JCC celebrates 140 years in community, 50 in West Orange

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — In 1877, the first movie with sound had not yet been introduced to theaters, air conditioning did not yet exist and Thomas Edison was still two years away from inventing the lightbulb. But the JCC MetroWest’s doors were open, and this year it is celebrating its 140th anniversary, with the past 50 years in West Orange. To commemorate these milestones, an art and culture exhibit will be on display at the Gaelen Gallery in the Ross Family Campus on Northfield Avenue from Nov. 11 to Dec. 28. The exhibit will highlight all of the activities and services the center has offered during its storied history.

Called “Creativity and Continuity: A Celebration of 140 Years of JCC Arts Programming,” the exhibit will display memorabilia, photographs and artwork from JCC programs of years past, leading up to the present. Visual arts manager Lisa Suss said the show will be divided into categories, such as music, dance and fine arts.

“It will be organized chronologically, but by category,” Suss said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Nov. 2. “There are so many programs available, and it will be great to have them documented and see how it’s changed over the years.”

The JCC offers programs for everyone in the community, according to CEO Stuart Raynor.

“After 140 years, it’s still a viable organization in people’s lives,” he said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Nov. 2. “We continue to do so much for the community. It affects all kinds of people and appeals to each in a different way.”

Among the many activities that families and individuals have participated in at the JCC, Raynor highlighted the pre-school and summer camp programs for young children, the fundraisers that get adult members involved in their community, and the many fitness programs that are offered. Although Raynor has only been with the JCC for approximately 15 months, he has seen the impact that the center has on the community. A history major in college, he is excited to see how 140 years can grow and change a community organization.

“I love the idea that people will see that it didn’t happen overnight,” Raynor said. “There has been a lot of effort by a lot of people. Hopefully they can appreciate where they came from.”

Suss said the exhibit follows that timeline, from when the JCC began at its old headquarters in Newark.

“You’ll see the history of the arts programs over the years, especially the last 50 in West Orange,” she said. “Those programs are the most relevant anyway, specifically art. You’ll realize how rich the history is and how many programs we really have.”

Another benefit, Suss said, is that new and younger members can see what has led to the JCC that they know, while people who have been involved for years can reflect on their early days with the JCC.

“It depends on what the viewer brings to it,” Suss said. “Members who have been here for a long time can remember things, and new members can see what has been here. I think it goes both ways.”

Larry Rein, chairman of the JCC Board of Trustees, has been involved with the organization for the last 10 years. Now in his fourth year as chairman, he told the Chronicle that the JCC has been a place for where people discover their passions and interests.

“The JCC brings a wealth of information for all ages,” Rein said in a phone interview on Nov. 3. “It’s the only place that focuses on every age bracket.”

Rein said the exhibit and festivities surrounding the anniversary shows community members where they can take the organization in the future.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia looking at it,” he said. “It shows where we started and where we want to go. Families grow and stay in our network and it’s cool to see that we’re here for the whole community. Hopefully we’ll be around for another 140 years.”