When I was a child, growing up in Chelsea, Massachusetts, I lived next door to the YM/YWHA, the Young Men's/Young Women's Hebrew Association: in other words the local Jewish community center. My life revolved around the activities held in this building.
My mom worked there, as an Executive Secretary. I went to their summer day camp, Camp Menorah, for many years, right through high school. And during the school year, the center ran after-school clubs: music, arts and crafts, dance, games. Those who led the clubs were college students who came in from area colleges, mostly though, from Boston University. And so, when I became a college student at Salem State College, I, too, became a club leader. I also was a Camp Menorah counselor during my college years. The other counselors who worked with me came from all over the country and so I made friends with people from New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles.
During the school year, the"Y" as it was known, ran evening programs for kids. On Monday and Thursday evenings, from 7-10 p.m. juniors and seniors in high school had the place to themselves where they enjoyed music and dancing, could play pool, ping pong, basketball or just hang around and socialize with each other. On Tuesday evenings the sophomores in high school invaded the place for the same kind of activities and on Wednesday evenings, the junior high kids from grades 7 through 9 came in. All these programs were run by two very capable Jewish educators.
On Sunday mornings, the "Y" hosted two Jewish boys and girls organizations: the AZA boys and the BBG girls. A Sunday school class of Jewish history was also held for youngsters, ages six to ten. And at all times when the building was open, adults took advantage of the sauna and steam rooms, the basketball court and attended organizational meetings.
Now don't think that Saturday nights were left out. This was a Jewish community center serving hundreds of kids every week. So, we had what could be termed as Shabbatons, a study/social weekend event and invited kids from other Jewish community centers around Massachusetts and Rhode Island to come and spend Saturday afternoon at the "Y" with us singing and learning. Then we enjoyed a dance in the evening and the out-of-towners slept over at kids' houses till Sunday, then back at the "Y" for a last bit of socializing until it was time to go back home. We had kids come from Springfield in Western Massachusetts, from Marblehead on the North Shore of Massachusetts, from Quincy on the South Shore, from Cape Cod and from Providence, Rhode Island. And, of course, the kids from Chelsea visited these cities for the same purpose. It was a wonderful way to meet new Jewish friends from out of our area. The experience was priceless. When these weekends were not held, dances for the local kids were planned. Kids came in from the surrounding towns and we rocked and rolled till 10:30.
We even put on variety shows which were performed for our parents. Tables were set up in the gym making it look like a night club. Our performances took place in the middle of the floor. I remember dancing with my partner, Stephen Witten, doing the cha-cha and the mambo.
Then something extraordinary happened. The powers that be decided to bring in a semi-professional variety show producer and dance instructor from Boston to produce a variety show with the talents of most of the members of the "Y", adults and teenagers. What a surprise to learn that so many people I knew had gorgeous voices, could really dance and deliver jokes like professionals. The second year we put on the play, "Pajama Game." Both shows were hits and were so much fun. Perhaps that experience was the unwitting impetus when I went with a friend who was going to try out for the college play, "The Tender Trap." I was asked to read and was selected for a part.
The point of all this 'history' is that my childhood memories bring me so much happiness, a time when things were safer, calmer, more innocent, not so alarming, maybe more fun, filled with interesting and fun activities. Many things back then were really good.......... really good......... really good.