Member of the J since: 1960
Ask almost any longtime member of the J and they will tell you that Toby has been a fixture of the J since they were a child – or even since their parents were children.
Toby has been involved with the J since her own children attended the J’s Early Childhood School while she was finishing her own coursework in Early Childhood Education at UC. “It was well-known in the community that the J was THE place to go for early childhood,” she said. Toby joined the Early Childhood School staff at the J, and taught children there for 15 years.
“My children were raised at the J,” Toby said. “They played football, baseball, were involved in drama, went to Camp Livingston. The J was our second home.”
Her experience on the staff of the Early Childhood School at the J helped her recognize the missing link from her family’s synagogue – children. She established a preschool there as a means of drawing young families to the congregation; over the 14 years that she ran the school, it grew to have 125 children enrolled, with 14 teachers. “We have one chance; what kind of footprint do we leave on this earth?” Toby said. “Children are our future and the synagogue, like the JCC, was the foundation of our family.”
Toby had a hard time settling down after she retired in 1998, and eventually started working in the Early Childhood Center at the Blue Ash YMCA while construction was wrapping up on the J. She jumped at the opportunity to come back to the J and when the building opened 10 years ago, she began working the 5: 30am shift at the Fitness Desk, just to be a part of the community.
Today, Toby is one of the most popular friendly faces at the J. “Now when my alarm goes off at 6am, there’s no question that I’m bounding out of bed, eager to be here. I’m eager to play with the children and maintain the PJ Patch, and to work at the desk and see everyone come in.”
Many of the children she has cared for over the years have gone on to become leaders in the community: Marc Fisher, CEO of the Mayerson JCC, was in her Hebrew class. Immediate Past President Todd Schild was once a student in her 2-year-old class. She taught JCC Operations Director David Solomon in Sunday School.
“I see the J as being a place for families to come to fill a part of their lives that’s good for them – that is healthy, that is social. For those of the Jewish faith, it’s a place that is communal, that is positive and welcoming. For the elderly, I see the center giving them reasons to keep going, and to combat isolationism. For the young, I see reasons to interface and meet up with others, and for those that are into fitness, to find the mecca in our state-of-the-art facility.”
Ever the innovator, Toby continues to have high hopes for the future of the J, and plenty of ideas for how the Center can continue to grow . “Nobody’s perfect and nothing is perfect, but if you’re not moving you’re not grooving. If you’re notlearning, you’re not living.”
“The J was our second home.”
Member of the J since: 2012
Maggie and her husband both joined the J in 2011, with a goal to focus on their health and fitness. They both saw immediate results right away, losing weight through cardio and swimming. As former high school and collegiate swimmers, they agree that the J ’s aquatic center is easily the best pool in the area.
After welcoming their first child two years ago, Maggie knew she wanted to be active again. She quickly became a big fan of several unique Group Ex classes at the J – including spinning. “I never thought I’d be into spinning!” Maggie said with a laugh.
Maggie decided to kick her personal goals into high gear when she signed up for Commit to be Fit early this year. She upped the ante by telling everyone she knew at the J that not only had she signed up for the 12-week small group training program… she was going to win! “I needed that accountability,” Maggie said. “I would have been so embarrassed if I didn’t win. I needed to prove to myself that I could still do it.”
As a mother of a young child, finding the time for training in order to stick to her goals provided its own challenges – but the J came through for her there, too. “J Play is amazing. I couldn’t have done it without J Play.”
Leaving her baby in the trusted care of the J Play attendants while she hit the Fitness Center, Maggie was able to achieve her goals, proving that you can do anything you set your mind to – especially with the support of a caring community. “There’s such a strong sense of community at the J. I love the J. I feel like I’m an advocate for the J.”
