Four Questions for Dava Schub and Meg Sullivan of JCC Harlem

Dava, left, and Meg, right

 

Hyper-attuned to the needs of a diverse neighborhood, JCC Harlem opened in January 2017 as an initiative of the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and UJA-Federation. The storefront, 6,000-square-foot loft space is located on West 118th Street and offers family programming, arts and culture, health and wellness, and Jewish life.

We talked to Meg Sullivan, director of programs + community engagement, JCC Harlem, and Dava Schub, chief program officer, Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.

(Q) What was the need JCC Harlem was looking to fill?

(Dava) Before we opened, we talked to neighborhood people about what they wanted. At least one person at each of those gatherings would say: My family is interfaith; my family is multiracial; we don’t have the same economic resources as others. We took those voices very seriously. And we thought about how we make a space that would welcome and serve more of these normally underrepresented voices.

(Q) How does JCC Harlem celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holidays?

(Meg) We partner with dozens of organizations for holiday celebrations, which allows us to invite people with different backgrounds at the same time. We want to help you do Jewish in the way you do Jewish.

Celebrating Purim at JCC Harlem

 

(Q) How do you help people of all backgrounds feel welcome at the JCC?

(Dava) I’ve learned to listen first and make no assumptions. There’s a woman who comes in — she’s Japanese born, Jewish by choice, and has a Jewish daughter and an African-born husband. She told us that in every other space, she heard “you don’t look Jewish,” until she found this space.

(Q) Do you have a vision for JCC Harlem’s next steps in the future?

(Meg) I have a lot of favorite things about my job, but one of them has been how incredibly democratic the planning and dreaming process has been. It evolves as the needs change. We have no agenda, except to keep listening and build around what we’re hearing.