Eighteen months after its grand opening, the Oakland branch of the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay has found its sea legs.
Though the bulk of programming still takes place at the larger Berkeley branch on Walnut Street, Oakland is catching up.
JCC officials say the facility at 5811 Racine St., near the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 59th Street, is doing well thanks to events such as the public lecture series and programs such as after-school child care and Chugim (student enrichment classes).
“I don’t think we anticipated the excitement for the programs,” said JCC Executive Director Sally Kauffman Flinchbaugh. “People are incredibly happy.”
The after-school program, which serves children who attend Oakland public schools in grades K-5, offers a safe place to do homework, sports, drama and other activities. The JCC also provides van service to pick children up from their schools and take them to the center.
Flinchbaugh says the current enrollment of 40 is lower than she would like. But she is hopeful about the numbers increasing. “There are a lot of young Jews in the neighborhood,” she adds. “A lot of our young Jewish staff live in the neighborhood.”
The JCC Oakland branch currently has a staff of six.
One JCC parent, Jay Momet, liked the program so much he now serves on the parent services committee. Both of his daughters, 5 and 10, take part in the after-care and Camp Tzofim summer camp.
“She loves it,” said the Oakland single dad, referring to his older daughter, now in her second year at the JCC. “The program is fantastic and offers a strong sense of community.”
Momet joined dozens of other JCC parents and volunteers for two recent all-day beautification projects at the Oakland branch. They repainted the interior and installed new furniture. “The kids are excited and proud of the environment here,” he added, “and the parents enjoy it, as well.”
Flinchbaugh said the center plans to form “Mommy and Me” groups for parents with babies and toddlers in the fall.
Not all the JCC offerings are geared to kids. The lecture series got under way in January with Richard Ralph Banks, who spoke about marriage as seen from the African-American perspective. That event was co-sponsored by the Memorial Tabernacle Church, located next door to the JCC.
Next month, the JCC will host “Lost in the Garment District,” a conversation led by Sasha T. Goldberg and Rabbi David Dunn Bauer about Jews, gender and fashion.
Past events have included a Lag B’Omer picnic, an art show and a Passover seder attended by more than 60 people.
The JCC formerly had an Oakland satellite facility at 4500 Redwood Road, in the basement of a church. The lease ran out in 2010, with the JCC vacating in September of that year.
Members and staff searched for a new home, and in March 2010, they signed a 10-year lease for the Racine Street building. The facility has a small kitchen and tiny backyard, where the children are planting a garden.
Momet said the center not only has made life better for his family, it’s having an impact on Oakland’s Jewish community.
“I love having it in Oakland,” he says. “It’s been phenomenal being part of rebranding and rebuilding the JCC. They’re doing a good job and improving regularly.”