“In terms of sheer numbers, we’re up to a membership of 2,715 family units, and 50,000 Jews a month come through our doors,” Bernstein said. “More importantly, we’ve achieved the dream that a lot of donors and I had that the JCC would be the center of Jewish life in Orange County. More people have used the JCC as a portal opening into Jewish life than ever before. They have become engaged in Jewish life by coming to the JCC, and they range in age from 6 weeks to in their 90s.”
He added,” When I’m sitting at the café and see the preschool kids walk by, I’m so happy that we can serve as an entry point into Jewish life for young children.” Currently, the JCC has 260 preschoolers and is very near capacity.
Bernstein, who said that his “own ruach and connection to Jewish life developed through overnight camp,” is equally excited that 600 to 700 children take part in Jewish camping every week of the summer through Camp Yofi, Camp Haverim and Camp Yeladim. “Camp is a tremendous entryway for Jewish continuity and identity.”
Another point of pride is the cultural arts program. JStage, a youth theater program, brings 50 youngsters together to do three or four shows a year. An adult theater is starting. People will also come together for the OC Jewish Arts Festival of cultural arts events for the entire month of November 2011.
“Sports is a convenor like nothing else, and to prove that point, the Maccabi we hosted in 2007 was the largest Jewish event in the history of Orange County,” Bernstein said. “It involved people like they have never been involved before. We identified more Jewish families and had a fun ride. People still wear their 2007 Maccabi T-shirts. They’re really proud to have been part of it.”
Speaking of sports and fitness, Bernstein is also proud that the Merage JCC has “brought our physical education areas up to quality standards, expanded the fitness center by 1,500 square feet and added a spinning room.” This past December the JCC created a dedicated stretch room and functional training room. The larger space allows for more equipment including step-mills, treadmills, elliptical units and a rowing machine. There are 70 weekly fitness classes.
The JCC brings people together in other ways too. Last year Nancy Chase and Adrienne Matros started a program called JCares to provide community service around the county. “JCares now has 200 people participating in various programs and is wildly successful,” Bernstein said.
“JCC Cares brings the community together to perform Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Gemilut Hasadim (acts of loving kindness),” added Nancy Chase. “We began the program last October with a Community Service Day at the J where about 150 people participated in various activities such as: making sack lunches for the homeless, making Discovery Art boxes for children in hospitals, writing letters to US and Israeli soldiers and packing toiletries for the needy, making blankets for children in need.”
Other activities have included: helping Families Forward to prepare food baskets for the families in need for Thanksgiving, helping at a holiday party for the Orangewood foundation, coordinating a barbecue for homeless families through the Illumination Foundation, participating in the Jewish World Watch walk and Race for the Cure, events at Families Forward and Ronald McDonald House and Big Sunday. “One of our goals is to bring all members of the JCC and community together-from pre-school age, to singles, to families, to seniors to help out and make a difference in our community,” Chase said.
The Jewish Community Center Association (JCCA) did a benchmarking survey report 2010, and the Merage JCC received high marks in terms of the impact it has on the overall Jewish community. It has the highest net promoter index of all the large JCCs in country. (How likely is it that you would recommend the JCC to a friend, relative, or colleague?) Sixty-six percent of respondents said the JCC influences the broader Jewish community by creating a sense of belonging among local Jewish families, regardless of background, and encouraging Jews to explore Jewish values, identity and culture.
But Bernstein and the rest of the professional and lay leadership at the JCC are not about to “rest on their laurels.” The new mission statement: is “to enrich Jewish identities and create a vibrant community through excellent programs and services rooted in shared values and traditions.” Strategic goals, to be accomplished over 3 to 5 years are to:
Expand program offerings for families with children 0-3
Ensure excellence in the three core programs: health and fitness; camp; preschool
Continue to build the OC Jewish community by hosting the highly regarded 2103 Maccabi Games
Increase engagement of the Jewish community as members of the JCC
Formalize the JCC fundraising plan to assure sustainability and growth
“We’re in this for the long haul, and our mission and goals have never changed,” Bernstein said. “We want to get people involved in Jewish life any way we can.”
Amenities of the Merage Jewish Community Center
A state-of-the -art 4,336 square foot fitness facility with panoramic views
Two full sized gymnasiums with basketball and volleyball courts
Aquatic center with heated competition sized pool, Jacuzzi, and toddler pool
Auditorium to accommodate 500+ people which also transforms into a ballroom
Kosher kitchens, café and snack bar
Highlights of the Past 7 Years
Grand Opening – Aug 15, 2004
Hosted JCC Maccabi Games -August 2007
Hosted JCC ArtsFest – August 2009
SAVING (Saving All Victims In Need Globally) 2011 — 6th Annual Teen Fashion Show
Fitness Expansion December 2010
Annual Jewish Book and Film Festivals — now updated to OC Jewish Arts Festival of cultural arts events for the entire month of November 2011
Established OC Jewish Sports Hall of Fame honoring local Jewish athletes and high school scholar athletes bi-annually
Created JStage Youth Theatre with 3 productions each year
JCC Cares Social Action Team going into the community to help with food drives, beach clean-ups, Families Forward and Big Sunday
The Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County is located at 1 Federation Way, Irvine; phone: (949) 435-3400, ext. 237; www.meragejcc.org.