My mom emigrated from Germany in 1938 when she was 13. She arrived with her 9-year-old sister on a ship with an older male guardian— some distant friend of the family or relative that she didn’t know—and it was a year after her mother (my grandmother), and her older sister (my aunt) arrived, and two years after her father (my grandfather) arrived in America.
She lived in West New York, New Jersey and went to work instead of to eighth grade because her family needed the income— everything had been left in Germany. They were lucky to just get out. And she went to the YM-YWHA. That is where she spent her teen years. And that is where she learned how to be an American—and coincidentally, where she met and became friends with our past JCC Association board member Lenny Rubin, of blessed memory.
She eventually married my Dad in the 1950s and they moved to Long Island. My mom (Mrs. Robert Levine – pictured at right) was a founding board member of the Mid-Island Y [MIY JCC] in Wantagh.
I attended the MIY Day camp and went to the afterschool program for arts and crafts in the 60s until we moved away from the area when I was 11. I still remember my arts and crafts “counselor” Carol and how sad I was to move away and not have that JCC program to attend any more. In the 1970s (I think), the MIY JCC moved to Plainview as the Jewish community grew and migrated as well.
Almost 30 years after I went to the JCC and to camp, in the 1990s, my husband Bob, my daughter, Amy, and I moved, too. Our new home was not so far from the new location of the MIY JCC and Amy followed in my footsteps, attending the MIY JCC day camp. As she grew up, she participated for a number of years on the swim team and other teen programs. Bob became a coach for girls’ basketball and golf for the JCC Maccabi Games®.
Amy was also involved in lots of other Jewish programs, including one where she spent a high school semester in Israel. She would only attend a college that had a Jewish studies program— thinking she might go that route, but more importantly, because she wanted to make sure there was a significant Jewish population wherever she attended. As a single in her 20s she went to the New Orleans JCC for spin classes and I’m hoping someday she will pass our love of JCCs down to a third generation and bring her own kids to early childhood and camp programs —wherever she is.
In 1997 I began working at JCC Association—I had no idea that there was a network of JCCs up until then, even though several other JCCs opened on Long Island in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It was completely off my radar screen outside of my own local participation. Working at JCC Association and connecting with JCCs around the country and the world has solidified my own connection to Judaism and to Israel, as well as my family’s connection.
I cannot say that the JCC was the only factor in building my own Jewish identity or my husband’s or my daughter’s. But I can say that there is definitely a thread through three generations. That connection from an early age, being with other Jewish kids, and feeling like part of a community, certainly has influenced all of us and has kept us connected to the Jewish people, probably in ways my mother never could have imagined, but in ways that I’m sure would have made her proud.