JCC Denver is a place for everyone

Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center in Denver celebrates its 100th anniversary

Bruce Goldberg Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 7/29/22

If there’s one characteristic of Denver’s Jewish community center that won’t change, it’s that everyone is welcome. “One of the exciting things about this JCC is that the doors are open to …

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JCC Denver is a place for everyone

Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center in Denver celebrates its 100th anniversary

Posted

If there’s one characteristic of Denver’s Jewish community center that won’t change, it’s that everyone is welcome.

“One of the exciting things about this JCC is that the doors are open to everyone, whether Jewish or non-Jewish,” said the organization’s CEO Mike Sophir. “You can find a home, a place, a family here.”

This year, the Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center (JCC Denver) celebrates its 100th anniversary, capped by a special Todah — which translates to thanks — event on Sept. 18.

“For those who are Jewish, they find, I hope, a (connection) to their community,” Sophir said. “We’re not a synagogue, we’re never going to be one. But we are a place to celebrate Judaism. For non-Jewish people, it’s a place to create that kind of connection, and to build knowledge, understanding and appreciation of what it all means.”

Sophir said the JCC Denver has had some lean years recently, but the team is doing its best to extend its hands and reintroduce the JCC Denver into the community.

“The doors are open,” Sophir said. “We invite them in, we value their feedback and want to make this place a part of their daily life.”

Meanwhile, the JCC Denver is also creating plans to guide growth for the near future, working on improving programming and trying to communicate more frequently with members.

The full force of JCC life hit Sophir, who became JCC Denver’s CEO in January, on a recent day. He came in early, and by 5:30 a.m., people using the center for fitness were arriving. At 7:30 a.m., early-learning teachers were arriving for their 8 a.m. class. At about 11:30 a.m., teenagers were coming to swim. By 3 p.m., full families appeared, and by 5:30 p.m., older adults were showing up to use the center’s amenities.

“Every day, this place is a life cycle,” Sophir said. “On that particular day, I saw it in its true form.”

Located at 350 S. Dahlia St. in the northwest corner of Denver’s Washington Virginia Vale neighborhood, the JCC Denver got its start in December 1922 at 13th Avenue and Decatur Street. Back then, the neighborhood of lower West Colfax was described as the Jewish township on the scenic Platte River. It moved to an old mansion at 16th Avenue and Irving Street in 1932, thanks to a gift from L.H. Guldman. The Guldman Community Center had workshops, club rooms, a library and assembly and dining halls.

Decisions to start fundraising to build a new Jewish community center came in 1957 and 1958, and the JCC Denver has been at the Dahlia Street location since then.

It’s easy to find JCC Denver members like the Neustadts whose families have a long history with the organization.

When Kathy Neustadt’s children were young, she sought a community where she would feel comfortable.

“I was just looking for a community, and place to gather and meet people,” Neustadt said. “It came back to me in spades, and I’ve met some of my closest friends” at JCC Denver.

She and her children attended mommy-and-me classes and got involved with many programs at the JCC Denver: karate, tumbling, the overnight Ranch Camp.

Neustadt’s children, who are now are in their 20s, both became counselors when they got older — her son, Josh, currently serves as manager of trips for the Ranch Camp.

Neustadt has also made many contributions to the JCC. She served as chair of JCC Denver’s board of directors from 2005 to 2008, and was chair of the Mizel Arts and Culture Center for 12 years. She funds literature prizes and helped fund the annual Jewish Authors, Artists, Musicians and Movies (JAAMM) festival.

JCC Denver “instills Jewish values without necessarily proselytizing or drilling down on the Jewishness of it,” Neustadt said. “It’s all in the values. That’s what makes it so welcoming for people who are Jewish and aren’t Jewish, but want what Jewish culture and values bring.”

Kendra Harrison and her family also enjoy being involved with JCC Denver. She specifically mentioned pottery lessons, swim lessons, soccer and basketball.

“I spent a lot of my life at the JCC,” Harrison said. “We were always pretty involved. My dad was on the board. Now I’m on the board.”

Harrison has three children. Her oldest, who is 8, stayed at the Ranch Camp for a while in summer 2021.

“She loved the counselors, arts and crafts, ropes course, riding horses, the pool,” Harrison said.

Her 6-year-old daughter is going to Ranch Camp this summer. While her 3-year-old son is too young still for the center’s activities, Harrison made good friends when she attended Jewish Baby University.

“I really connected with the other five women in the group and we’re still very close,” she said. “We get the kids together all the time.”

Kelli Pfaff and her husband, Evan, have their two children, who are 12 and 9, involved with a number of JCC Denver activities, including Camp Chai, which is a day camp.

“They not only learned about Jewish values, it also was a high-quality, well-run camp experience,” Pfaff said.

She added that her daughter enjoyed bringing her non-Jewish friends to Camp Chai.

Sophir said he is struck by how attentive some kids are, adding that the non-Jewish kids appreciate the culture they’re introduced to at the JCC Denver.

“It’s a place for everyone,” Sophir said.

JCC Denver, Todah, 100th anniversary, Denver

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