Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Salt Lake City Jewish Community Center

A healing place

There is an amazing place in Salt Lake City. It sits nestled between the University of Utah Hospitals, Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Children’s Center, a place unknown to far too many Salt Lake area residents. This place is the I.J. and Jeanne’ Wagner Jewish Community Center.

I came across it almost by accident one evening. Yes, it was my final destination, but the evening was dark and I could not find the venue for the party I was to attend a few years ago.

Their mission statement reads: “Enriching the life of the Jewish community and the community at large by offering educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities in a place where people of all backgrounds, cultures and beliefs gather in peace and understanding.”

I lived in the beautiful valley of Salt Lake for over 7 years. The times were thrilling, exhilarating, depressing, frustrating and much more in between. My last three years were particularly turbulent, as I struggled with a chronic illness that was exacerbated by conflict in my work place.

I am a swimmer and learned the sport years ago. In order to maintain my emotional and spiritual equilibrium, I needed to restore much-needed balance to my life. I became a swimmer again – initially I swam for 15 or 20 minutes at a time and then worked up to an hour. I swim to heal my soul and to think of nothing and no-one. Occasionally, I run into the remarkable Mark Baer who is the JCC Board Chair – he encourages me to keep swimming and keep smiling. Les Kelen from the Center for Documentary Arts swims there as well – he maintains his balance even while wondering whether the Leonardo will indeed become a vision for Salt Lake residents, given the financial deficit. There are many more who swim there for a myriad of reasons. The staff is incredibly helpful, supportive and professional. They encourage me to keep going – on days when I want to slack off and just sit in the hot tub, a lifeguard (I know them all) will invariably gently remind me that I am committed to swim for an hour.

When I was introduced to the JCC, I marveled at the simplicity, grandeur and even splendor of the edifice. It is a monument, a legacy, a museum, a place for gathering, socializing, exercising, and even a place where Shabbat is solemnly celebrated for Jews and Christians and nonbelievers alike through the remarkable Early Childhood Program, graciously administered by the effervescent Mazal. The children are led in singing, worship, participating in the eating of the sacred Challah bread and grape juice – it is a sacred experience – one of the most sacred I have ever experienced. The love of these sweet children is amazing – they do not see color, they love each other and appreciate each other without need for harsh words and criticism. The staff of the JCC, particularly in the Early Childhood program and good and kind people – they treat everyone with dignity and respect. They share many faiths and yet they have learned that our differences are to be celebrated.

I encourage you all to check into the JCC – you will be amazed at this hidden jewel that lies in Salt Lake City, easily accessible via Trax and busses or even personal vehicle for those with automobiles. Daniel Burg and his assistant, Pamela Sanders will be only too happy to assist you with membership details, including student rates, corporate rates and scholarships. Andrea Alcabes is the Executive Director and Alan Baggett is the CFO – these are two remarkable individuals – one from the East and one from the West, one Mormon and one Jew – both working toward the common goal of creating a vibrant place where all might come together and heal from the world that we live in. A world which runs at a frenetic pace, with wars and shootings, famine and hunger, genocide and too many more atrocities to name. Come and hear presentation streamed in from the 92nd street Y - with the likes of Steve Martin, Tommy Lasorda, politicians, news journalists and other notables.

Please consider visiting the Jewish Community Center. Membership is not necessary. I can promise you, you will be pleasantly surprised.

I miss the Salt Lake JCC - my new JCC is larger, has a theatre program, music lessons and much, much more - the SLC JCC was my home - a place where I felt loved, valued and accepted. I am creating a new home here - finding my way and creating an extended family and new friends.

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