Woodbridge-based Jewish Community Center celebrates renewal of operations after fire

Bob Bradley of New Haven and Fred Caminear (partially hidden) of Woodbridge are photographed during the grand reopening of the JCC of Greater New Haven in Woodbridge.

Bob Bradley of New Haven and Fred Caminear (partially hidden) of Woodbridge are photographed during the grand reopening of the JCC of Greater New Haven in Woodbridge.

It has taken 15 months, but things are almost completely back to normal at the JCC of Greater New Haven, which was badly damaged by a Dec. 2016 fire.

All that remains of the restoration effort is replacing a portion of the facility’s spa: a sauna and whirlpool located on the lower level of the building. The sauna was where the fire, which caused $2.4 million in damage and was ruled accidental, started.

“It should be done in another four weeks or so,” Scott Cohen, the JCC’s executive director, said as he led visitors on a tour of the spa area.

Areas that weren’t damaged by the actual fire were damaged fighting it, Cohen said.

Shortly before the fire occurred, the JCC had completed resurfacing a hardwood basketball court on the lower level of the building, he said. That all had to be redone when the entire lower level of the building was flooded with water that was between six and eight inches deep, Cohen said.

JCC officials are anxious to have the building fully restored because the organization lost one-third of its membership as a result of the fire. The facility was closed for months after the fire and many of its programs moved to other locations.

“They left because we weren’t able offer them what they wanted,” Cohen said. “But a lot of them told us to give them a call when we were back in the building. So we’re hopeful that they will come back.”

The grand reopening of the facility had a celebratory atmosphere with jugglers and clowns walking on stilts. A staff member dressed as a giant bagel roamed the halls.

“We wanted to do the kind of event that made a statement that said, ‘We’re back,’” Cohen said.

The grand reopening was combined with the JCC’s Mitzvah Day. The Hebrew term means a good deed done from religious duty.

Mitzvah Day combines fun with fundraising and allows volunteers of all ages the opportunity to participate in meaningful projects that benefit the whole community, according to JCC officials.

One of the exhibitors at Mitzvah Day was the Massaro Community Garden in Woodbridge.

Caty Poole, executive director of the community garden program, said that the group donates 10 percent of all the food it harvests to feed the hungry. That translated to 10,000 pounds of fresh vegetables in 2017, Poole said.

Also celebrated was the renaming of the facility’s Early Leaning Center. Formerly know as the Yeladim, the center now bears the name of Beverly Levy, a longtime community leader who died at 63 in March 2014.

Levy’s husband John and daughter Perri said Levy, who was a long-time employee of SNET, was eager to help children when ever she could.

“She always wanted to make things better for the next generation,” Perri Levy said.

One example of that was a program that Beverly and John Levy funded through the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut. The anti-bullying program the couple funded involved every public school in Connecticut, John Levy said.

“She really believed that children are our future,” Levy said of his late wife, who was a past president of the ADL Connecticut board.

Beverly Levy’s mother, Ann Eden, was on hand for the dedication of the Early Learning Center that now bears here daughter’s name. Eden recalled that whenever Beverly heard language that she thought was disparaging or offensive to others, “she’d just say, ‘Ouch!’”

Stacey Perkins, a long-time friend of Levy’s, said the expression came out of an ADL training program.

“Not only is she a person who worked hard, she encouraged others to work hard (to benefit others),” Perkins said.