Maggie lost an incredible 24.69% of her body weight during Commit to be Fit! She won first place, and her group won the group challenge with the support of their JCC Personal Trainer, Traci. But for Maggie, the importance of the J extends beyond her success at the Fitness Center. It’s in the moments she has to catch up with her friends, to work toward her goals, to let her child play, or simply to grab a coffee on the run; it’s a place where she always feels like she belongs.
“There’s such a strong sense of community at the J.”
Member of the J since: 2008
“This place stands for warmth and friendliness, being accepting.”
The J prides itself on being a place of community, and Dottie Klayman is a living embodiment of that spirit. As one of the JCC’s Ambassadors of Friendship, Dottie makes occasional calls to J members who haven’t been around in a while. A few simple words of kindness from Dottie can go a long way in helping people remember that there are many people who care about them.
“Over the last year, I’ve started calling people. Just a few times a year,” Dottie said. She is careful to not be invasive or push y, offering a simple invitation to a luncheon or a meeting. “For people who have had health issues or other reasons that have kept them from coming, sometimes it just takes a call and an invitation to let them know someone is thinking of them. It probably helps that they’re my age, so I can relate, I understand some of what they’re going through and they feel they can open up to me.”
A member of the J since the center’s facility was in Roselawn, Dottie welcomed the J’s move to Amberley. “I thought they did a wonderful job with this facility. It changed to adapt with the times.” It also adapted to allow more people to experience all that the J has to offer, hosting interfaith programs and opportunities for people of all abilities.
“Many of my friends here are Jewish, many of my friends here are not,” Dottie said. “It’s a testament to the openness of this place. There’s a sense of wanting to create opportunities for everyone and to make everyone feel welcome.”
“There’s a sense of wanting to create opportunities for everyone and make everyone feel welcome.”
Member of the J since: 2015
Tal Cohen and her family moved to Cincinnati from Israel three years ago. They started attending the J when her two young children enrolled in the Early Childhood School and found that the J ’s welcoming community helped ease the culture shock.
“Israelis have a tendency to group,” Tal said with a smile, so her family’s involvement at the J has helped bridge some of those cultural barriers.“We got to know people in the neighborhood and then saw them at the J.” The significant differences between Israeli life and American life in terms of mentality and how people communicate seemed to ease a little bit at the J. “It’s a little more open here. People get that you’re from another place, so you can be a little more yourself. It helps to maintain my Israeli identity.”
Enrolling her children in the Early Childhood School also helped ease the transition between Israeli and American life. They quickly began making more American friends and discovering new interests. “Being involved in the Early Childhood School makes you feel like you belong at the J, like you naturally fit in,” Tal said.
In their preschool classrooms, the Cohens began taking advantage of No-Nappers classes as opportunities to discover the J’s Children and Family classes within the Early Childhood School day. Her daughter took two years of dance, while her son took several Little Blue Jays sports classes, including basketball, soccer, and baseball.
While the kids have now graduated from the Early Childhood School, the family has found it easy to stay involved at the J. The kids loved Camp at the J this summer, where they and their parents got to see friends old and new.
“Being involved in the Early Childhood School makes you feel like you belong at the J, like you naturally belong.”
Member of the J since: Lifetime member
Just as any new community center needs strong leadership from the Board, it also requires a dedicated staff to transform a facility into a thriving community. Marcia Goldsmith joined the JCC around the same time as its move to the Summit Road facility in 1960. A member of the programming team, she helped form the adult programs for the new facility. Over her 39-year tenure, she had the opportunity to reshape her career four different times, which she concluded by creating the fundraising department as Director of Development.
Over the course of her four decades as a staff member at the JC C, Marcia bore witness to many changes in the local Jewish community, both in Cincinnati, and throughout the country. “There is something about a Jewish soul – it is rooted in heritage, and has the values of togetherness, unity, and community,” she said. “The Center succeeded in these transitions because the innate desire for people to be together in a unified center never ceased to exist .”
