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The Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis shall create a positive Jewish environment and build and strengthen the quality of Jewish life in Indianapolis.

The JCC shall be guided by the principles of Judaism and democracy and shall promote an understanding of and a commitment to Jewish thought, beliefs and values.

The JCC shall enrich the life of the Jewish and general community by developing and implementing programs for their recreational, educational, cultural, physical and social needs.

The JCC shall stimulate and amplify the individual’s sense off responsibility to the local community and to society.

                                                                                       _________________               .
by Betsy Sheldon

Always a Good Neighbor

Everyone appreciates a good neighbor. You know, the family with the well-maintained property, or the ones who invite the neighbors over, making everyone feel welcome. Their presence increases the value of the entire neighborhood. For the past 50 years, the JCC has been such a neighbor. Along with other longtime residents surrounding 6701 Hoover Road, the JCC has witnessed change, experienced growth and weathered the years—with the help of a couple spectacular makeovers. “The JCC has spent more than half its existence at the Hoover Road site,” says Ira Jaffee, executive director of the JCC since 1984. “That’s quite a milestone.”

Why Hoover Road?

Jaffee, who joined the JCC in 1978 as director of youth services, notes that the organized Jewish community in Indianapolis was once rooted in an area just south of downtown. From the early 1900s, a sure and steady northward migration led the Jewish Community Center Association, established in 1926, to take up residency in the Kirshbaum Community Center at 23rd and Meridian Streets. After World War II, GI mortgages generated a building boom northwest of the city. The community leadership, foreseeing the continued population shift, bought over 40 acres of land in that area and raised funds for a new community center. That was in the early 50s. By 1957, an outdoor swimming pool fronted Hoover Road until the new building was completed in 1958. The 24,000-square-foot facility boasted meeting rooms, nursery school facilities, a gym, locker rooms and outdoor space for summer camp.

“My oldest child was in early childhood at Kirschbaum—and I drove her to the new building while the JCC was in transition between the two buildings. Then my other kids went to ECE and day camp. I became active through Theater in the Woods. I was part of the crew that built it—I remember nailing the floor.”—Carolyn Leeds

Visionary Moves

“The move was very visionary on the part of the leadership,” says Jaffee. “Other Jewish facilities and congregations began moving north soon after.” Carolyn Leeds, whose daughter was among the first children to enroll in nursery school at the new facility, reflects, “At first, the JCC was kind of in a plain and there was nothing around it. I remember the dedication. You felt like you were out in the country.” Leeds, endowment associate for the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, which now resides in the JCC building, soon became active at the JCC, joining the board and serving “a brief stint” as on-site director in 1966. Like many longtime members, she has followed the JCC’s evolution and adaptation to the times and needs of the community. By the late 1960s, as women began to enter the workforce in growing numbers, the JCC responded to an accelerated need for quality, reliable childcare. With an expansion in the 1970s, the JCC opened a licensed day-care center.

“I have been a member of the JCC for as long as I can remember, since the days of the Communal Building on the south side. That’s where we had all our extracurricular programs…in the 60s, the JCC became a kind of second home for many of us who’d had that long connection.”—Gladys Nisenbaum

Gladys Nisenbaum, who led the effort, remembers: “We opened with just 25 applications and we didn’t know what would happen.” The word spread quickly, though, after an article appeared in The Indianapolis Star. “Within 30 days, the number of applicants just soared—and we were in business!” The JCC soon fattened up its roster of children’s services: afterschool care, youth sports leagues including soccer and basketball, space for teens, and enviable summer camp programming. During the 1975 expansion, the JCC added the indoor swimming pool, multipurpose room and health club.

High Time to Grow Again

By the early 1990s, it became clear that it was time to grow once again. A capital campaign for the expansion project was successful beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. “It was probably the easiest campaign I’ve ever worked on,” says Leeds, who coordinated the effort. “Everyone saw the need.”

The Jewish community purchases a building for recreational activities at 801 South Meridian Street. It became known as the Nathan Morris Building. To accommodate a growing and north-moving population, the community center moves to a building at 2315 North Meridian Street, the Kirschbaum Community Center. In 1997, the JCC was part of a $25 million campus expansion and renovation. With the addition of a fitness center, indoor tennis facility, auditorium and infant/toddler center, the 60,000-square-foot facility more than doubled to 160,000 square feet. Within a few years, membership doubled to 2,000 member units and graduated from the category of an intermediate to a large-sized JCC among the more than 350 JCCs in the U.S. “The expansion brought a revolutionary change to the way the JCC serves its members and the community,” according to Jaffee. The campus concept pulled together other Jewish agencies: the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis moved from downtown to occupy part of the building. Architectural elements, landscaping and road systems connected the JCC, the Bureau of Jewish Education and Hooverwood.

“The JCC also celebrates 50 years of youth basketball in 2008. We were among the first to offer basketball and soccer. We excel in providing an environment that promotes the love of the sport, the skills of the game and good sportsmanship—which translates to skills for life.”—Ira Jaffee

Serving the Neighborhood and Greater Community

Jaffee has a hard time singling out one highlight in the JCC’s 50 years on Hoover Road. He lists the many highlights that come to mind first: the JCC’s ongoing support of Israel through sister-city connections; exchange programs; the early childhood education curriculum; the resettlement of hundreds of Russian families through the 1990s; the JCC’s open-door policy that has earned recognition from the greater community; and a vibrant youth sports program that encourages wellness, fitness, sportsmanship and skills for life. The newest addition to the JCC campus is the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Aquatic Complex. In 2003, just a few years shy of its 50th birthday, the original swimming pool was demolished to make way for an award-winning water park featuring fountains, a lazy river and water slides. “As spectacular as the new facility is, tearing out the old pool was like saying good-bye to an old friend,” says Jaffee. “That old pool was more than a bit of JCC history. But every summer we’re creating new memories and adding to our history with our beautiful new facility.”

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 Year founded

 Year of incorporation

 Nathan Morris House
 Communal Building purchased

Kirshbaum Community 
 Center purchased

 Present site purchased

 Outdoor pool opened

 First building opened at
 Arthur M. Glick JCC
 6701 Hoover Road

 Major expansion
 and renovation

 Sidney & Lois Eskenazi
 Aquatic Complex addition

 Max & Mae Simon
 Jewish Community Campus
 40 acres

 Square footage of JCC

 Square footage of
 Fitness Center

 Square footage of
 Aquatic Complex

 Laikin Auditorium 
 banquet capacity
 theater capacity 500 

 Early Childhood
 Education Program
6 weeks through

 Total full-time staff

 Number of members
 Over 8,000
 (over 2,500 households)

 Number of board members

 Open to all

 Affiliate Organizations
United Way
 JCCA North America

Jewish Federation
     of Greater Indianapolis

 Campus Agencies
 Bureau of Jewish Education
Jewish Federation
     of Greater Indianapolis

 Indianapolis' northwest side