Ask ten different Marine Park residents what the Jewish Community Center of Marine Park does and you are likely to get ten different answers, because with the wide array of services offered by the JCC, many locals are completely unaware of just how many diverse programs are provided by this thriving non-profit community institution.
Originally founded in 2008, the JCC was created to improve the lives of Marine Park residents through various programs and service and since that time, the JCC has grown by leaps and bounds as more and more programs have been added to reflect both the needs of the community and its desire to be an epicenter of positive development in the Marine Park area.
The JCC’s flagship program, Project Mazon, was designed to help struggling families in Marine Park pay their weekly grocery bills. Now known by the name Project Machal, the program emphasizes sensitivity and privacy, by funding recipients’ accounts at their preferred local grocery store, with community members making a minimum contribution of five dollars per week to fund the program. Since its inception, Project Machal has helped over 1,000 families and currently serves approximately twenty families each week.
In an effort to assist the many residents who continue to navigate their way through the difficult financial climate of the past few years the JCC began offering an employment initiative, incorporating job placement, career coaching and resume writing skills, as well as various social services. A pre-Pesach food distribution program has grown to encompass 125 volunteers packing and distributing much needed holiday food packages including items such as matzah, chicken, grape juice, fruits and vegetables, sugar, cookies, cakes and apple juice to over 1,000 recipients within the community, bringing enormous benefits to everyone involved.
According to Rabbi Elisha Weiss of Congregation Merkaz Yisroel of Marine Park which hosts the annual pre-Pesach packing bonanza, both those who receive the boxes and those who volunteer to assemble the boxes enjoy enormous benefits.
“This has been an open opportunity for members of our Shul to participate in the mitzvah of Maos Chitim,” explained Rabbi Weiss.
Despite its many programs that focus on those experiencing extenuating circumstances, the JCC also caters to the day to day needs of the average family as well. The girls’ Sunday program, which had an enrollment of 250 in its inaugural season, continues to be a huge success, with girls spending their Sundays in a productive and fun environment. The hugely popular Avos U’banim learning program, which caps off the winter season with a massive father son learning program has grown to an attendance of 550 participants. Numerous seminars on education, parenting family health and other relevant topics as well as a women’s night out combine shopping and companionship with health and awareness in a relaxed and friendly environment. The annual Project Machal Summer-Que fundraiser is a highlight of the summer, as men from all over Marine Park gather to enjoy a night of great food, camaraderie and more while raising funds to help residents in need. An annual springtime scholars in residence program brings noted personalities to spend Shabbos in Marine Park for several weekends further bringing enlightenment, new ideas and enrichment to the community.
Other unique programs include the JCC’s annual blood drive, which has collected 700 pints of blood over the past four years and the widely attended yearly legislative breakfast, an opportunity to honor elected officials and community activists for their efforts. The full color Jewish Echo has become a monthly vehicle for sharing contemporary issues, thoughts, advice, recipes and more with residents of Marine Park and beyond. Launched just one year ago, The Jewish Echo boasts a circulation of 5,000 and a staff of 20 writers.
As the Jewish community of Marine Park has continued to grow, so too has the JCC, whose many efforts have far surpassed expectations, with $90,000 distributed annually by Project Machal and 1,300 jobs listed to date on the JCC’s job board. In order to accommodate both its own needs and that of the community, construction is already underway at the JCC’s new home, which will be located at 3415 Quentin Road at the site of the former Kosher Discount Supermarket. With this expansion, the JCC will be able to offer additional vital services: a combination simcha room and social hall, a Jewish library for both adults and children and a full social services program.
“The JCC is a collective empowerment resource for the community,” explained Shea Rubenstein, executive vice president and founder of the JCC. “The JCC has a voice that resonates both on behalf of community rabbonim and also reaches out to our elected officials, bringing more money into the community and helping to fund community programs.”
The first phase of construction at the JCC began on July 1st and will be a complete renovation.
“We gutted the whole building,” explained Rubenstein. “Right now the building is being framed out and we are working on plumbing and lighting.”
The first floor of the site will totally transformed into a beautiful simcha hall that will be capable of accommodating 180 sit down guests, or 250 people for a buffet-style affair. Rubenstein expects phase one to be completed in October. Stage two, creating a social services center and a library in the building’s lower level, will take place over the next six to eight months.
“This new facility will act as a center to unite the community and offer services that are not available in the community, and for the most part, outside of the community as well,” explained JCC founder Shea Rubenstein. “Every community has to have their own resources. Instead of latching on to Flatbush or Boro Park or Canarsie, we will have our own voice and our own resources to better benefit Marine Park residents.”
The new simcha room will fill a void that has long been felt in the neighborhood and Rubenstein reports that the space has already been booked for twenty upcoming simchos.
“We don’t have anything like it in Marine Park,” said Rubenstein. “If people are making a bar mitzvah then they either use the shul they daven in or they walk ten or more blocks to Kingsway Jewish Center. It is simple logistics: if you are making a kiddush you don’t want your guests to have to walk that far, particularly in cold or inclement weather. Also, many shuls are booked far in advance with one shul telling me that they are booked every single Shabbos for the entire upcoming year.”
Hoping to make best use of the space, the room is being designed to accommodate a variety of purposes.
“It could be used in the morning for a bris, a bar mitzvah at night and during the day it could be used for different community programs, including seminars, music classes, after school programs and more,” noted Rubenstein.
“This project is one that can help people in the community save money when making a simcha, without compromising on the quality of their affair,” added Rabbi Baruch Pesach Mendelson, of Khila Marine Park. “Kol Hakavod to the JCC of Marine Park for all their projects and programs. It is nice to see that people want to help other people.”
Being located in a larger space will also give the JCC the ability to offer more social services, such as free legal advice and food stamp and Medicaid applications, as well as helping residents deal with any potential credit problems that they may be facing.
“This is going to be a community facility that will serve us and the idea is that once this project is complete we will be able to offer a lot of new programming in the community,” said Rubenstein.
For Rubenstein, building a permanent home for the JCC is yet another link in the chain that makes Marine Park what it is: a cohesive, close knit community with a small town flavor, nestled right in the heart of Brooklyn. Numerous dedication opportunities are available for the new JCC building and Rubenstein hopes that the community will open their hearts and donate to the building campaign in order to give this blooming community institution the ability to continue to flourish and serve Marine Park residents.
“The JCC is a non-profit and we hope we can count on people to set a good example for their children by donating any amount that they can to help fund this project in order to benefit the entire community,” said Rubenstein. “Let your children see your name on the wall, let them realize that you really believe in the JCC and all that it does.”
The scope of the JCC’s work has attracted notice of not only Marine Park residents, but also local elected officials.
“I consider myself fortunate to have seen firsthand the work of the JCC of Marine Park and to have watched as they’ve grown to be an integral part the Marine Park community,” said Assemblywoman Helene Weintstein. “Their workforce development, family programming, and charitable services are an invaluable resource and I am so pleased to hear they’ve found a home so central to their clients and families. I wish them the best of luck and know they will continue to meet and exceed the needs of the community.
For more information on the JCC building project contact Shea Rubenstein at 718-407-1832 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(By Sandy Eller)