By Christy Krueger
Jewish Community Center Targets All Aspects of Health
The Tucson Jewish Community Center (The J) has always been a destination for wellness and inclusiveness. Now, it’s growing its original programs and adding many more.
While The J offers top-notch fitness equipment, a pool, tennis courts and other amenities to help members stay fit, it supports all areas of wellness through its innovative offerings, each one revolving around The J’s 14-spoke wellness wheel.
The programs, most of which are open to the public for a fee or by membership, focus on intellectual, spiritual and emotional health, nutrition, childhood development, and disabled and aging support.
“We’re taking major steps in the philosophy of wellness with new studios and space for people to move freely from one to another,” said Todd Rockoff, JCC president and CEO. There are designated areas for people with disabilities, play spaces, a demonstration kitchen and 19 classrooms for early childhood education programs, which enroll over 300 kids.
Funding for these updates, which were part of a 2014-15 expansion, came from the Zuckerman, Diamond, Baker and Ash families. “This helped us realize our goal to be a total wellness center, and it was very intentional and helped integrate the work in all those areas,” said Rockoff. All these families were also involved in the initial building of the Tucson JCC. “They and others made that dream a reality.”
Thanks to a generous donation from the Sarver family, The J also was able to build a new tennis complex in 2019. “We’ve had six tennis courts from the beginning,” Rockoff said.
“Sarvers helped with the original courts and then the resurfacing 20 years ago,” he said. “Now, we’ve opened six new courts, generously provided by, and named after, the Sarver family. The surface is called Laykold Masters, and this is the only place in Southern Arizona with this surface. It’s the same as at the Australian Open.”
The tennis complex renovations include new shade structures, fencing and windscreens for the courts. A 1,100-square-foot building that will house a lounge, office, and restrooms will be completed this May along with a patio. “Tennis is also important to inspire young people, and it fosters honesty,” Rockoff said.
Other athletic facilities at The J include indoor and outdoor pickleball courts and a gym for basketball and volleyball. The outdoor pool is home to a large Masters swim program and youth swim teams.
“But it’s more than diet and exercise,” said Rockoff. Elements of the wellness wheel are found in each of The J’s activities and programs. For example, the annual outdoor fun run during Hanukkah includes a cultural awareness component about the holiday. Families are also encouraged to participate together and healthy snacks are offered – covering the cultural, nutritional and health spokes.
The J’s early childhood curriculum canvases all areas of the wheel. “They play together and they learn it’s okay to play by themselves. They talk about their feelings and learn how to problem- solve,” Rockoff said. “When successful, human beings can’t be just physically fit – other parts of their lives are important, too.”
Inclusiveness is not only a priority at The J, it’s part of the wheel. “Everything we do here is inclusive.” One program pairs adults experiencing early dementia with University of Arizona social sciences students. “They do cognitive exercises, board games and memory games. It’s highly social.”
The J’s focus on young adults with disabilities led to a partnership with Arts for All, a community arts program for children and adults with or without disabilities. “Both of our boards met and decided to merge – we integrated. We will hire their staff and keep their current location. This will allow us together to serve more people with disabilities,” said Rockoff.
Members of The J board of directors are generous with their time and efforts. “Bill and Brenda Viner have been tremendous leaders. They both are past chairs of our board and continue to serve on committees and provide support in a variety of ways,” said Rockoff. “Barney Holtzman is past chair and was chair during our renovations. Tom Warne is a past chair of our board. Isaac Rothschild is a tremendous leader here at The J. He helped navigate our integration with Arts for All and moved it through the process.”
Since mind stimulation is an important component of integrated wellness, The J offers public language classes in French, Hebrew and Spanish. An arts studio allows participants to create clay and painting projects.
Cultural aspects of The J include its well-loved sculpture garden, which started 12 years ago with donated pieces that rotate annually. “It’s part of the public arts scene, and you can see it when running the River Park,” Rockoff said. A recent addition to the garden is the Garden of Hope, a meditative space for individuals, as well as yoga and tai chi classes and lectures.
Indoor art exhibits rotate every six weeks and cultural events, including concerts, are held throughout the year. A signature program, going on its 30th year, is the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival that runs for two weeks in January.
Rockoff said awareness of wellness has expanded in recent years, partly because of programs offered at places like the J. “Tucson lends itself organically to being outside and participating. Family wellness is so important, and it’s good for kids to go to the gym with their parents.”
“We’re proud of how we serve the whole community with intentional programs. This is the town square of our community, and we bring the community together with overall wellness.”