One of the biggest ways that Marcia helped create a tight-knit community within the J was the establishment of the J ’s community theatre company, the TACapades, named for their very active governing body, the Teen Age Council (TAC), created in 1960. This new theater program afforded people a bonding opportunity, as well as learning and growth. Every year, the TACapades would audition 300-400 kids; because it was so difficult to turn anyone away, the shows would often feature choruses of 150 or more, as well as massive crews and artistic staff!
“For the men involved in sports, sports created that bond. For the younger people, it was theater,” Marcia said. “Distinct theater groups for all ages served people from cradle to grave. Two of the most vulnerable sections of the community were the oldest and the youngest, and they were both able to find community here.”
When Marcia took over the TACapades in 1963, she wanted to expand the teen leadership role, to make the group into a forum of sorts in order to give the kids a voice in a society that was changing rapidly, and often violently. “There was a social voice of where the kids were at that moment behind every performance,”
Marcia said. “This was a marked difference from the old mentality that ‘children should be seen and not heard.’” Marcia’s approach to giving “her kids” a voice was novel at the time and is still one of the things she for which she is most fondly remembered. “You have to meet people where they are and love and accept them for who they are,” Marcia said of her approach. “You may be able to get them to branch out , and they may end up in a different place than where they started.”
“…The oldest and the youngest… were both able to find community here ”
Member since: 2019
Josh Rothstein grew up at the J. He made fond childhood memories as a camper at the JCC on Summit Road, then joined the JCC in its current building as a young adult. “I was blown away by how beautiful the building was,” Josh said.
Josh has been a member of the J for 10 years, and is particularly active in the 20s & 30s programs, as well as in the broader Jewish community in Cincinnati. He’s seen the young professional population grow significantly at the J over the years, thanks to active 20s & 30 s events from the J and other Jewish agencies.
“At first there weren’t as many young people as I expected, but that has changed completely,” Josh said. “No matter the event, there’s always time for socializing with other young people.” These casual social opportunities form the basis of many strong friendships and a growing community of young people in Jewish Cincinnati.
As part of a family that is heavily involved in the Cincinnati Jewish community, Josh has gotten to see how the J bridges generational differences. “There’s something for everyone, from my grandparents down to my little niece who attends the Early Childhood School, ” Josh said. Josh’s sister Rachel served as the Rabbinic Intern at the J this past summer, and his grandparents frequently attend the Senior Center ’s Shabbat lunches.
“The JCC is the center of the Jewish community, and I see the programs continuing to be top-notch well into the future. It’s always wonderful to see so many people here.”
“The JCC is the center of the community.”
Membership since: 2010
The JCC Early Childhood School is filled with children from 6 weeks to 5 years old, laughing, playing, singing, and learning. On occasion, you can find one or two older “kids” playing along as well, including Diane Oestreicher, who goes to visit her granddaughter, Stella.
Diane’s own children spent time at the old JCC facility on Summit Road when they were growing up. Her oldest son, Bobby, attended the Early Childhood School there at age 2 and was one of Toby Samet’s students. “It’s the continuity, the community, that makes this place special,” Diane said. “Toby knows everybody and every student she’s ever had.”
Though her own children were grown by the time the J opened in Amberley Village 10 years ago, Diane started coming again for the same reason many people do – to exercise at the J’s expansive, modern facility.
“I started coming here within its first few years. I met new friends and saw old friends. The I started coming for some of the programs and the spa,”Diane said. “When Stella was an infant, I would come play with her, or see her playing in the baby pool while I walked the track.”
Now, Diane supports the J at events in the community as well. She started playing golf at the annual Adams Classic several years ago, and now continues to participate in the day’s canasta play. As the J’s largest fundraiser, the Adams Classic provides the perfect opportunity for hundreds of people throughout the community to come together to support the connections made and friendships formed through the J.
As we sat chatting in the J Café, Diane waved at someone walking by; her friend Sally Korkin stopped by the table to greet her. “See? It’s the hub!” Diane laughed. “That’s what this place is all about. It’s what differentiates the J – you see people you know, and maybe people you don’t know so well, and you get to know them better.”
