20 Years on Amsterdam
What has the JCC, in this building, meant to the community over the past 20 years?
The JCC's Samuel Priest Rose Building opened in September 2001, welcoming nursery school students into our beautiful space. The rest of this 14-story vertical village opened in January 2002. We gathered testimonials, stories, and memories from our community, to find out: How has this building impacted you? The neighborhood? What is your favorite memory or activity in the center? We received numerous testimonials and tributes, and while all were heartfelt and beautifully put, we wanted to spotlight some of our favorites here:
Home Away from Home | Ayala Usdin
To listen to Ayala's testimonial, click here.
The JCC has been our “home away from home” since we moved to the Upper Westside 16 years ago. We got our lucky ticket when our eldest daughter was accepted into the nursery school in 2011, and our lives were forever changed. We met friends who are like family. To this day, these friendships and connections help guide us along our parenting journey.... The JCC still gives us “the warm fuzzies” when we walk thru it’s doors. The energy, the walls, the colors, the people - all bring us a palpable sense of joy and community. While we are no longer there for nursery school drop-off, we still feel at home as we participate in “the next generation” of classes, and special events the JCC has to offer. Separately we continue to appreciate the intoxicating aroma of Challah baking from the second floor! We feel so much comfort walking thru the doors of the JCC. It always has, and continues to hold, a special place in our hearts.
Locker Room Memories | Barbara Fleck-Paladino
It was 2013. Joe, my husband of thirty-seven years, had died. I was coping as best I could. At the JCC, the swims helped; sympathy from fellow locker room friends consoled. ... Still, it was new, raw…There’s nothing like being undressed together in tight spaces for ‘baring’ confidences, even for fostering learning. One day while we were getting dressed side by side in a locker cove, Sima, a small intense woman I hadn’t seen before, asked how I was. I told her. She was kind. Then she said that years ago in Iraq where they lived with their two children, her husband was arrested off the street. He managed to get a message to her: he was going to be hung; immediately. His one wish: that she live her life fully. Pregnant, she managed to leave the country with her children. These years later, they were now grown, well-educated, thriving. And here was Sima beside me in the locker room. After, whenever Sima and I would see each other, we would hold one another. This progressed to pinches, even slaps, which evolved to laughter. People in the locker room would look askance. No matter. If we glimpsed each other anywhere, we’d grab, hug tightly, pinch, tickle…and, always, laugh. Precious.
My Second Home | Charlie Manzano
To listen to Charlie's testimonial, click here.
For nearly 200 months now you have been my second home. You were my first school, My first camp, my first stop in discovering who I am. It’s hard not to smile when I see the faces of people inside your lobby. My Mom told me when I was a child that if I ever got lost, I could not trust any stranger who came up to me. “Except for people in the JCC," she said, "You can always trust them." ... I started my education at the JCC in preschool, but starting in kindergarten I went to a non-religious school for kids with learning disabilities. My parents struggled to find an extracurricular program that would educate me on my Jewish culture that simultaneously would meet my learning needs. I started my Jewish education with two weekly programs, one on Wednesdays at Rodeph Shalom School and one on Saturdays at the JCC called Havurah. The RSS program was confusing, plain, and tedious to go. Havurah was so much easier for me to attend. The activities felt so much more fun and engaging, and every Saturday went by so fast. I was heartbroken when I learned the program did not continue after 2nd grade. That’s when I got acquainted with the Jewish Journey Project, a program for 3rd-8th graders. One could choose from a variety of courses ranging from pottery to Roman legal law to performances, and all of these programs pertained in some way to Jewish culture and history. Rather than having to conform to a certain curriculum and class structure, children chose how they could learn about their Jewishness. Often in elementary and middle school I learned of my friends excruciating, exasperating experiences at their respective Wednesday Hebrew schools. I realized how lucky I was in that I had a program that fit my needs as an awkward kid with ADHD and Processing Disorder. How lucky I was that I had a place that accepted me. That valued me. That cherished me for who I was no matter what I was. Jewish, disabled, and all.
