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A Center for the Community 

In the shadows of giant trees and just a few steps from the bustling St. Charles Avenue streetcar, sculptured birds float above a newly renovated white building. The Jewish Community Center (5342 St. Charles Ave., 897-0143; was established in 1854 as a part of a literary society and has evolved into a mixture of resort hospitality and community devotion.

"It's an intricate part of the community around us and embraces people from a number of religions," Director Arlene Barron says. The Uptown facility -- there's also a satellite center at 6121 W. Esplanade Ave., Metairie -- has everything a community could want or need. The Goldring Fitness Center lures in the health-conscious with a weight room, aerobics studio, massage rooms, and a varied schedule of exercise classes. For the convenience of members, babysitting is provided while parents use the fitness center. Goldring also houses the Kohlmann Men's and Women's Spa, which has a full menu of pampering services such as manicures, pedicures, facials and body waxes, as well as a steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi.

While the adults work out, children are at play in the Levy Rosenblum Children's Center, which consists of the Marjorie Bissinger Nursery School Wing, Marks Park Playground and the JCC game room. Kids and adults alike can take advantage of the pool in the backyard of the community center, where instructors offer swim lessons and sunbathers soak up the rays while youngsters seeking a respite from the heat can hang out in the nearby recreation room or snack bar.

Athletic types can choose among racquetball courts, batting cages, a gymnasium and dance studio. For those seeking diversions that are less physically demanding, there's an arts and crafts studio, photography darkroom, library, study room, and a lounge and activity room for older adults. The public also can rent space for their own meetings and events in the gymnasium, the Donald R. Mintz Auditorium, and the Norma and Joseph O. Grand Boardroom.

What makes the JCC so vibrant is that it provides edifying programs for all ages and a place for a diverse variety of people from the community to come together.

"We are a social, recreational and cultural facility, and we offer a wide range of programs for all ages -- all the way from infants to senior citizens," Barron says. For children 19 months to 5 years old, there is a nursery school designed for developmental education, a day care program, summer camp and enrichment classes such as music and preschool gymnastics as well as aerobics, gymnastics, karate, baseball and basketball programs for small children.

Youngsters from kindergarten to sixth grade can stay active year-round with baseball or aquatics camps, sports leagues for basketball and baseball, and mini camps scheduled during school vacations. Non-athletic pursuits include ballet, cooking and photography classes.

The teen department covers everything from leadership training to sports. Teenagers can become counselors-in-training at the JCC's main Camp Ruach or the center's mini camps. The Jewish Youth Council participates in youth group programming, and operates volleyball and basketball leagues, a sports club, the Outdoor Pursuits adventure club, and participates in community service projects with Helping Hands.

For adults, the JCC is more than just a fitness center. There is art and pottery instruction, and classes in belly dancing and waltzes, public speaking, Hebrew and Spanish language classes and even writing programs that address grammar, fiction, memoir writing and self-publishing. The center even offers dog obedience training. There's a JCC book club, which is free and open to the public, that meets every month to discuss writings and exchange ideas.

The senior club provides activities, programs and trips for the elderly. The Alzheimer's Care and Enrichment Program is designed to provide care and activities for people suffering from that disease or related conditions.

The center's wellness programs deal with weight management and other health concerns, and professionals conduct health seminars that address a variety of issues.

In addition to the classes and equipment available at Goldring, other fitness programs provide workouts for the mind, spirit and body through courses in jazzercise and yoga as well as personal fitness training. Visitors also can choose racquetball, spinning, karate, basketball and swimming, or they can join an adult sports league. New mothers have an option of attending aerobics classes at Goldring that are designed for moms and their babies.

In the fall, members in Metairie will enter a new, larger facility housing the Jewish Day School, Hebrew Communal School and the Jewish Federation of New Orleans.

The JCC is a United Way agency and receives support from the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, but most of its support comes from its members, whom the center's staff call the "lifeblood of the JCC."

click to enlarge Swimming and fitness are just two of the myriad programs for all ages at the Jewish Community Center.
  • Swimming and fitness are just two of the myriad programs for all ages at the Jewish Community Center.
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