The JCC of Northern New Jersey has a new home away from home.
Once it was known as the JCC in Washington Township. Like most JCCs, the JCC in Washington Township had a building.
Then the building was closed, and sold, and the JCC became virtual, holding programming in rented synagogue space and (during covid) online and renaming itself the JCC of Northern New Jersey.
Organizationally, it had offices at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, whose staff also doubled as executives for the organization.
Now, it is joining forces with the Rockland JCC in West Nyack, over the state line in New York.
It still will be a separate organization, with its own board of directors, and with a continuing mandate to serve the Jewish communities of the northern part of Bergen County.
David Kirschtel, the long-time CEO of JCC Rockland, will take on the additional role of CEO at the New Jersey JCC; Eliza Millman, the Rockland JCC chief operating officer, also will be the COO at the North Jersey JCC.
At the same time, the JCC of Northern New Jersey is planning to grow. It is hiring an outreach director to develop new programming that can connect young Jewish families in northern Bergen County, while existing programs — including the PJ Library — continue.
“Working together provides us an opportunity to strengthen both organizations,” Mr. Kirschtel said.
He noted that Bergen County resident already go to Rockland for some programs, including summer camp.
“Last year we had 75 children from Bergen County in our camps,” he said. “Just like we in Rockland head to the malls in Paramus, young families can travel to a large Purim carnival held at JCC Rockland. You could have a combined program with 100 people”
He hopes to bring his experience in expanding a JCC’s activities to New Jersey. “Eight years ago we opened a full-day, early childhood program in Rockland that grew from zero kids to over 100 pre-covid, and now it’s over 80,” he said. “We think there will be an opportunity in the northern New Jersey marketplace to ultimately open a full-day early childhood program, that would be a JCC of Northern New Jersey program.
“There is a lot more synergy for us together. We have a large staff in Rockland. It’s a lot easier for us to provide additional support for JCC-type programming. Under normal, pre-covid circumstances, we have more than 100 staff members, and they basically had four part time staff.”
Mr. Kirschtel has known Barry Kissler, the chairman of the JCC of Northern New Jersey, for decades; their wives grew up together in Wayne.
“About a year ago, he came to me and said it’s time to start talking about working together,” he said. “My goal is not a short term relationship. If we work really well together, who knows what the future might hold from an expanded community perspective>”
“David has done a terrific job up in Rockland,” Mr. Kissler said. “He’s going to lend his expertise to us and basically right our ship. We want to get back into the early childhood programs. The same way I grew up in an a Jewish environment, I want the next generation to have the same opportunities. We really want to impact our community.
“I can’t express how excited we are to work with David and to get us up and running the way we envision ourself again.”
He said that there is a great potential for a JCC early childhood program in Bergen County.
“For so many couples today, the non-Jewish spouse feels put off when they go to a temple program. As a JCC, we’re welcoming to all. You don’t have to be Jewish to be part of us. The two-religion marriage will work really well within our framework. We don’t close for every Jewish holidays like other spaces do. While there would be challah on Friday, everybody likes bread, so it works for all.”