JCC reopens fitness center after five months, moves cultural programming online

tucson_J_social_distancing_1024pxThe number of people in any space at the Tucson Jewish Community Center is limited to allow for social distancing. (Courtesy Tucson Jewish Community Center)

The Tucson Jewish Community Center reopened its fitness center on Aug. 28, following a decision from the Arizona Department of Health Services that allowed gyms in Pima County to resume operations with safety measures in place. The J’s fitness center had been closed since late June, when it briefly re-opened after an initial closure in March.

In collaboration with AZDHS and the J’s medical advisory committee, the J has created a safety plan that requires members to wear masks at all times while indoors, including while working out in the gym, and limits the number of people in a space at a given time. All workouts at the J require advance registration, though member walk-ins can be accommodated if/when space allows.

The J has continued to offer a limited number of fitness services to members in recent months: the lap swim lanes, Sarver Tennis Center, and outdoor pickleball courts have all been open to members since June 1.

The J also has transitioned out of a successful summer servicing children, families, and those with disabilities, to pioneer J-Care Plus: a remote learning support program that puts school-age kids into small peer pods to do their virtual schooling while benefiting from extracurricular activities such as art and swimming. The early childhood education program offers care to children ages 6 weeks through pre-K and is following a similar peer-pod model. Taglit, the J’s day program for young adults with disabilities, continues to be housed at Congregation Or Chadash.

After several successful weeks operating the fitness center, the J also is expanding its outdoor fitness offerings: members can now reserve spots in many free small group exercise classes, including AquaFit, yoga, and cycling. All classes are limited to 10 participants or fewer and are taking place outside in the J’s Sculpture Garden (unless otherwise noted). More than 20 free-to-the-public virtual fitness classes continue to be offered each week via Zoom.

Other programs are being offered online, too. While in-person classes and events that traditionally attract more at-risk populations— such as watercolor and mah jongg — are off the table right now, many have found their way to the virtual space, says Khylie Gardner, the J’s director of communications. Spanish class, for example, is being held via Zoom, as will the much-anticipated Amplifying Voices series, which launches in October and will explore the intersecting relationship between Black and Jewish identities in a variety of workshops over several months. The 30th anniversary of the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival will take place virtually, too, with the festival committee making plans to “Zoom in” various directors, cinematographers, and actors for conversations with the audience throughout.

“Things look very different now,” says the J’s CEO, Todd Rockoff, “but the outlook is very positive, and we are continuing to innovate while we navigate towards the future. Some of our new protocol — like curbside drop-off for families and accessible online programming — have actually been incredibly popular, and will stick around long after this is over.”

This innovation could be a blessing in disguise in other ways: the J’s leadership is currently beginning the strategic planning process for the next five years, and there’s no doubt that the creativity required to navigate through the ongoing pandemic has also opened pathways to exciting new ways of creating community in Tucson — hopefully (but not mandatorily) in person, says Gardner.

Editor’s note: The information provided in this article was accurate as of Sept. 9 and is subject to change.