity of purpose that we the Jewish people, not only Israelis, feel all around the world. We have a shared understanding that together we are stronger!
There was also recognition and concern about our communities back home. Even while they are fighting for their lives and their homes, the Israelis we met were well aware of the war we are fighting on our front on college campuses, in schools, in the media, and on our streets. They are as concerned for us as we are for them. The phrase “we are one” never felt so strong and perfect.
Needless to say, it was a short, but emotional trip overloaded with anguish, anger, and grief. At the same time, we also witnessed the best of Israeli society. With love and compassion, everyone offered support, healing, and comfort during the most challenging of circumstances, during the worst of times.
I am so honored and grateful to have been able to represent the Joan and Alan Bernikow JCC of Staten Island community. I hugged, cried, smiled, supported, and offered words of love and condolence, on your behalf, and on behalf of all whose hearts are with Israel. As we share in this season of gratitude, I am grateful for the work our community is doing here to support our family in Israel.
On behalf of our family here at the JCC, I want to wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving. May the coming holiday season be a brighter one for all of us!
-Orit Lender, Chief Executive Officer
This coming week marks an important time for people of many faiths, as we celebrate the joyous holidays of Passover, Easter, and Ramadan. Passover, in particular, is a holiday where family gathers together to eat a large meal and celebrate. Unfortunately, we know there are those in our community who cannot afford to put food on the table. An ancient Jewish custom, kimcha d’pischa, reminds us of the importance of giving tzedakah, or charity, to those in need so all will be able to celebrate Passover. As we say at the beginning of the Passover Seder: All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Passover with us.
That’s why during this season, we partner with other organizations to ensure that no one goes hungry during the holidays. We recently joined with the Notre Dame Club of Staten Island’s Bread of Life Food Drive, which collects food at schools and other public locations across the Island. The JCC is proud to participate in this food drive and is honored to receive the Kosher food that is collected for our Kosher Food Pantry.
Last week, we also hosted our own Passover Food Pantry Distributions, in partnership with MetCouncil and COJO of Staten Island. On Thursday, were joined by volunteers from the JCC Kosher Food Pantry, MetCouncil, the Pride Center of Staten Island, Latter Day Saints, Amazon, and Empire State Bank worked throughout the day in the cold to create food packages for the less fortunate. They were joined by Borough President Vito Fossella, Council Member David Carr, and representatives from the offices of Senator Lanza, Senator Scarcella-Spanton, Assembly Member Tannousis, DA McMahon, and Council Member Borelli. Through these partnerships, we were able to distribute food to over 300 families on Staten Island and make sure that no one has an empty table this Passover.
We know there are still so many families hurting in our community, including Ukrainian refugees who have settled here. The JCC continues to work with these refugees to help them learn English, obtain benefits, and find employment. We are also working to expand our camp scholarship program to allow more Ukrainian children to be able to attend camp. The JCC will continue to be here for them to help as long as they need.
As we see needs in our community growing, we are continuing to expand our social services offerings to help. I am thrilled to announce that this spring, we will launch our Digital Food Pantry. This will allow our Food Pantry clients to pick out their food online, as they would if they were ordering from a delivery app. Our Food Pantry staff and volunteers will then pack up the items to be picked up. Our goal is to make shopping in our food pantry easier for our clients. We have some other fun surprises planned, so stay tuned for more details on the launch later this spring!
As we celebrate the beginning of spring and the holidays, I hope you get a chance to spend time with your loved ones and enjoy the season. On behalf of our JCC family, I wish you a happy holiday season.
-Orit Lender, CEO
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
I recently had the privilege of sitting down with three of our JCC’s former Executive Directors – Joe Harris, Lewis Stolzenberg, and David Sorkin – each of whom played a significant role in evolution of the “J” that we know today. Getting a chance to talk to these three former leaders was a unique and special experience. Each of them shared stories from the “old days” – stories of success, stories of challenges, stories of happy times and stories of not-so-happy times.
