The new year is looking especially bright for families uptown — Harlem, specifically — where the sparkling, new Jewish Community Center of Harlem is celebrating a grand opening. Located at 118th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, the center will serve all members of the community regardless of religious or cultural affiliation, with programs and services for families and beyond. (Read on for the scoop, and details on opening day festivities!)

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Serving a New, and the Existing, Community
According to Meg Sullivan, the organization’s Director of Programs and Community Engagement, over the past six years, between 8000 to 10,000 Jews have moved to the Harlem area, defined as stretching between 110th and 135th Streets and including areas of Hamilton Heights. Prior to opening, the JCC of Harlem conducted several studies assessing the needs of the residents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to ensure that they would provide wanted services.

The Center is committed to the dual objectives of providing as many possible access points for Jewish life in Upper Manhattan by being a self-described “concierge of Jewish life in Harlem,” while also being a community center for all members of the community, regardless of religious or cultural affiliation. A satellite of JCC of Manhattan, the center has been in the works for about a year.

Hooray for Open Play!
One big neighborhood need the JCC of Harlem is ready to meet is that of an indoor play space that doesn’t require a long-term commitment or membership. As a result, there will be drop-in, open play for tots and their caregivers Monday through Friday at varying times throughout the week. Take note!: It’s free for the month of January, and $10 per session beginning in February, with $100 monthly passes also available for purchase.

Pre- Pre-school
Another program created for young families is the Not Quite Nursery for two-year- olds. Taking place Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m., it’s an introduction to drop off, complete with art projects, creative movement, music and — of course — snack.  Jewish holidays will be celebrated in the program, but so will other traditions. There are also plans to have a “Family Share” time, during which each child will get the opportunity to introduce their classmates to a treasured family tradition. In fact, it’s the JCC of Harlem’s goal to embrace all sorts of families, be they intermarried, multiracial, and multiple other facets of diversity.

“The JCC of Harlem is an opportunity to reflect different kinds of Jewish families,” says Sullivan. “The access point may be different for different families. We want them to try things in our space that they might not consider in other spaces. We want them to use us to express interest in different aspects of Judaism. The JCC of Harlem welcomes all community members.”

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After School Programs, Classes and Weekly Family Storytime, Too
Local kids will find the space particularly welcoming thanks to the HubHouse, an after-school clubhouse of enrichment activities and homework helper for children in kindergarten though 5th grade. Currently, a walk-over service is available from Harlem Hebrew Charter School, but the program is open to children from all schools. If a school has a minimum of three students enrolled, Harlem JCC will provide a walk-over service, as well.

However, kids don’t have to be a HubHouse member to participate in the JCC of Harlem’s after school programming. Kids can choose from offerings like Bold Arts’ DanceMakers and BOLD Pop!, and Mainstages’ Superhero Academy and Twisted Fairytales (with a local, Harlem twist, natch).

For families looking for activities they can do together, there will be a weekly story-time on Sundays, hosted alternately by PJ Library and other partners.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday weekend, the JCC of Harlem is partnering with Time for Good for a variety of hands-on volunteer activities, including a clothing swap, a food pantry, cooking and serving meals to the needy, and more.

Free Opening Weekend Activities!
Excited to learn about everything this new community center has to offer? Check out its free opening day party celebrating kids and families with games, music and food on Tuesday, January 3 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. (RSVPs are strongly encouraged.)

A Not Quite Nursery Open House will be held earlier that same day from 9 to 11 a.m., and an After-School Open House will take place on Sunday, January 8 from 1 to 3 p.m.

Jewish Community Center of Harlem
318 West 118th Street
212-865-1215
Online: www.JCCHarlem.org

What JCC of Harlem program are you most excited to check out? Tell us in the comments below!

— Alina Adams