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The History of the Jewish Community Center

 

As we gather for meetings or take advantage of the recreational facilities in our building, it is worth taking some time to look back at how this facility came into being and some of the people that make the Jewish Community Center of Dutchess County what it is today.

It all began with the formation of a children’s Hebrew School in 1916. After World War I, a YMHA was organized. Another group called the Amicas, was formed by a group of returning Jewish servicemen, who met in a building on Mill Street with a basketball court and a small room for social gatherings. In 1923, there was sufficient interest in a Jewish Center that by the third meeting in October the Hebrew School Building was too small for the 200 people attending. The pressure for more space led to the renting of Rutherford Hall, in the Fallkill Building at the corner of Main & Washington Streets where there would be more room for dances & lectures.

On October 30, the Poughkeepsie Jewish Community Center was incorporated. The temporary Board of Governors included: George Albert, Rose Ratner, Mat Willing, Minnie Weisberger, Mrs. Sam Effron, Anna Levine, Sam Effron, Harry Friedlander, Mark Eisner, Dr. Charles Hoffman, Henry A. Jacobs, Irving Van Kleef, Morris Goralnick, Joseph Schlacter, Jack Siegel, Mrs. L. Smith, Bernard Urgang, Arthur Spencer, Harold Jacobs, Sam Berlin, Morris Effron, Harry Wolpe and Mrs. Jacob Effron.  Sam Berlin was chairman of this building committee, assisted by Harry Wolpe, Dr. Harry Maltz, Mrs. Sam Berlin, Herman Bloom, Mrs. B. Rose, Mrs. Charles Effron, Albert Krakower, and Mrs. S. Kahn. The Center had a good deal of enthusiasm, but no professional leadership at this time. The building provided meeting rooms, but little else for the needs of the community.

In 1929 funds were first raised at Yom Kippur drives in the various congregations for the support of the Hebrew school. The community was able to boast of a Jewish Dramatic Club which was a source of entertainment for many functions of the Jewish Center.  In the mid-1920's a group of young men formed the Harding Club which was one of the steady tenants of the Center. By November 1930 this group reached the status of affluence that they began to pay rent. The young men, whose fathers had established the Center were just beginning to become established in their professions and at a meeting on October 8, 1933 attorney Nathaniel Rubin proposed "that 10-15 young people be appointed and vested with the power to handle all matters regarding the Jewish Community Center: that these young people in conjunction with the officers outline a plan (budget) for the next six months: and that in a case of a clash, the young people have last say, over-ruling the opinion of officers." This proposal gained little support from the Board of Directors: Merrill Effron, Isaac Tinkleman, Abraham Krasnow, Joseph Worona, Nathan Tinkleman, Nathan Golensky, Morris Epstein, Nathaniel Rubin, Herman Levine, Milton Haven, Edward J. Kovacs, Joseph H. Gellert, Anna Nussbaum, Mrs. Samuel Carl, Philip Morowitz, Dr. Morris Katz, Samuel Weisman, Dr. A. Krakower, Herman Schwartz, Nathan Heiman, and Herman Bloom.

 In December 1933, the community was shocked by the passing of Charles Levy after a brief but intensive role as leader of the Center. He was succeeded by another young attorney, Nathaniel Rubin, who, in taking office, in January 1934 told the membership that he anticipated a new building for the Center in a few years, where athletic and social functions could be held. By January 1935 there was again recognition of need for more professional guidance and the Board approved the payment from its meager funds of $10,000 to join the National Jewish Welfare Board. At the same time a building committee was appointed to achieve some progress on the construction plans. In March 1935 the board awarded a contract to construct an addition on the North Side of the building and to remodel the existing structure with Harry Wolpe, Sam Effron and Louis Scheib overseeing the project.

A motion was approved,"...requesting that the contractor should not work on Saturdays or any Jewish Holiday." It was a glorious time in September 1935 when the addition was completed and the Center had an auditorium with a stage and game rooms for scouting and youth activities. With these new facilities, the Board voted to employ a "Social Director of the Building" who would also be Principal of the Hebrew School and teach at a salary of approximately $35.00. The Board hired Dr. Ezra Gerson Gotthelf as the first director of the Center.

 In December 1935, the Board named the new game room in memory of Charles Levy. In 1938 after negotiations led by Joseph Acker and David Effron, the JCC became a member of the Poughkeepsie Community Chest which had been formed in 1937. Meanwhile another generation of ambitious youngsters was becoming involved in the work at the Center. A group called the Junior Council was formed to aid in the guidance and supervision of the many youth activities that were taking place in the Center. The "Centergram" was started and these youngsters had sufficient influence to get representation of two of their membership as full members of the Board of Directors for a number of years to follow.

The real development of Center program began with the hiring of Eli Kogos in 1938 as director of the Center, which had reached 645 individuals. The operation of the Hebrew School persisted as a problem for the Center going from its Board to a Board of Education to the teachers. The Jewish Welfare Board was again called upon for professional guidance and made the suggestion that the Center be joined with the Hebrew School and obtain an allotment from the UJA drive as a source of support.

June 1940 saw the beginning of the Center's summer program with the establishment of a day camp. Henry Chuck was chairman of the committee charged with getting Camp Brandies, the Center's first over night camp, operating at East Park, New York. Meanwhile the war clouds of Europe were thickening and having greater impact on the community due to a steady attrition by those called to duty. In 1943 the Center secured a camp site at Bear Mountain State Park and thus began an association of 17 years. The chairmanship of this camp in its formative years was in the hands of William Effron, Sam Koch and Irv Feldman.  

