Mosaic of memories

Mosaic of memories

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP – When the Bergen County Y, A Jewish Community Center celebrated its 18th anniversary in its Pascack Road home in June, it invited members to help mark the event by contributing to a community tapestry illustrating their connection to the YJCC.

Now hanging in the center’s first floor lounge, the tapestry has become a fixture.

Carol Beyer, director of organizational development, who organized design workshops and put together what is called a mosaic, says the piece "is the collective effort of people of all ages, demonstrating the strength of our community, from the youngest to our oldest members."

Paula Cantor of Woodcliff Lake, a Y vice president, made a square for the tapestry that she feels reflects that sense of connectedness and the chain of tradition. In it are pictures of Cantor and her husband, Dr. William Cantor, balloons in hand and hardhats on heads, signing the original steel beams 18 years ago. Another picture is of the extended Cantor clan, including the couple’s two children and their spouses and five grandchildren. The square also includes the chai from the cover of this year’s journal, representing, said Cantor, "18 years in the life of the YJCC and also in the lives of those involved with the YJCC, including our own family."

Susan Benkel of Woodcliff Lake has been involved in the center since her son, Adam, now ‘0, started nursery school. What began as a way to fill time while her son was busy at school, became, she said, her family’s gateway to Jewish life, helping to shape their identity as active Jews in the community and motivating participation in other Jewish organizations, including affiliation with their local synagogue. Adam, who grew up in the Jewish environment offered by the YJCC’s many after-school activities, graduated from the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies in Paramus and participated this year in a Birthright Israel/March of the Living trip.

Dr. Herb Benkel practices yoga, attends Jewish enrichment classes, and has exhibited his professional photographs at the YJCC, and the family’s mosaic square is a window into a long and intimate association with the center. Included are photos of Adam in nursery school; Susan and Adam attending one of the school programs; Susan with a soap opera star who came to participate in a basketball event (soap opera actors vs. YJCC staff and members); a picture of Susan and friends exercising in the weight room with a personal trainer; and a picture of Susan and Herb at the annual Candlelight Dinner.

Stacey Cancelarich of Hillsdale said her family has belonged to the YJCC for about 10 years. An amateur artist who has experience with wall murals — her work hangs in a room used for the YJCC’s Kindergarten-Plus Enrichment Program — she helped Beyer put the community mosaic together and made samples for others to follow.

The Cancelarich mosaic square contains a picture of four members of the family: Stacey, husband Joe, and children Sarah, 1′, and Sam, 7. Sarah also contributed a square, with two pictures of herself and Amanda Distler of Ho-Ho-Kus, a YJCC nursery school friend with whom she is still close. One photo is of the girls back then; the other is a current snapshot.

Said Stacey Cancelarich: "Hillsdale, where we live, does not have a large Jewish population. [Sarah went to] the Meadowbrook School [which doesn’t have] a lot of Jews, but we know a lot of the town’s Jewish students … through the Y. Now they’re all together in middle school … and getting bar/bat mitzvahed, and she has something in common with her Y friends that she doesn’t have with her other elementary school friends."

Andrea Collier of Hillsdale reported that while her family has been part of the YJCC for just six years, her personal association dates back much earlier, to the days when her parents, Marion and Milton Fuld, helped establish the center. While the Fulds wanted to give Andrea and her brother a place where they could meet other Jewish teens, she admitted being more interested at the time in the workout facility. Today, however, with two pre-schoolers of her own, Collier and her husband, Jay, laud the YJCC for providing a safe and enriching Jewish environment for their children and for nurturing their family’s Jewish identity. The Colliers try to incorporate Shabbat into their week "because the boys bring home challah from nursery school and have a Shabbat celebration in school."

On the other end of the life cycle, Adele Males of Emerson found the YJCC a haven when, at 59, she was unexpectedly widowed. With her children grown, she recalls, "I walked into the Y and said, ‘Do you need a volunteer?’ They said, ‘Where would you like to be — with children or seniors?’ I said, ‘I know where I’ve been [with children], so put me with seniors.’" Seventeen years later, she still spends 10 to 15 hours a week helping out in the lively senior adult program in which she’s an active participant.

Her mosaic square features picture of chickens, representing all the lunches she’s helped serve to seniors over the years.

Summing up the feelings of many, Collier enthused, "The Y is more than just a gym; it’s a place for the family to get together. My kids ask to come here on a rainy day. We go to the gym and pull out the scooters. How great is that? We’re out of the house and have a great place to go and socialize with other Jewish children and parents."

Jane Calem Rosen is the former director of marketing and communications at the Bergen County YJCC.

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