Jewish Community Center (JCC) History
In Et Cetera, the history and highlights of the nation’s third oldest, continuously-operating Jewish community center.
On January 14, 1890, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) was incorporated in Louisville – which later evolved into the Jewish Community Center (JCC).
The organization’s first president was philanthropist Isaac Bernheim; and according to "Jewish Louisville: Portrait of a Community" (Butler Books), its mission was to organize the “moral, religious, education, social, and physical advancement of its members.”
Throughout the years the members accomplished and even surpassed these objectives in many ways.
Athletics were stressed in the early days and the YMHA was a leader, especially in basketball. In addition, the group started women’s gym classes in 1891, ahead of New York.
Louisville’s YMHA helped organize the National Jewish Welfare Board (now the Jewish Community Centers Association), established the first professional orchestra in the city and the Community Chest – which is now Metro United Way.
According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville", the YMHA’s World War I hospitality program was duplicated by the National Jewish Welfare Board and later by the USO in WWII.
The original Louisville YMHA building stood on First Street. From 1915 to 1955 it operated at Second and Jacob Streets, just south of Broadway.
Then, after a successful fundraising campaign, the organization – now renamed Jewish Community Center - moved to its current location on Dutchmans Lane. The new campus provided classrooms for the Louisville Hebrew School and included an outdoor pool.
80 years after its founding, JCC continues to inspire, educate and enrich the lives of its members.
The JCC is open and accessible to everyone. Currently some 3000 members take advantage of its athletic facilities, libraries, and cultural programs.
- YMHA founder Isaac Berheim also established Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, in Bullitt County, in 1929. He gave it to the people of Kentucky as a gift.
- Did you know that the YMHA Orchestra, founded in 1916, later transformed into the Louisville Orchestra? Its successor, the Jewish Community Center Orchestra, continues today.
- Productions at JCC’s CenterStage are well-known in Louisville today, but the center’s first theatre company started in 1914. According to "Jewish Louisville: Portrait of a Community," The AHMY Players (which is YMHA spelled backward) studied and performed plays they deemed “worthwhile”. The first staged play was "The Obligation," written by Charles W. Morris. Morris later became YMHA president and founder of the Jewish Community Federation.
- According to "Jewish Louisville: Portrait of a Community", a,group of Boy Scouts housed at the YMHA helped survey vacant houses and assisted with first aid and neighborhood watches in the aftermath of the devastating 1937 Flood. YMHA’s Camp Tapawingo, which was located on the Ohio River, was lost in the Flood.
- The Ottenheimer Award, which honors civic service to the Louisville community, has been presented by JCC since 1960. The first recipient was Mayor Charles Farnsley.
- Did you know that the stone YMHA nameplate from the old building on Second Street was rescued from demolition and re-erected near the entrance to the present JCC?
Most images for this Etc. are from "Jewish Louisville: Portrait of a Community" and were provided by Butler Books.
- Program 412
- "Louisville Life" features author Alanna Nash, a Louisvillian who got her start at the Courier-Journal; the remarkable Flaget High School Alumni Association; a professional wrestler turned Louisville business owner; and the history of Louisville’s Jewish Community Center. Plus, meet Barbara Day, publisher of Kentuckiana Healthy Woman magazine. (#412)