History of the JCC

The founders of the JCC came together in 1990 to envision a unique center for Jewish life in Manhattan that would bring people from all walks of life together to learn, raise their families, stay healthy, work to improve our city and develop lifelong friendships through an active engagement with Jewish values, community, and tradition. This new JCC would be a place that would welcome and respect the pluralistic nature of our community and where people could grapple with how to live a Jewish life in a modern world.

Its initial programs say much about the vision of the founders. A robust literacy program in NYC public schools brought volunteers and public-school children together to strengthen their reading skills. A program was created for the LGBTQIA+ community to ensure that they felt welcomed at the JCC. A Sunday sports league was created especially for Sabbath-observing children who could not play in the existing Saturday leagues. Ulpan, Jewish learning, and mindfulness classes were offered to a community that was eager to explore Jewish texts. Computer classes and discussion groups were created for older adults. By 2000, the JCC without walls had significantly grown, offering more than 400 programs a year.

Following a stint in a 22,000-square-foot space at the Jewish Guild for the Blind on 65th Street, the JCC's Samuel Priest Rose Building, at 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, opened two days after 9/11, welcoming its first nursery school class. Through its modern design, the 137,000-square-foot, 11-story, state-of-the-art building included a health club and swimming pool, a nursery school and auditorium, art studios and classrooms, a Beit Midrash and art gallery. The building allowed innovative programming to flourish, welcoming upwards of 3,500 people each day.

Since its opening, the JCC has created a number of groundbreaking programs that have since taken root across the city, the country, and internationally. These include:

  • The ReelAbilities Film Festival, the largest festival in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities. This festival began in NYC through the JCC and now lives in over a dozen cities across North America.

  • The Other Israel Film Festival, which for over fifteen years has shone a light on Israel’s minority populations through film and conversation.

  • Adaptations, a program for adults in their 20s and 30s with developmental and/or learning disabilities and a high level of independence

  • Jewish Journeys, a revolutionary educational initiative for children from Pre-K through b’nai mitzvah and beyond that provides participants with rich opportunities to engage in extensive educational opportunities outside of the classroom, making use of the vast Jewish resources of our great city of New York.

  • Shabbat Shabbang and R&R, two programs that seek to revitalize the idea of Shabbat through dinners and free afternoons at the JCC, creating space to "pause" and be in community through the arts, recreation, and programs for adults and children of all ages. Shabbat Shabbang has been replicated in Boston, Washington DC, and Orlando.

  • The Israel Forum, a unique program that brings experts who hold contrasting views on Israel's current challenges to engage with each other and a diverse audience. The Forum works to foster serious conversation in an atmosphere of mutual respect and civility. 

  • The Parkinson's Wellness Program is a groundbreaking program designed to improve the quality of life of those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. This program has been replicated in Boston and Washington DC.

In September 2014, following an extensive rebranding process that changed the style of all printed and digital pieces, creating a unified look, the JCC in Manhattan was renamed "JCC Manhattan."

In June 2016, the JCC launched Camp Settoga, a 21-acre wonderland in Pomona, NY, marking its 10-year anniversary in out-of-city day camping (previously located at the Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds) but now in an amazing "forever home" just 25 minutes over the George Washington Bridge.

In January 2017, the JCC expanded its campus by opening JCC Harlem, a community space on West 118th Street. An initiative of the JCC, JCC Harlem is a collaboration with UJA-Federation of New York.

In February 2018, following the presentation of an unprecedented gift from the Meyerson family, the JCC was renamed the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. You can read more about Marlene Meyerson here.