“It’s the continuity, the community, that makes this place special.”
Membership since: Lifetime Member
Ron Rose is a living legend of the J in Cincinnati. At nearly 88 years young, he’s been in Cincinnati since getting out of the Army in his early 20s. Though he had no Jewish life in the Army as the only Jewish person in his outfit, he quickly found one area where he fit right in: softball.
“I was very good at softball in the Army,” Ron laughs. “Once I got out, I went 6 or 7 years without playing before I came back to it . Then I was hooked.”
Around the same time, Ron quickly got involved with the JCC. He joined the J and soon became part of the JCC Board of Directors. Three years later, he was elected President of the Board. The J at the time was housed in a temporary facility before its move to Summit Road. “It was an interim facility, but it had baseball fields,” Ron noted.
Ron formed part of the leadership team that helped open the J ’s facility on Summit Road, a center that to this day is etched in the memories of many current member of the J who grew up there. After completing his term as one of the first three-year JCC Board Presidents, Ron stayed on as a member of the Presidents’ Association, helping to select future presidents and sharing his insight as needed.
Ron continues to serve as a valued adviser, both on the softball field and at the J. He effectively bridges the lessons of the past with the plans for the future.
“I’ve seen this grow, and I think it’s really good right now,” Ron said. “For me, it’s more a feeling of being Jewish than anything else.” The excellence in programming combined with the irreplaceable feeling of being a part of a community keeps Ron involved after all these years. Well, that and softball, which forms a community all its own.
“I played until I was 85; never missed an inning,” Ron said. He can still be found at the field on Wednesday nights, helping to run the team from the dugout. He’s the only lifetime member on the JCC’s softball commission. “It’s easier to get on the Supreme Court,” Ron laughed.
As we celebrate 10 years in Amberley and more than 85 years of the JCC in Cincinnati, it’s important to thank those leaders who have helped the J become the community that it is.
“For me, it’s more a feeling of being Jewish than anything.”
Staff Member since: 1988
As the J celebrates 10 years in Amberley this fall, one of its key employees will be celebrating a major milestone as well. This October, Barb Collins of the J’s Building Services team will mark 30 years as a member of the JCC team.
So what has kept Barb coming back each day for 30 years? “Everyone here is just so nice!” Barb said. “If the J wasn’t a good place to be, I wouldn’t have been here for 30 years!”
Thirty years ago, Barb was looking for part-time work to supplement her full-time job. She happened to be off on Fridays, which is when the J (then housed in its facility in Roselawn) needed someone to help keep up the building. Barb slowly started adding days at the J to her schedule; her early hours at her full-time job allowed her to come to the J in the afternoons. “I saw how nice everyone was here, and how well they treated me,” Barb said. When a full-time position became available at the J, Barb took it, and hasn’t looked back.
Throughout the course of her 30 years at the J, Barb’s seen a number of changes – including three different facilities! Barb stayed with the J from Roselawn to Silverton, and got to watch the progress as the current building in Amberley Village was under construction. “We were able to come in a lot just to walk around and explore,” Barb said. “ We went up to the walking track when it was just concrete and rebar. It was crazy to see it barely finished, and we’d come back once or month or so to see the progress.”
In addition to literally knowing the J’s building inside and out, Barb has seen many of the leaders of the J grow up before her eyes. “ Working here is like an extended family,” Barb said. “They let you put your family first. If you have kids, you can practically keep them right with you, whether at the Early Childhood School, or at J Play or Club J.”
Lucky for the J, Barb doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. What does she see in store for a growing JCC over the next 10 years? “You’d need a bigger building!”
The J’s tight-knit community is what keeps both members and employees coming back year after year. “The relationships are so genuine and real,”Barb said. “People go out of their way to be nice all the time. They ’re just good people.”
“Working here is like an extended family.”