Our Aqua Therapy Ritual | Anonymous
Sometimes a structure is just a structure, and when this semi eyesore building was being erected back in 2001, and our young family was living on West 86th street and fully preoccupied with our newly born son, we didn’t think much about it. As a Jewish family and UWS devotees we were of course glad to see it rising and curious if there would be any worthwhile programs, but we had no way to know at the time just how much our family’s life and this building would become profoundly connected. The meaning of 334 to our family is beyond heartfelt. ... The first time we set foot in the building was with many other parents and toddlers – for the parent and child swim class in that brand new side pool. The matching swim caps, the movable bottom, and water temp that felt as hot as a cup of tea were all so fun. And our son made good use of learning to swim in that bathtub temp water-he moved onto the lap pool and then years later after we moved to LA to a swim team in middle school and eventually a standout High School swimmer. But the meaning of 334 to us changed in 2004, soon after our second child, our daughter, was born. In April that year, when she was 8 weeks old, she was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, SMA, which is a genetic disease where “muscles don’t talk to the brain”. This would very likely lead to a fatal outcome, and so she, her parents, and her brother were thereafter on a journey for which there was no preparation nor control. “Type 1 SMA” robs an infant of any kind of normal body development and movement, and she would soon lose all muscle control, but she had incredible facial expression and social presence, which is common in the disease. Treatments didn’t exist at the time (there are experimental ones with limited efficacy now) and it was important for circulation and to keep her lungs clear for trained therapists to massage her and give chest PT (which our family later did as well). But the life changer was Aqua therapy! In sessions taken at that training pool at our JCC with the movable floor and the very warm water! In that godsend place, where there was limited gravity, she became much closer to a regular functioning bodied person, and she absolutely loved it. It was a joyful smile the entire time. It was a game changer. Floating on her back with support, feeling the rush of water, hearing encouragement, seeing her brother in the same goofy swimcap..we were lucky to be introduced to an “aqua therapist”, Chris, who was a gifted, compassionate, dedicated and wonderful person, and we worked together at least once a week. Of course, everything about those sessions was a challenge. Changing her into swim suits and cap, carrying her up the stairs, holding her while showering and changing after, and bundling up for the cold stroller walks 10 blocks up to 86th street. But every minute of what soon became a welcome ritual was a pure gift. It allowed us to bond, to experience, to share, and to be in the community. So, we took many trips to the pool at 334. Sometimes the entire family, sometimes just one parent with our daughter, other times with both kids. It was not always easy nor lacking stress, but it was clear that without the training pool at JCC at 334, and without the incredible staff and therapists, that our family’s journey during 2004 would have been very different. Our daughter died peacefully on November 12, 2004 at 9 ½ months old. The deadline for the essay was November 12, 2021, the exact 17th anniversary of her passing. There is something about this. My apologies that there is sadness in this story, and there are undoubtedly so many meaningful stories from families and experiences in this structure of 334 Amsterdam. Our family is very grateful for this building, and we will always be connected to it. We had some of our most joyful moments as a family here, in a period of heartbreak. So it definitely isn’t just a structure to us. PS We moved back to NYC from LA this summer, rejoined JCC after 16 years away, and very happy to be back.
