Jewish Community Alliance celebrates quarter-century of community enrichment

Jewish Community Alliance celebrates quarter-century of community enrichment
The groundbreaking 25 years ago

The groundbreaking 25 years ago

Community center’s 25th birthday party lasts all year

Ted Koppel delivered news on “Nightline: In the Holy Land,” broadcast for the first time on location from Jerusalem. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series. George H. W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis to win the presidency. Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved.”

The year was 1988.

Closer to home, the Jacksonville Landing had been open for six months boding well for the future of downtown. Mayor Tommy Hazouri improved Jacksonville’s infamous paper mill smell and eliminated tolls on the Hart, Fuller Warren, Mathews and I-95 Trout River bridges bythe end of his term.

The year also brought about the establishment of a new meeting place on Jacksonville’s Southside. Built on land donated by the Beauclerc Country Club, the Jewish Community Alliance has grown in both membership and programming. From preschool education to art classes, the JCA exists to enrich the lives of both Jewish and non-Jewish members.
On Saturday, April 20, the Jewish Community Alliance located at 8505 San Jose Boulevard celebrated its 25th anniversary. Members shared stories of how the JCA impacted people’s lives, showcased their building and honored the organization’s enhancement of the community as a whole.*

“It’s probably the most successful JCA in the country,” Jacksonville business owner and philanthropist David Stein said. “It’s essentially a Southside community center paid for by the Jewish people.”
Stein had the idea to start the Alliance 25 years ago. “I’m gratified to have had a principal role in starting the Jacksonville Community Alliance.”

Another founder, Lois Chepenik, recalled the lack of a community center for meetings, entertainment and educational programming when she moved to Jacksonville from Savannah, Georgia. Now retired, Chepenik is a past president of the JCA, a former assistant executive director of the JCA and a former executive director of the Jacksonville Community Council Incorporated (JCCI).
“The best feature of the JCA is the healthy, clean-cut activities for the entire family,” Chepenik said. “It’s welcoming for everyone. You don’t have to be Jewish.”

Malls and movie theatres used to be her kids’ favorite hang-outs, she recalled, but after the JCA opened, they had a more wholesome place to spend time.

The offerings at the Alliance have changed in 25 years, according to Chepenik. In 1988, racquetball was a popular pastime. Now, yoga, fencing, baseball, martial arts and other activities have been added. There are also more choices for senior citizens, such as chair yoga, she said.

In addition to a variety of fitness options, JCA also hosts cultural events and classes. Chinese ink art, oil painting and pottery classes are a few of them. The Alliance also has a resource center for parents, which offers family members cooking and Spanish classes, among other things.

JCA has been celebrating its 25th birthday since January, and events are scheduled for the rest of the year. Mid-April marked an art event entitled, “Expressions Art Show from Israel.” In October, a Jewish film event is scheduled. “How it All Began: the JCA Story,” an historical presentation, is scheduled for November.

“I look forward to the next 50 years,” Chepenik said noting the positive changes she has witnessed at JCA over the past quarter century.
To Stein, watching the Jewish Community Alliance take its unique place in the community has been fulfilling. “Everything is its best feature,” he said.

*Paraphrased from Jewish Community Alliance web site: www.jcajax.org

By Nancy Lee Bethea
Resident Community News

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