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Pam Jenoff’s love of the J is professional—and personal

Pam Jenoff knows her JCCs. As a bestselling author, she’s made the rounds of them during their arts, book and culture festivals, many of which take place during this month prior to Hanukkah. Historically, Jewish Book Month takes place at this time, and has since the 1940s. As a tribute to the People of the Book, we are featuring Jenoff as this month’s Centennial Story.

pamAuthor Pam Jenoff is known for the quality of her novels, such as The Kommandant’s Girl and Last Summer at Chelsea Beach. Informed by history and often Jewish-themed, they are as diverse as they are many. For the past nine years, she has been on the Jewish Book Council tour, she says, which brings her to JCCs across the country.

And although she didn’t grow up in a JCC herself, she truly loves them.

“As an author, I feel like I could hold up a sign in Barnes and Noble reading, ‘Pam Jenoff,’ and no one would notice, but I could stand naked in a JCC locker room and someone will manage to say, ‘Aren’t you … ?’”

She makes the rounds with her books, reading at cultural arts festivals in JCCs both large and small. “I am the Book Council’s Borscht Belt performer,” she says. “I’ve been to the big festivals at Cherry Hill, Atlanta, and Detroit, and the little ones in places like Omaha. Wherever you go, no matter which one you’re in, there’s something very familiar. It’s the JCC. I’ll see the little kids, and miss my kids.”

Apart from the obvious forum JCCs have provided her as an author, the JCC is a big part of her life today. She sent her three children to the early childhood program at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. When they outgrew that, she packed them off to the JCC day camp.

“I’m in my JCC about four times a day,” she says. The J is her family’s primary source of Jewish programming, since they don’t yet belong to a synagogue, but it’s also the place she works out and attends programs that interest her, as well.

The response from an incredulous six-year-old? “Oh, we could never get sick of the JCC. It’s like our home!”

Before she became a best-selling author, Jenoff worked for the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department. While working in Poland, she became very close to the remaining Jewish community, who took her in and embraced her as one of their own.

“I felt so included. It felt like the last shtetl.”

That is, until she found that “last shtetl” feeling again at her JCC. “You go in and you know everyone, and everyone knows you!”

That feeling expressed itself best recently when she was hanging out with her twin daughters and a bevy of their six-year-old friends at the JCC pool. “I make a joke, ‘I’m sick of hanging out here. It’s time we go to the beach.’”

The response from an incredulous six-year-old? “Oh, we could never get sick of the JCC. It’s like our home!”

Do you have a JCC story to share? Let us in on it. We want to hear how your JCC shapes your community, contributes to Jewish life, or helped you find your Jewish neshama (soul). Tell your story here, or contact our editor for help.

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