During the war years the Center was fully aware of its need to play a role on the home front and did its part by placing the building at the disposal of the Red Cross, entertaining servicemen stationed at nearby points and working on bond drives.

 In 1945 the awareness of the inadequacy of the North Hamilton Street building was again impressed on the minds of some of the community's leaders. In February 1947 the Center acquired a property on College Avenue as a site for a new Jewish Center, with a down payment donated by Morris L. Effron, Sidney Effron, Arthur Seltzer, and Mendel Brown with the thought that the site would be the basis for a building effort. However, with the inadequacy of Vassar Temple and Temple Beth El in their original homes and the pressing needs of the new state of Israel, the effort to achieve a new Center failed to gain sufficient momentum. Attention was again turned to the relationship of the Center and the Hebrew School. Under the Chairmanship of Sidney Effron and Allen J. Weisman, a committee working from 1947-1949 finally evolved the plan whereby the religious congregations, in cooperation with the Jewish Center, plus financial support from the Welfare fund drive would be the basis for a reorganized Hebrew School administration. In all the years of Hebrew School development, the work of Rabbi M. Nussbaum, his son Jacob Nussbaum and Morris Effron must be mentioned.

 The Day Camp had its effective origin in 1949 when the Jaycee day camp started at Shadybrook, on Manchester Road. There was a real demand for this camping service and several years later the camp was moved to Pine Grove on Saint Nicholas Road in the Town of Wappinger. The success of the day camp was the incentive for a committee led by Herman Bloom and Gus Regan to purchase the 60 acres known as JEKOCE Acres. In the spring of 1953 the Board voted to do so with the understanding that the property would be developed for a dual purpose: one, to give the Day Camp a permanent home with the facilities far superior to any that could be obtained in rented premises and two, to develop the site for summer usage by all of the members of the Center. Sparked by the fund raising efforts of the Harding Club, JEKOCE acres became a recreational facility for the entire family and a model for Y's and Center's throughout the country. The Harding Club's efforts resulted in the construction of a pavilion, playground equipment, and improvements to the swimming facilities.

 While the summer activities of the Center were keeping pace with the needs of the community, the program at the Center building proper was lagging. The range of Center sponsored organizations and programs continued to increase with every square inch of space fully utilized. The inadequacies of the building on North Hamilton Street were pointed up more everyday. With no facilities for physical education activities, programming in this area had to be limited by the availability of rented quarters. The new auditorium which looked so large in the middle 1930's now was hopelessly outgrown and the teen age groups and adult members had no place in which to hold a dance. There was no space available for lounges in which members, both young and adult, could spend their free time in comfortable, homey surroundings. Above all, the Center building was just hopelessly outmoded, uncomfortable and inadequate in size. A parcel of land was made available to the Center through the kindness of the Poughkeepsie Savings Bank at the initiative of Herman Bloom. This property became vacant in 1954 and the Center purchased the 6.5 acres of this land as a replacement for the land on College Avenue, which was needed for a high school. In 1952, the Center Development Committee with Dr. Theodore M. Rimai as chairman was established to consider the needs of the Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Community.

 

In 1958, a steering committee for a new Center building with Albert L. Hecht as chairman and Leon R. Bloom, Irving Feldman and Dr. Elvin E. Gottdiener as co-chairmen, was established with the responsibility of working toward and achieving a new building for the Center. The end of 1959 saw the completion of a self-study and evaluation, conducted with the help of the National Jewish Welfare Board, which showed in detail the great need for the new facilities to house the programs required to adequately serve the Jewish Community of Poughkeepsie. The Dutchess Area Community Chest and Council, after careful consideration of the results of our self-study, gave its approval of a capital funds campaign for the Jewish Community Center. Approval was also obtained from the Poughkeepsie Jewish Welfare Fund. In 1961, after approval of the Jewish Community Center membership and the members of the Jewish Community, a successful fund-raising campaign was launched with Barnett R. Koffey as general chairman of the Jewish Center Building Fund campaign. Through dedicated efforts of the Building Fund Committee and many other volunteers, the unprecedented amount of $730,000 was pledged in a period of five months. A building committee, with Elias J. Bramley, Benjamin Browne, and George C. Marcus as co-chairmen was immediately appointed. An architectural firm was selected and plans for the new building based on the 1959 self-study revised and brought up to date were developed.

Formal ground breaking ceremonies took place in September 1962 and the cornerstone was laid in September 1963. Simultaneously with the construction of the building, a transitional study committee chaired by Dr. Edward J. Stamm and assisted by the standing committees of the Center, planned for the operation and programming in the new Center building in order to provide for a smooth changeover. The result of all the planning, the endless meetings and the wholehearted support of the community is our current facility.

 As we glory in the physical evidence of what a determined community can do as we gaze at the brick and mortar, we should always bear in mind that this beautiful edifice does not represent an end in itself, it is only a means to an end. For in the final analysis, the Center exists only to serve and this building will only have real meaning if the vastly improved physical resources of the Center result in vastly improved service to our community. The Center has a glorious record of service in the past; we now have the physical means to write an even greater record of service in the future.

So welcome to the Jewish Community Center of Dutchess County (JCCDC)!     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

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