Listening to my predecessors’ stories reinforced for me what I already knew, each of them possesses the skills of a great leader – high level personal integrity, commitment and dedication, lifelong learning, helping others develop along the way – just to name a few. Though each of them faced different challenges, their underlying goal was the same. They were able to forge a sense of community – kehillah – on Staten Island. And I am honored to follow in their footsteps.
In hearing their stories, I felt the same passion and commitment from our JCC’s former leaders that I feel every day as I continue their work to build community. Their stories and accomplishments inspire me to build upon the foundation they laid. I am equally inspired by the JCC’s Board of Directors, who I view as key partners in the Agency’s work. Their ongoing support and advice are crucial to our success, and I am grateful for all they do.
As the mother of two young adults, I pledged to myself that in my role of CEO, I would prioritize the development of the next generation of leadership. It is with great pride and joy that I can say that the JCC has launched it Young Leaders program – a group of young professionals in their 20s and 30s who we believe possess the skills to be Staten Island’s leaders of tomorrow. We are working with both our Board of Directors and the Staten Island business community to provide mentorship and professional development opportunities to these young professionals. We are also providing the group with social, recreational, and networking opportunities.
I came away from meeting with my predecessors with a reinforced understanding of the importance of not only preserving our past but of also building our future. It is incumbent upon all of us to be “leaders” in continuing to build community on Staten Island, so that future generations will be able to share in the same opportunities that we enjoy today. So think about becoming involved – join a committee at the JCC or in your local community – do what you can to make your dreams tomorrow’s reality.
-Orit Lender, CEO
This week, we celebrate Chanukah, the festival of lights. Chanukah is an eight-day celebration that commemorates a miracle that happened when the Maccabees, Jewish freedom fighters, fought back against a monarch who banned them from practicing their faith. The Maccabees were able to reclaim the Holy Temple, an important religious site, but only had enough oil to light a lantern for one day. Miraculously, the lantern stayed lit for eight days—which is why modern Jews light eight candles on a menorah during the holiday.
We hosted our own Menorah Lighting on Monday, and we joined with other Jewish institutions this week to celebrate menorah lightings across Staten Island. It was beautiful to see people of all backgrounds coming together to help us light the menorah.
Chanukah is a story of the Jewish values of hope and perseverance, even in the face of difficult odds. Today, we face different challenges that require us to be courageous. Recently, we have seen an increase in Anti-Semitic hate speech and attacks across the country. We even saw it in our own community earlier this month, when two of our own were attacked in front of Island Kosher. I was proud to stand with the Mayor, District Attorney, elected officials, and community leaders to denounce Anti-Semitism and fight back against hate crimes.
Despite the increase in incidents, we will not back down in fear. At the JCC, we will continue to speak out about this issue and encourage others to join us to fight back against Anti-Semitism.
In the spirit of Chanukah, we are joining UJA-Federation’s national campaign to Shine a Light on Anti-Semitism. Staten Island has always been a special place, and our local leaders always stand with us when Anti-Semitic incidents take place. Click here to see a video of our community leaders Shining a Light on Anti-Semitism.
We continue to believe that the answer to hate is love. I know that together, we can fight back against hate of all kinds and allow light to dispel the darkness. From our JCC family, we wish you a happy Chanukah and a wonderful holiday season!
-Orit Lender, CEO
As we approach Thanksgiving, it is a time to show gratitude. The Jewish value of gratitude, or hakarat hatov, instructs us not only to be grateful for what we have, but also to see and acknowledge the good all around us.
It is in this spirit that we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month. This month, we honor and recognize the hard work that people do to take care of their loved ones. Caregiving can be extremely exhausting, stressful, and expensive. Caregivers often don’t have time to take care of themselves, and caring for someone else often takes a physical toll on the caregiver.
For those in need, the JCC provides care for both the caregiver and the care receiver at no cost to families. Our memory loss programming provides stimulating, specialized day programs for individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia. Knowing that their loved ones are safe and cared for during the day allows caregivers to have time for themselves and gives them peace of mind.