My Friend Sam | Robert Klein
As someone strongly allergic to religion and to ethnic labels, it took me years of walking past the Samuel Priest Rose Building before I actually set foot inside. My direct inducement was the bright and inviting swimming pool that was open during the pandemic for socially distanced laps.... Rose happened to be one of my closest friends at Horace Mann School in Riverdale and in twelfth grade we even toured New England “safety schools” together in a yellow diesel Mercedes sedan borrowed from his parents. (I think we once flipped over a car when Sam was driving, and I dozing. Neither of us suffered a scratch and the details have faded from my memory. On reading this draft to my 90-year-old mother, however, she insisted it was actually one of our family cars that we damaged.) After getting drivers licenses, I would spend a lot of time at his parents’ ranch-style house in Scarsdale and he at our place in Northern Westchester. Then Sam wound up at Yale from 1973, while I attended Princeton and we gradually saw less of each other. In the mid-1980s, I moved to Tokyo but we continued to exchange the occasional lengthy letter. I wasn’t paying attention when these tapered off but one day I was shocked to encounter “deceased” next to his name in a school publication. It’s still difficult to wrap my brain around the concept of vibrant, friendly Sam reincarnated as a brick-and-mortar building for a Jewish community center. Like most teenagers we shared thoughts on everything, so I consider it unlikely that as an adult Sam would have practiced a Western religion. If anything, he was much more drawn to Buddhism and meditation. One evening in the early 1980s I remember being dragged off to a demonstration of a sensory deprivation floatation tank with him in some downtown loft. He marched to his own drummer and resisted easy choices in life. Even though JCC would never have occurred to me as a place to memorialize Sam, perhaps his family was onto something. He was remarkably tolerant and empathetic to absolutely everyone and I’ve similarly been very pleasantly surprised by the kindness the JCC cultivates in its staff and the civility of its members. I personally was raised in a secular Jewish household but sent to Stephen Wise Free Synagogue for Sunday school (which I loathed) and was even Bar Mitzvah’d which I endured for an entirely hypocritical reason—cash gifts. I remember standing at the pulpit, angry to be there, and going through the motions while actively disbelieving all of it. Later on, I defiantly hung a large poster of Yasser Arafat in my college dorm room and haven’t voluntarily set foot in a synagogue in over half a century. And yet, the JCC has managed to soften me, a tiny bit. I have come to regard it as a community where everyone is warmly welcomed—even an irreligious curmudgeon like me. I think Sam would have been pleased.
20 Years and Counting | Francine
My first interaction with the JCC was studying beginners' Hebrew, even before the new building existed. When the building went up in 2001, around the corner from my apartment, I became a charter member. I loved the gym, the pool, and the yoga and strength training classes.... In 2002, I attended a Sephardic cooking class at the JCC, taught by Jennifer Abadi. I asked Jennifer to cater my 40th birthday party. We remain very close friends today. A few months after my 40th, in 2003, I met a nice guy at a synagogue luncheon. I ran into him a few weeks later at JCC pool. We were married later that year (Jennifer did the catering). Our twin sons learned to swim in the JCC pool, and they learned to crawl, run and climb on the JCC rooftop playground. The Shabbat R & R was our savior during the long winter months. Our active toddlers needed to run and jump. We met other families on those Saturday afternoons who have remained close friends. Our family attended countless Shabbat Shabang dinners at the JCC. We participated in many other activities within the JCC walls: from birthday celebrations to memorials for departed friends, plus lectures, films and classes. Today, our boys play basketball on the JCC courts. The JCC has been an integral part of our lives for over 20 years. We are looking forward to the next 20, and beyond.
Feeling Fully Seen | Vivian Conan
In 1971, when I moved to the Upper West Side, there was a gas station on the SW corner of 76th and Amsterdam. As a car owner, I appreciated the convenience. The gas station closed, and for a while the lot was empty. Then the garage next door began using it for overflow parking. The cars disappeared, and the garage attendants told me a Jewish organization was going to erect a building there. I missed the gas station.... For months, I watched the building go up. Finally it was set to open -- on a day the city was still reeling from the events of 9/11 and you could smell smoke as far north as 76th Street. I worried that the structure would become a magnet for terrorists and did not want it in my neighborhood. But it was already there, so I went to the ceremony, to see what it was like. Twenty years later, I cannot imagine the Upper West Side without it. The JCC has been life-changing for me – specifically the New York Writers Workshop course in Advanced Nonfiction taught by the amazing Charles Salzberg. I registered and re-registered for more than 20 years, starting from before the building was completed and we were meeting at the Jewish Guild for the Blind on 65th Street. That workshop enabled me to write and publish Losing the Atmosphere, A Memoir: A Baffling Disorder, a Search for Help, and the Therapist Who Understood, one of many books by other authors that came out of Charles’s class. It was also where I made lasting friends and became part of a writing community that was instrumental in getting me through the isolation of COVID. I also love the JCC coffee shop and hope it will soon reopen. When I was a mentor with Girls Write Now (2012-2019), I met there weekly with my teenage mentees. There was always a background hum of parents and nannies, children doing homework, seniors reading the newspaper – and never any pressure to buy anything in order to sit at a table. Another part of the JCC I can’t live without is the fitness center. I go several times a week and now have “gym friends.” Though we don’t socialize outside the JCC, we know one another’s schedules and exchange greetings. When the fitness center reopened after COVID, there were joyous reunions and catching up. I have seen movies and plays at the JCC, attended lectures on health, sat in the library to write, taken part in a Friday night dinner, and taught seniors how to use the New York Public Library’s online databases (I am a librarian). My choir has sung at the Saturday Shabbat program. But perhaps what I love most is that I feel I belong. The Security Guards say hello to me when I come in and wish me “Safe home” when I leave. The staff at the fitness reception desk greet me by name. At the JCC, I am not a number.
