Originally featured in the autumn 2003 issue of JCC Circle.
In 1903, Chicago Hebrew Institute was founded to help immigrants adapt to American Jewish life. While the Institute offered a social gathering place for the community, it also offered classes in English, literature, music, and science. Today, JCCs of Chicago continue successfully to help individuals and families thrive through top-quality programs, including the largest Jewish early childhood program in North America, a major day camping program with eight sites, a resident camp serving kids from throughout the Midwest, and year-round programs for all ages at seven JCCs.
From its earliest days, JCCs of Chicago has been at the forefront of serving the growing needs of children, teens, and adults of all ages, while preserving and enriching their quality of Jewish community life. In 1915, JCCs of Chicago opened its first state-of-the-art gymnasium and aquatics center, including two gyms, two swimming pools, and an indoor track, made possible by a generous donation by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.
In 1914, Chicago Hebrew Institute opened a milk station to provide milk to families who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Families paid one penny per glass, and by the end of the first week, the station had sold over 6,000 glasses. In 2003, instead of asking “got milk?” JCCs of Chicago is asking “got Shabbat?” JCCs of Chicago “got Shabbat” program brings families together to enjoy quality time, celebrate Shabbat and connect with community.
While celebrating its 100 years of continuous service, JCCs of Chicago is preparing for new challenges that lie ahead. For example, Jewish individuals and families are moving away from historically ethnic neighborhoods, and, in response, JCCs of Chicago continues to open satellite sites throughout Chicagoland to serve new pockets of Jewish community while maintaining a presence in existing neighborhoods.
Finally, as communities face increasingly complex social issues, JCCs of Chicago is responding by providing social services for members and participants throughout the agency and requiring that children and parents sign codes of conduct for various programs that rely on prescribed rules and policies. While JCCs of Chicago builds upon its successes and prepares for its challenges, it looks forward to a future as rich as its past.