Merage JCC receives three Zahav (gold medals) for national excellence


The Merage JCC received three Zahav (gold medal) awards at the recent JCCs of North America Biennial in Baltimore, Maryland. The prestigious Zahav Award – the highest award available to JCCs from the global association – recognizes outstanding, visionary initiatives with maximum impact on Jewish communities.

The awards went to the Merage JCC’s programs in: “JCC Cares Family Volunteering,” “From LA to Mexico City: Building Global Jewish Peoplehood” and “Creating a Language Academy for Young Children.” Additionally, the JCC’s Reflections series received an honorable mention.

There were 213 submissions for the awards from 60 JCCs. Nearly 1000 people from the U.S., Canada, Israel and countries in Latin America and Europe and the former Soviet Union attended this showcase event.

“Those who choose to work in nonprofits and dedicate their careers to building community aren’t always recognized when their work succeeds or goes beyond expectations,” said Robin Ballin, JCC Association senior vice president. “This is a chance for them to shine, for their peers to see what excellence looks like and for others to get ideas and run with them.”

Here are a few details on the JCC’s gold medalists:

JCC Cares Family Volunteering

Seven years ago, JCC board members Nancy Chase and Adrienne Matros were inspired by a biennial conference. Because they were moved to do more for our community, JCC Cares was born. The two women successfully tapped into the hearts and minds of those passionate about tikkun olam. As the program grew, local families clamored to be involved.

Almost two years ago, JCC Cares launched its Family Volunteering initiative, mirroring JCC Cares’ commitment to engaging the Jewish community inside and outside the JCC walls, empowering the community to better the lives of others and directly serving some of Orange County’s most critical needs. Since its launch, families have volunteered more than 1000 hours, impacting 22 nonprofits and community programs.

Nancy Chase explained, “Volunteering as a family is a great opportunity to do something constructive together while helping to teach our kids about big issues. Volunteering together emphasizes values such as kindness, compassion and tolerance.”

From LA to Mexico City: Building Global Jewish Peoplehood

Probably the most challenging demographic to engage in Jewish programming and the most important for the future of the Jewish people is the teenage generation. Building Jewish Peoplehood is the JCC’s Family Tree program in partnership with JCCs in Mexico City and Kfar Yona, Israel.

The Family Tree program aims to engage the teenage demographic. By connecting teenagers to our past and future and to Jews globally, the initiative creates Jewish advocates and leaders.

Wendy Stark, Merage JCC Board Vice-Chair, shared, “There are many potential benefits in finding common ground and a common agenda among Jews who live far apart from one another; among them, the continued existence of the Jewish people as a thriving, collective entity.”

The teens spend six months studying their families’ and communities’ Jewish history. They then join peers from Mexico and Israel to share their research and gain a deeper understanding of the Jewish history of respective communities. Ultimately, the teens develop bonds that strengthen international ties and Jewish peoplehood.

Creating a Language Academy for Young Children

Our Language Academy is a significant component of the the Aronoff Preschool at the JCC, offering language immersion for 3- to 5-year-olds in Italian, Spanish and Mandarin. In just three years the Academy grew by 145 percent, suggesting that the JCC is doing something right.

Brain research shows that language acquisition is at its pinnacle when children are between the ages of 18 to 48 months. Building on the strengths of language immersion, like all JCC preschool classrooms, the Language Academy remains deeply rooted in Judaic values and Reggio-inspired inquiry. All the students learn about Shabbat, Jewish values and Jewish holidays. They approach learning through provocations, inquiry and hypothesizing. Reggio-inspired curriculum is certainly not unique to the English language, and the Language Academy unequivocally embraces its philosophies and practices.

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