One of our caregivers noted, “It is a comfort to know that my mother is not home alone all day and is actively participating in activities like games and dancing. The JCC’s memory loss programs fill a void in the Staten Island community for caregivers and their loved ones.”
Additionally, our Caregiver Support Center offers services to help caregivers access benefits, coordinate home health assistance and long-term care, and get supplies. The Caregiver Support Center also provides emotional support for caregivers to help them through these difficult times. Our joint enrichment programs for caregivers and care receivers allow them to relax and have fun together.
Earlier this month, we held our Falling into Fun carnival at our Avis/South Shore location. Grandparents, parents, and children got to participate in carnival games, face painting, Zumba, chair yoga, line dancing, sittercise, and quilling together. It was heartwarming to see these families get to shake off their everyday stresses and just have some fun!
We are grateful to all who joined us, as well as our Carnival Sponsor, Enexia Specialty Pharmacy, for their support. We couldn’t do any of this without the support of our donors and funders, who allow us to provide these free programs for members of our community with memory loss. We are able to serve Staten Islanders in need through the generous support of NYC Aging, Northfield Bank Foundation, Richmond County Savings Foundation, and Michael Manzulli.
Knowing the demand for these programs is far greater than our current capacity, and our desire is to continue expanding these services, we need your help. This Giving Tuesday, please consider supporting our memory loss programs. Your support is important to us. Together, I know we can help those with memory loss and their families. You can learn more and donate here.
Thank you for being an instrumental part of our JCC and this great Staten Island community. Without your continued commitment, we would not be able to provide these vital services. I want to personally thank you for always being there for us, and please know that we are here if you ever need us.
On behalf of our JCC family, I wish you and your families a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
-Orit Lender, JCC CEO
As we know, Anti-Semitism sadly continues to be on the rise across the country. If you’ve watched the news recently, you’ve seen stories about bigoted signs, hateful statements on social media, and threats to local synagogues. All of these stories are extremely hurtful.
In response to this rise in Anti-Semitism, we are continuing to take precautions to ensure the safety of our members, participants, and staff. We are following our security protocols, which include working with NYPD, UJA, and JCRC’s Community Security Initiative, which connects us to many law enforcement agencies. We are in constant contact with these partners, who have been monitoring the situation and are keeping us updated on what has been happening locally and abroad.
While we’ve heard a lot about celebrities and Anti-Semitism lately, I want to focus on one celebrity in particular. Tyler Perry, the actor and filmmaker best known for the “Madea” movies, recently posted this photo of his late mother on Instagram. Willie Maxine Perry spent most of her career as a preschool teacher at the JCC in New Orleans. According to her son, the Anti-Semitism she experienced while working there impacted her deeply.
The post read, “I remember her coming home from work one day devastated because there was a bomb threat and my mother was horrified that there were people who wanted to blow up a building full of children because they were Jewish…It brought her back to that pain of having to live through the bombing of a church in Alabama where three little black girls died. My mother made sure that I knew the commonality of what black people and Jewish people have endured - she not only taught me about slavery but she also taught me about the Holocaust. But in teaching me about all our common pains she also taught me about the allies that Jewish people have been for black people.”
Perry’s post underscores the importance of standing strong together against hatred of any kind. Our shared struggles highlight the similarities between the Black and Jewish communities. We also know that there are Black Jews who are impacted by both racism and Anti-Semitism. All communities that face discrimination need to stand together as one against hatred and bigotry.
Perry ended his post perfectly by saying, “No one makes it alone. Refuse hate!!”
At the JCC, we have always stood with our neighbors in solidarity against racism and bigotry every time we see it. We are fortunate to have a community that supports us calls out Anti-Semitism when hateful incidents occur.
We are united in one message—we are one JCC family, and hate will not be tolerated in our community. I am grateful for Tyler Perry and others who have stood up and loudly voiced their opposition to Anti-Semitism. I encourage all of us to use our voices to fight back against hate.
The answer to hate is love!
-Orit Lender, CEO
As we say goodbye to summer, fall gives us an opportunity for a fresh start. Fall marks the beginning of the school year, and I loved seeing our newest Early Childhood students walk through our doors for their first day of school. To me, there’s nothing better than knowing that we get the opportunity to help young minds learn and grow as they begin their educational journey.
