by Steven Becker
We totally share Michelle Wolf’s concern with the health and well-being of baby boomers, and indeed of American Jews of all ages. Americans have become less healthy over the last several decades, and we now face the possibility of our children having a shorter life expectancy than we have. About one third of Americans are overweight, a fact that carries with it a higher probability of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. In addition, many more children are overweight, which increases the likelihood of bullying and poor school performance.
We don’t agree, however, that there are no Jewish organizations actively confronting these problems. Jewish Community Centers have a long tradition of encouraging good health and actively promoting wellness. The earliest JCCs saw their mission as helping desperately poor immigrants to improve sanitation, get needed exercise, and learn good nutrition. They arranged for city children to go to camp in the country, for teens to learn to swim and play basketball, and for people who worked in terrible conditions all day to enjoy much-needed recreation.
Today, JCCs are renewing their focus on wellness. We have launched a new initiative called Discover @ the JCC, specifically targeted at people who need and want to improve their overall health. We’ve partnered with a variety of companies and groups to make available to JCCs different wellness programs and online tools to improve healthy habits. We’ve developed JCC Grows, a gardening/food-justice project that’s part of First Lady Michele Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. Our resident and day camps have redesigned their food policies to emphasize real, nutritious food rather than the processed convenience food that used to be popular. We are partnering with the CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) program, adding Jewish components, to offer Discover: CATCH Early Childhood to JCC preschools, hoping to inculcate healthy food and exercise habits to our youngest members.
Many JCCs provide respite programs for caregivers, those who are responsible for older people and those who care for children and teens with developmental disabilities. Bringing a parent to a JCC daycare program can be lifesaving for an overwhelmed baby-boomer, and it’s hard to calculate the benefit for the parents of an autistic teen to see their child participating in a JCC social program for kids with special needs. JCCs sponsor support groups for breast-cancer patients, for those struggling with loss, and for people suffering the myriad problems life presents.
Of course, there’s always more to be done. As Wolf points out, the American healthcare system is in a lot of trouble, and too many people don’t have access to care. But the Jewish Community Center Movement has always been in the forefront of providing wellness services, and it still is.
Steven Becker is Director, Health and Wellness Services, JCC Association.