HISTORY OF THE JCC OF GREATER BUFFALO
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo was an outgrowth of a movement started in 1891 by the Sisterhood of Zion. A new “Zion House” was purchased in 1896 at 456 Jefferson Avenue, but future expansion led to the erection of the Jewish Community Building at 406 Jefferson where an active program thrived through 1943. Extensive programs served the Center at various sites through the mid-1940s. A permanent site and a camp for children were desperately needed. A coordinating committee organized by the Jewish Federation surveyed the need for a new Jewish Community Building in Buffalo to address the needs of several Jewish organizations which would lead to the formation of the Jewish Center of Buffalo in July of 1945.
The YM and YWHA began in 1907 as the Jewish Young Men’s Association. The JYMA met at the Jewish Community Building for several years. After a name change to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association and years of inactivity and reorganization, a facility at 277 Linwood Avenue was purchased in 1937. A New Year’s Day fire in 1945 destroyed the building.
In 1948, the same year the State of Israel was founded, a new state-of-the-art building was built at 787 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. In 1972 a second building was built on North Forest Road in Getzville. In 1954 Camp Centerland was established in Elma. Camp Lakeland, an overnight camp originally on the shore of Lake Erie in Angola relocated to Franklinville in 1974 and became part of the JCC.
A new millennium brought with it the realization that Buffalo’s Jewish Community was shrinking and that a plan needed to be established to make the JCC sustainable. A vote by the Board of Trustees to close the Benderson Family Building and restructure the agency was reversed shortly after it was taken. The Benderson and Gellman families, along with a group of donors, devised a plan to strengthen the agency through consolidation, right-sizing, and strategic planning. Both buildings were substantially renovated over a five-year period ending in 2012.
The Early Childhood program was dramatically expanded at the Holland Family Building as was our Kids’ Place After-School program. The Benderson Family Building was reduced in size, Camp Lakeland was sold and the Elma Camp Centerland property was sold. Camp Centerland was moved to Getzville in 2013 on land adjacent to the JCC, behind the Weinberg Campus.
Programming at the JCC evolved from an emphasis on social services to a focus on wellness, cultural programming, education, and child care. The Jewish Repertory Theatre has become an important part of the cultural arts component of the JCC. It is joined by our Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival, Jewish Book Fair, Israel programming, and more. Art exhibits and classes, music lessons and concerts, and programming for Senior Adults are also part of the programming offered by the JCC.
By 2013 more than 1,000 people pass through the doors daily at each facility following an almost doubling of membership. Changing demographics have led the JCC to be inclusive of people of many religions and cultures. Our JCC is a welcoming institution with a bright and diverse future, cognizant of the Jewish values and roots which contribute to our success. It is the responsibility of every staff member to ensure that a spirit of friendly service, meaningful programming, and hope for a continued strong future permeates the air.