As we end this program year, we find ourselves in an unexpected moment in time. The current health crisis has meant we have not been engaging in the same ways and have had to find new ways to stay connected within our community and maintain a sense of normalcy in our lives. However, looking back over the past year, we are still able to celebrate the JCA’s highlights and program success.
Our annual Jewish Cultural Arts Festival brought renowned authors, films and cultural arts to Jacksonville. The events explored a variety of Jewish-themed topics and were free to the community thanks to the support of our generous sponsors. The festival opened to a sold out crowd with a performance by YidLife Crisis presents YidLive!, the creation of comedy duo Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman. YidLive! was presented in partnership with the Jacksonville Jewish Center and the Hannah Setzer Dora Levitt Family Education Fund. The festival continued with author Susan Lewis Solomont, who presented her memoir, Lost and Found in Spain. Michael David Lukas shared his captivating history of Cairo’s Ibn Ezra Synagogue in The Last Watchman of Old Cairo. In D-Day Girls, author Sarah Rose detailed the heroic actions of the women in Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive. Matthew Goodman told the thrilling yet heartbreaking story of the 1950 City College of New York Beavers in The City Game, and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum staff Michael Dobbs, author of The Unwanted, and Rebecca Erbelding, author of Rescue Board, shared a Jewish historical perspective of immigration in a joint presentation. The festival also included three films, Shoelaces, 93Queen and The Last Resort, and a special children’s reading of The Mitzvah Magician and a magic show. Over 1,000 guests joined us for these exciting, community events.
The annual JCA Fundraiser, A Night in New Orleans, brought the flare of The Big Easy to guests for a night of support of the JCA. This year’s event set a new fundraising record as well as record attendance for a non-milestone year.
The excellence of the JCA was recognized by two Folio Weekly Best of Jax awards for Best Health Club and Best Preschool.
The Myron Flagler Israel Learning Seminar’s first cohort began their year-long study ahead of a trip to Israel at the end of the year. Through in-person then virtual lessons, participants have studied a range of topics to gain a better understanding of Israeli culture and Israel’s impact in the world. The JCA was also chosen to pilot an inaugural JCCs of North America Women inPower Fellowship program. The yearlong fellowship has provided a select group of women with the training, mentorship and support to advance to new leadership roles in their careers in the Jewish communal world and beyond. The agency hosted the Northeast Florida Jewish Community Security Table-Top Exercise along with the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Northeast Florida, all partner agencies and synagogues and local law enforcement to enhance preparedness and awareness of procedure and emergency response.
Holidays at the JCA were a time for togetherness and celebration. Pizza in the Hut taught the history of Sukkot with a fun, pizza celebration. Our annual Chanukkah celebration brought out members and families for the lighting of our giant, outdoor chanukiyah, a family-style dinner, songs and crafts. Our community-wide celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut took a different format this year with virtual comedy by Joel Chasnoff. Passover and Yom HaShoah were also held as virtual services in which families joined us for live observations. Our Jewish Education continued with a variety of programming, including virtual Lunch and Learn from Israel programs with Leah Garber and Zoom programs on a range of topics.
The J Institute continued to offer adult programs for every age and interest through enrichment and wellness classes, social groups and cultural arts programming. The Vandroff Art Gallery, Sunday Film Series and Travelling Diner Dinner Club remained popular amongst our members and guests. The annual Young Concert Artists Series brought violinist Randall Goosby to Jacksonville for a stirring performance. A Discover Culture Extension event featured Dr. Michael Roizen, author of What to Eat When, and J Institute participants enjoyed trips to Cumberland Island, Manifest Distillery, the FAA Jacksonville Air Traffic Control Center, Mayo Clinic and Amazon.
Michele Block Gan Yeladim Preschool and Kindergarten continued to help our youngest members learn through play and the framework of the Sheva lenses. The annual Professional Development Conference invited expert Nicole Mercer to discuss Conscious Discipline and creating the school family with local educators. Participants in the Educator Support Network continued their education of Conscious Discipline with monthly learning sessions following the conference. The conference and Educator Support Network was made possible by grants from The Chartrand Family Fund, The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida and CSX. Following the agency’s temporary closure due to the COVID crisis, Michele Block Gan Yeladin staff swiftly moved to a virtual format to keep consistency in their students’ learning.
JCA Theatre continued to bring outstanding educational entertainment to children of Jacksonville with The Magic Wardrobe. They also held a production of Suessical, Jr. and virtual rehearsals of Moana. Director Shelly Hughes’s live virtual Mrs. Sneecher’s reading-alongs and Zoey Zone adventures were an instant hit among children who participated from their homes. Youth Services kept school age children engaged after school with interactive programming such as B3: Bricks, Bots and Beakers classes, sewing classes, cooking classes, and holiday JCAtion Days. Virtual offerings included Zoom Power Hours, live STEM demonstrations and more.
People of all ages enjoyed their favorite sports with JCA Sports and Recreation. Youth and adult leagues had amazing attendance, and exciting new classes were added. Our first, two E-Sports Tournaments were a success and allowed players to stay competitive while at home. Aquatics kept participants of all ages safe in the water and brought us together for fun events like Dive-In Movie nights, where families enjoyed a film in the indoor pool, and the annual Youth Mini Triathlon. The JCA Tennis Ladies USTA Combo League won their division, and the JCA Men’s Team won the Metro League Championships.
Fitness and Wellness encouraged wellness throughout the community through personal training, group exercise and upgrades to our Fitness Center and the addition of a nutritionist to the team to facilitate nutritional programming. The Wellness Connexion partnership with Baptist Health brought wellness education to the community with programs on Aneurysm Awareness, Stroke Awareness, hearing screenings and Heart Health.
During the temporary closure of the agency due to the COVID-19 crisis, JCA departments quickly moved to a virtual format with JCA Virtual. Through this platform, members continued to enjoy live and virtual versions of their favorite JCA activities, including group fitness classes and personal training, theatre activities, youth programs, Jewish holiday celebrations and adult programming. JCA staff was also assigned to other areas of the community where help was needed. We grocery shopped every Monday-Friday for the residents of The Coves to allow them to stay in place and remain safe, we helped box food at the JFCS Max Block Food Pantry every week so people would not have to leave the safety of their vehicles to come inside, and for 12 hours/day, seven days/week we helped security staff at the River Garden guard house screen visitors to the campus.
These are just some of the accomplishments from this year of triumphs and unexpected change. As we continue to care for each other and our community, we look forward to remaining the place where people come together throughout their lives to enhance their bodies, minds and spirits in an environment of fun, harmony and friendship. Thank you for your continued support of the JCA!