I am also extremely proud that we were able to expand our Early Childhood services for children with disabilities by adding two new classrooms to our First Foot Forward program this year. You can read more about the expansion here.
Fall also brings the Jewish New Year, which we are celebrating next week. During the weeks before Rosh Hashanah, we traditionally reflect on the year that has passed and share our hopes for the year that is to come. It gives us an opportunity to review, assess, and renew.
At the JCC, this has meant reflecting on what’s most important to our Board, staff, and members. As we looked through all of our programs and services, as well as the needs of our community, one word continued to jump out to us: family.
In this spirit, we are beginning this year with a focus on bringing families of all shapes and sizes together and providing them with the programming they want and need. Throughout all of our programs, we embrace and demonstrate Jewish values, which are truly universal values. This year, we have decided to pick different values to specifically focus on each season. Fittingly, this season’s Jewish value is reflection, return, and renewal.
As we focus on new beginnings, we will kick off our family programming with our Fall Harvest Festival on Sunday, October 9th. We are offering a festival full of fun that the whole family can enjoy. For those who attended our inaugural festival last year, I promise that this year’s will be even bigger and better! Click here to learn more about the free event.
The family fun doesn’t end there—we also have more activities and programs planned for people of all ages and abilities beginning this month. You can learn about all our fall programs in our Program Guide.
We have plans to add even more family programming as the year progresses. Stay tuned for some exciting new programs and classes!
I hope you all had a great start to the school year, and I want to wish L’Shana Tova U’Metukah to all who celebrate. May you all have a sweet and healthy new year!
-Orit Lender, CEO
Summer is always a magical time at the JCC, but this year, we are having even more fun. With over two thousand campers enrolled in all our programs, it is also a very busy time of year for us!
This year, we were able to do something special to over a dozen Ukrainian refugee families. For those in need, we were able to offer full scholarships to our day camp—which has allowed children who have been through extreme trauma to embrace the joys of childhood again. We are grateful to the Butler Foundation, A Chance In Life Foundation, and UJA-Federation of New York for allowing us to expand our camp scholarship program and support Ukrainian families in our community.
You may have heard the story of Maria, one of our Ukrainian campers. On her first day of camp she was extremely shy and spoke no English. Thankfully, we had Russian-speaking staff who were able to translate for her. Within a week, Maria was named “Friend of the Week” by her fellow campers—which was truly remarkable, but not out of the ordinary for our camp.
Photos courtesy of the Staten Island Advance
Last year, we saw a similar story play out when we offered scholarships to two foster children from Colombia. They had a blast at camp—making friends even though they did not speak English and were not familiar with American customs. It turns out that summer camp fun is the universal language! This story also has a happy ending, as we recently learned that the children were adopted by their host parent.
Last week, I visited one of our community-based camps at the Gerard Carter Center when we were visited by the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD). Commissioner Howard and I were so excited to see the kids engaged in STEM activities, dance, and sports—and the commissioner even took part in a game and bowled a spare!
Camp at the Carter Center is one of many summer programs we have throughout the community, including our Cornerstones, Beacons, and Summer Rising sites. In addition to these, we are also running basketball, soccer, and aquatics camps at the Bernikow Building.
Our newest mini-camp is called Summer Strings @ the J, an intensive program for intermediate and advanced young musicians. Our faculty member, Yvette Washington-Wheatley, has a special connection to us, as she was a scholarship recipient at the JCC’s own music school many years ago. We are very happy to welcome her back and to see how much the children are enjoying the program!
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our Dorothy Delson Kuhn Music Institute later this year, it is inspiring to see the tradition of excellence continuing on.
No matter which camp program, our children go home at the end of the day with smiles on their faces—and that’s what’s most important to us. It truly warms my heart and reminds me why we do what we do. We know these kids will always remember the wonderful summers they spent with us and the friends they made along the way. The JCC is proud to be a place where magic happens every day!