A Place Where I Belong | Tallulah Echtenkamp
I grew up in the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. I was in Classroom 1 and Classroom 8 and Classroom 5. I did gymnastics at the JCC for nine years, with Andrea and Anthony and the other coaches.... After I quit gymnastics, I coached pre-k for a few months for fun. I did basketball at one point when I was really little and baseball. I learned how to swim there and it was there that I realized how much swimming means to me. During COVID when I was basically doing nothing else all day, I would go swim at the JCC three days a week with my dad, and it's a memory I will never forget. From when I was three to second grade, I did Havurah which is where I met friends that I am still close with now. After Havurah I did JJP every Monday until my bat mitzvah. I went to Pearl River and then Settoga until I was ten. I love the JCC, and it's not just these things that make me love it. When I was younger, for a school project we had to write about where we felt community. I wrote about the JCC. The JCC is my synagogue and it's where I feel like I belong. I feel the love and community and it's a really special place to me.
A Caring Community | Amy Rosenfeld
I have been a member of the JCC before it was on Amsterdam and 76th Street. I then joined the building when it opened, and have not left, not even during COVID. The virtual programs and my remote work made staying at the JCC possible.... I am a very happy member of Adaptations, and am part of the program with my husband, brother in law and all my other friends, who are like family to me. I feel like the JCC is a community, a caring community. I now see a trainer at the Fitness Center, and hope to improve my swimming again in the spring of 2022. I love my job at the JCC and hope that the JCC is going to bounce back in the post COVID-era in the years to come. All the programs are amazing, from birth to the age of 103, and there is no stopping me!
Finding Joy | Jennifer Lee
The opening of the JCC on Amsterdam Avenue coincided with the beginning of our lives as a family on the Upper West Side. Our daughter was just shy of two years old and we immediately became founding members. Who knew that the building and the community would provide a home for our growing family for the next two decades?... My kids discovered how to learn, and share, and socialize on the second floor at the Nursery School while I was in the lobby creating the friendships that would carry me through motherhood and life. We schmoozed over coffee (and rainbow bagels) in the cafe and ran after our kids on the roof. The kids learned to swim, dance, and even do Krav Maga. We enjoyed lectures by notable experts on parenting, movies, music, current events, and more. We celebrated holidays, and Shabbat, and experimented with new and inventive ways to learn Hebrew, and about Judaism. As the kids began to grow they returned to their home away from home and took ownership of their own relationship with it. They became trusted resources when the JCC expanded their programming, and as they grew the JCC evolved and grew with them. Tween nights out and pool parties led to teen gym memberships and participation in giving circles. The culmination of their childhood at the JCC came when one was a founding member of the first BBYO chapter in Manhattan and her younger sibling soon followed in her footsteps. The JCC and BBYO formed an alliance that would give them the opportunity to be leaders among their peers. Both served as Chapter President and found friendships and opportunities to learn and grow just as they had on the second floor all those years ago. As a family, I cannot imagine a life on the UWS without the JCC. With Rabbi Joy at the helm, and the building a constant in our daily lives all these years, we have all expanded our view of the world through a Jewish lens. We've been given endless opportunities to learn and grow, to laugh and cry, to stand up for what is right, to help and serve others, to mourn, and to celebrate as a family and as a community. It's been more than a new mother two decades ago could have dreamed of when she imagined how her life raising a family on the Upper West Side would unfold. We all look forward to our next chapter in life and can't wait to see all that the JCC has to offer a couple of empty nesters and some twenty-somethings. The best part is that I know that all the friends, and the myriad of Upper West Siders that I bump into daily, that I met all those years ago will be there too. I am now reminiscing with my daughter -- thinking about all the other things I could have mentioned. I could have mentioned that I try to physically touch the names of my children on the wall of the stairwell leading to the Nursery School every time I pass them. I supposed praying for the same joy that they found there, in that building, to follow them wherever they go.
