Earlier this year, near the corner of west 118th street and Manhattan Avenue in Harlem, Jewish families have welcomed a new, much awaited neighbor: a Jewish Community Center.
The 6,000 square foot, industrial-looking space, which seeks to foster Jewish life in the neighborhood, was presented to New York based diplomats on Tuesday as part of a tour of Jewish Harlem organized by the American Jewish Committee.
JCC Harlem, established as a branch of the well-known JCC Manhattan on the Upper West Side, has undoubtedly responded to a long-time need for Harlem’s growing Jewish community.
“What has been really exciting for us in our early development is that so many of our community members have moved to Harlem with intention,” Director of programs and communications at JCC Harlem, Meg Sullivan told the Jerusalem Post.
“They are excited about the vibrant life and Jewish life in Harlem and they want to be a part of that and help build Jewish community up here.”
According to Sullivan, since the center opened its doors in January 2017, about 100 families have become regular users of its “radically family-friendly” programs, beyond the thousands of people who have attended events on a more sporadic basis.
“I think one thing we’ve learned early on is that we all as a Jewish community, we have to change our understanding of what the Jewish community looks like,” she added.
“We have so many families in Harlem that are multiracial, multifaith and also identify Jewishly and I think that they are moving to Harlem in particular because they see an opportunity to live the lives they would like to live.”
These families, she said, see JCC Harlem as “an opportunity to see their families reflected in a Jewish institution for the first time in their lives.”
But Jews are not new to Harlem, Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University Jeffrey Gurock, told the Post.
Gurock has written two books on the issue. In his last one, titled “The Jews of Harlem”, he traces Jewish presence in the neighborhood as far back as the 1870s.
“Harlem had 175,000 Jews,” he said. “It was a very significant community, and a lot of things that happened in Harlem has resonance later on in Jewish history that people weren’t aware of.”