Jewish life has always been important to Rabbi Joy Levitt, who decided, after attending Barnard College, to forego a career in law to become a rabbi. Eventually, she served for 20 years at two different congregations.
“I grew up during the Civil Rights Era and had a vision of the rabbinate not only as a proponent of Jewish life but also as an element of the social justice movement in this country,” Joy explains. “Jewish life calls on us to be engaged with the world.”
Being engaged with the world also motivated Joy to take her current position as Executive Director of JCC Manhattan. “While I loved the synagogues I served in,” she says, “I realized that a large number of people weren’t drawn to them in the way I was, and I wanted to bring all the streams together – from the orthodox to the secular and even people who aren’t Jewish – in a community.”
“The challenge, she adds, “is to convince people to see that life is more than the sum of its parts, that we are created in God’s image and everyone deserves to be treated with respect. To me, Jewish life is very dynamic, diverse and creative. We strive to ignite the energy of the community.”
Essentially, Joy sees JCC Manhattan as the “town square,” where people of different ages, beliefs and passions come together. “Philosophically, I don’t need to reconcile competing truths to serve.”
“I was thrilled to work with IDB. They’re smaller and more nimble – more intimate with everyone – and they structured a loan in a different way that gave us much greater flexibility, which put us in a strong financial position. It was tailored to our needs.”
When she started as Executive Director, the JCC had 10 people on staff in a small, rented facility. Today, it employs 200 people in a 14-story building, which it owns. “We listened to what the community needed and made it happen, from the bottom up,” Joy says. “And I’ve been blessed to work with extraordinary community leaders and staff who energize me.”
Located on 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, JCC Manhattan is a recreational, social and educational powerhouse, composed of unique programming space, including a library, swimming pool, fully equipped gym, state-of-the-art theater and nursery school.
For the 3,200 people who walk in everyday, the JCC’s broad and diverse programming spans practically all areas of interest, including the arts, film, family life, Jewish living, health and wellness, social action, special needs, culinary arts, senior programs, aquatics, summer camps, parenting, infant and children’s programs and more.
“From therapeutic swimming for breast cancer patients to a nurturing nursery school for toddlers to social programs for people looking for life partners, we offer an extraordinary range of activities that we continually build on,” Joy says. And IDB has played a key role in this development. According to JCC Manhattan’s CFO Hillel Hyman, “IDB helped us restructure a tax-exempt bond that strengthened us financially and enabled us to sustain and expand our programs,” he says, “and they also share our values.”
The Bank recently became a sponsor of the JCC’s Saturday Morning Community Partners Program, which serves hundreds of children, adults and families through 10 different programs. This is another example of how IDB and JCC are continuing to deepen their relationship.
“This kind of support means we can keep finding ways to help and enrich the lives of so many people,” says Joy. Let’s just call it a mitzvah.