-Orit Lender, CEO
Last week, we received word of the racially-motivated shooting in a Buffalo supermarket, and our hearts went out to the entire Buffalo community. Yesterday, we heard the horrific news about a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which took the lives of 19 elementary school children and two teachers. Yet again, our hearts are broken.
In the face of immense tragedy, it’s easy to feel helpless. But now is not the time to sit back in fear and sadness. Jewish teachings tell us that it is our responsibility to step in when a situation is unjust. Based on these values, we at the JCC are doing all we can to help prevent future tragedies from happening.
Last Thursday, I joined with community leaders to stand against hate in the wake of the shooting in Buffalo. At the JCC, we stand with our community in solidarity against racism and bigotry every time we see it—and our neighbors do the same for us when Anti-Semitic incidents occur. I am grateful that Staten Islanders are not willing to be silent on this issue. We will continue to join together as one community and speak out against hate of any kind.
We have also been working a new initiative called PATH, in partnership with JCRC, to help combat anti-Semitism and hate crimes. Through this initiative, which was funded by the Mayor’s office, we have been providing educational resources and strengthening relationships among diverse and interfaith communities on Staten Island. We know there is more work to be done in this area, and we are committed to engaging different communities in order to fight hate locally.
We also realize that gun violence is a major issue that needs to be tackled nationally and locally. As part of our youth programming, in partnership with UAU and Central Family Life Center, we have begun offering a program focused on gun violence prevention. The program, which is funded by the Governor’s office, supports positive youth development and provides opportunities to youth and young adults at risk of gun violence. In addition, violence prevention is included in many of our after school and weekend programs for tweens and teens.
These grassroots programs are part of a larger effort by our entire community to put an end to these tragic situations once and for all. By joining together, we can regain a sense of our shared humanity and begin to forge a new path forward.
Together, let us hold the victims of gun violence in our broken hearts and work to create a better world to honor them. May their memories be a blessing.
This weekend marks an important time for people of many faiths as we celebrate Passover, Easter, and Ramadan. These are joyous holidays marked by family celebrations.
As the story of Passover tells us, even in times of great hardship, we are able to join together to overcome adversity. Our ability to be resilient has kept us going, even through the past few difficult years. Passover is a celebration of freedom that inspire us to work towards a world when every person will be free from hatred.
We are seeing resiliency in the Ukrainian refugees who have been forced to leave their homes and families behind while fleeing a war. Our hearts are with them, and the JCC stands ready to help any families who come to Staten Island. We are already providing services to help them acclimate to America and access everything they need, including benefits, health insurance, ESL classes, food, and jobs. We will be here for them as long as they need.
Jewish values tell us that it is our responsibility to help those in need—globally and at home. To help those in need in our own community, this week, we partnered with MetCouncil, the Hate Has No Home Here initiative, and the Notre Dame Club Club of Staten Island’s Bread of Life Food Drive to provide Passover meals for over 300 families at a drive through food distribution. It was heartening to be able to provide a holiday meal for those in need.
None of this would be possible without our dedicated volunteers and staff who worked in the rain to unpack boxes and distribute the food packages. Their hard work brought out the sun in the afternoon. Thank you to our community partners and our volunteers from the JCC Kosher Food Pantry, Amazon, MetroPlus Health, Wagner College, and the Pride Center of Staten Island for being generous with their time! I would also like to thank Council Member Borelli and representatives from DA McMahon and Assemblyman Tannousis' offices for supporting us during the distribution.
In times of joy and hardship, the JCC continues to serve our community. We are here for you—whether you just need a place where you feel connected, to work out and swim, or send your kids to camp and Early Childhood programs. Everyone is welcome and belongs at the JCC.
I hope you all get a chance to spend quality time with your loved ones over the holidays. On behalf of our JCC family, I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.
-Orit Lender, CEO
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
1466 Manor Road
Staten Island, NY 10314
485 Victory Blvd
Staten Island, NY 10301
1297 Arthur Kill Road
Staten Island, NY 10312
BERMAN EARLY CHILDHOOD CENTER
2221 Richmond Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10314