1917 – JWB organized to serve religious and welfare needs of Jewish military personnel in WWI
1947 – JWB survey calls for stressing Jewish goals and programs of JCCs. A new era ushered in for JCC Movement.
1990 – JWB is renamed Jewish Community Centers Association of North America (JCC Association).
In 1854, the first Hebrew Young Men’s Literary Association opened its doors in Baltimore to provide support for Jewish immigrants, help ensure Jewish continuity, and to provide a place for celebration.
You could say that was the start of the JCC Movement.
Similar associations opened soon after, serving as libraries, cultural centers, and settlement houses.
As immigration swelled in the late 19th century, YMHAs and Jewish Community Centers helped immigrants adapt to North American life by teaching them English, assisting their acculturation to new way of life, and helping them to participate fully in the civic responsibilities and opportunities of their new, democratic home. Many of these organizations had women’s auxiliaries, but the first independent Young Women’s Hebrew Association was founded in New York City in 1902.
The Council of Young Men’s Hebrew and Kindred Associations was founded in 1913 to coordinate and promote the efforts of these independent centers. It was the first permanent body to which they could turn for networking, guidance, and support.
Responding to the First World War, YMH&KA secured funds to enlist rabbis for service at military posts and called a conference of several Jewish bodies, giving birth to the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) in 1917, which developed a comprehensive infrastructure for attending to the welfare of Jewish military personnel.
JWB took over the responsibilities of YMH&KA when the two organizations merged shortly after the war. The new JWB continued to serve Jewish Americans in the armed forces both at home and abroad, and became the national association of JCCs and YM-YWHAs.
In the 1920s and 19330s, JWB began to make recommendations to JCCs that would improve their function and stress unity, purpose and service to the Jewish community. Focusing on Jewish summer camps, the needs of youth and the recreational and cultural aspirations of a primarily urban population, the organization founded a Lecture and Concert Bureau, offered training for camp counselors, implemented educational conferences and conventions, encouraged group insurance programs and dedicated resources to assisting JCCs in finding qualified staff.
Sandy Koufax, pro baseball player
Neil Diamond, entertainer
Lenny Krayzelburg, Olympic gold medal swimmer
Jason Segel, actor
By 1939, JWB began preparing for the United State possibly entering the war in Europe. Within two years, JWB had field men working near U.S. training camps, while commissioning new Jewish chaplains for the armed forces. In 1941, at the behest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, JWB along with the YMCA, the YWCA, the National Travelers Aid Association, the Salvation Army and the National Catholic Community Service, created the United SErvice Organization for National Defense, to become more commonly known at the USO.
Throughout the war, JWB kept personnel records on Jewish troops, organized work related to the war effort, continuing to commission chaplains to serve U.S. military personnel. JWB also went from representing 15 national Jewish organizations to 38 by the war’s end.
Following the war, newfound prosperity propelled many Jews to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. With more leisure time and disposable income, Jews sought recreational opportunities and other new pursuits. JCCs built large, modern facilities to serve the suburban populations. A host of new offerings included day camps, teen travel camps, fine art and performing arts, nursery schools, athletics and sports, services for seniors, and informal education. Additionally, other organizations began to be housed within JCC walls.
With the heightened pride in Israel and Judaism in the aftermath of the Six Day War of 1967, JCCs flourished with Jewish celebrations and cultural events, including book fairs, film festivals, communal Hanukkah parties, rallies for Soviet Jewry, and Israel Independence Day extravaganzas. Many JCCs recruited Israeli shlichim, or emissaries, and sent delegations on trips to Israel.
In order to explore our role in Jewish education, the Committee on Maximizing Jewish Education and Effectiveness (COMJEE) was initiated by JWB in 1982, under the leadership of the Mandel Commission. Together with COMJEE II in 1995, the process has led the way for the JCC also to become a significant institution of Jewish education, as reflected in programming, adult education, ambiance, staff training, and leadership development.
In 1990, JWB changed its name to Jewish Community Centers Association of North America to better reflect the agency’s evolved scope and mission.
Today, we serve JCCs, YM-YWHAs and camps throughout the United States and Canada. Stronger together, comprising a movement of vital importance to individual communities and to the larger North American Jewish community, and are the largest platform of Jewish engagement outside the state of Israel. From our New York headquarters and our Southern and Western Region and Israel offices,, we strengthen and lead JCCs, recognizing that together we are stronger as part of a vibrant, interconnected network.
Your JCC’s success rides on the excellence of its highly-trained staff, and we are here to provide support through ongoing learning and professional development. Working with you, we have reshaped the goals of the JCC Movement, developing best practices and standards of excellence and throughout the field. By focusing on building board relationships, lay leadership development, field research, professional conferences and workshops, consultation, publications, and specialized programming, we enable your JCC to better serve the needs of its community.
JCC professionals reach an estimated two million people annually, including more families with young Jewish children than any other group of organizations in North America. We continue to support JCCs as they serve them, so they can be the place where Jewish living transcends differences, creating a positive environment where anything is possible.