A Beacon on the UWS | Pamela Sandler
Thank you for being our second home, a place where our children grew into deeply connected Jewish beings, where they found independence AND community. We look to you for guidance, laughter, knowledge, friendship, and art.... Your floor to ceiling windowed 6th floor with the sparkling water has kept my family healthy and sane, and also fast. The individuals that work on every floor have touched us-they are part of your fiber and ours. You are a beacon for us, and for the UWS, and for the city as a whole. We love you with deep gratitude.
A Center for Our Family | Frank Davidson
26 years ago, we were looking for a local place for our two year old son to meet and play with Jewish children. We joined a group who were organizing the JCC on the Upper West Side. Since then, we have participated fully in the sports programs, fitness center, cooking classes, education classes, computer courses, lectures, movies, and bridge classes.... The JCC building has been a center of our Upper West Side activities. We look forward to another vigorous 20 years of the JCC and continued activities. Congratulations! It's been a wonderful trip.
Too Many Memories to Recount | Nick Bunzl
I've been involved with the JCC almost from the beginning. Too many memories to recount, but a few: Our first successful auction at Christies. Our blowout auction in the gym after 9/11. 24 hours of Israel non-stop programming, followed by an evening at Symphony Space, went off without a hitch. The day the online registration crashed from excess demand. The day I helped shepherd a goat in the lobby during a children's event. ... Recalling the naming gifts from so many people, including the Zabars, the Meyersons, and so many others. The wonderful staff who have been with us either from the beginning or almost from the beginning. Lifetime friends. An amazing institution enhancing Jewish life for the whole community.
An Amazing, Nurturing Environment | Jamie Eisen
The JCC has played a very special role in our family's life. The nursery school taught our two children Jewish traditions and values from the time they were two years old, and, even more importantly, our family became part of an amazing community of nursery school families. ... The friendships (both adult and child) that we began at the JCC continue today, years after our kids are no longer in the school. In addition to the nursery school, we have been involved in all different types of programming at the JCC over the years which has provided an amazing, nurturing, and educational environment for our children. Our experience as adults has also been very special -- we truly enjoyed our participation in Atid as well as our role in co-chairing White Hot to raise funds for such a special institution. We love the JCC!
Three Cheers for the JCC | Jane Gundell
Boom! Dynamite! Boom, boom, dynamite! Hold on. Wait a minute. Put some more Settoga in it! Three cheers for the JCC.... From Camp Settoga to the Thunderbirds to The Jewish Journey Project to Shabbat Dinners to Reelabilities, the JCC has been the fabric of our family for the past 20 years. We're so grateful for the learning, the fun, the experiences and the friendship that has us tethered to each other and our community. Happy Anniversary, JCC!
Breaking Boundaries at the Tikkun | Bracha Lieberman
Stay the Night (Tikkun) is definitely my favorite program of the JCC, bringing people together from all over the community. Both live and livestream, it's immersive, multifaceted, fascinating, engaging, something for everyone, boundary breaking, and gives people a chance to try something new thanks to a variety of sessions, subjects, formats, and approaches.... And let's not forget coffee and cheesecake, my 2 favorite food groups!
Changing Life on the UWS | Judy Bunzl
I told a cousin: move to the Upper West Side, the JCC building is going to be completed and it will change life for everyone living on the UWS. Little did I know how completely the JCC would change the life of myself, my family, many friends, and countless others who lived on the Upper West Side. ... It transformed the neighborhood for all who walked through its doors. I love the JCC!
A Light-Filled Home | Lilian Stern
Happy Birthday 334 Amsterdam! Our family remembers the building rising up from the construction depths to become the modern and light-filled home for the locus of Jewish continuity, activity and engagement we have now. Yasher koach!