Special Needs

Running for Joy at the JCC…and Finding Family Togetherness

Finding a community that speaks to our heart and our family values is invaluable. It helps define us and who we become. But it’s a hard thing to come by these days. We all live busy lives in an online-focused world, with less reliance on personal interaction, houses of worship, or a true appreciation for the local life that surrounds us. But there is still a part of us that longs to belong to something concrete, some special place that can provide us with the connectedness we crave and keep us personally engaged over time. So, where can we find it?

Well, if you ask Josh Tenzer, the answer, clear and simple, is the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. It’s where he went to nursery school and camp. It’s where he bonded with his dad. It’s where he met his future wife. And it’s where he pursues his passion for running – a passion he’s now sharing with his seven-year-old twins, Ezra and Nathaniel.

Josh, who now works for a New York-based law firm that specialized in the health care industry, grew up in Tenafly, just blocks from the JCC. When his parents moved to the neighborhood in 1980, not knowing a soul, they were eager to make friends and find a community where they could get involved as a young Jewish couple. With the JCC next door, it was an easy first stop, and after touring the facility, they joined on the spot and signed Josh up in the Leonard and Syril Rubin Nursery School, where his long and eventful JCC journey began.

“My parents were big believers in the value of the JCC, and it played a very big part in my childhood,” says Josh. “I learned to swim there. I attended the Neil Klatskin Day Camp. I came after school and took all kinds of fun classes, like rocket building and computers and Judo. As I got older, I’d hang out with friends in the old youth center and still remember that room as the place where I watched the 1986 playoffs, cheering at the TV screen with all my friends. It was like home, but perhaps more importantly, it was the place where I really connected with my dad.

“My dad was a real track and field kind of guy. He ran the NYC marathon each year and when I was around five or six, we started running the Rubin Run at the JCC together. The course took us right past our house, and every year without fail, my mom would be standing on the front porch, waving and cheering us on. It was always such a thrill, and when the race ended, we’d all celebrate not just Mother’s Day, but my birthday as well, which always fell the same week. I remember those runs and family celebrations as perfect spring days where we always had such a great time together.”

Josh’s JCC journey continued over the years. He ran the Rubin Run with a growing fervor for the sport, and in the summer of 2002, something totally unexpected happened that changed the course of his life – meeting his future wife at the JCC by chance.

“I took a year off between college and law school to travel to Thailand and Israel,” Josh explains. “When I got home, I had the whole summer to wait out before starting law school at NYU in the fall, so on a lark, I decided to walk over to the JCC to see if they had any camp openings where I might be able to work as a counselor. As luck would have it, they had an opening. I accepted, reported to camp, and in a moment of pure kismet, I met Rebecca, one of the swim instructors, when I brought my campers to the pool for a lesson. We fell in love and she is now my wife.”

When Josh and Rebecca first married, they lived in the city, but when they learned that Rebecca was expecting, they returned to their roots and settled in Englewood. When the twins were only a little older than a year, Josh and Rebecca began bringing them to the JCC, where they eventually learned to swim in the same pool Josh had. And by the time they were four, Ezra and Nathaniel began running the Rubin Run with Josh, just like Josh had done with his dad.

“It gives me so much nachos to see our family traditions repeating themselves,” Josh says. “My parents wanted to be part of their local Jewish community and now Rebecca and I are highly invested in supporting it as well. Both of us have so many happy memories of the J – it was our place and it brought us together – and now we’re making amazing new memories there with our boys. It thrills me that we can continue to celebrate Mother’s Day and my birthday by participating in the Rubin Run. I race the 10K and then all four of us run the 5K together. My boys and I prepare for the race in advance and I get such a kick out of watching them. I start with my warm-up stretches and Ezra and Nathaniel plop down beside me and mimic my every move, as I once did with my dad. I smile with deep appreciation every time, and when we start to run, I watch from behind as they race ahead, and it makes me feel so happy and lucky and grateful.”

With this year’s run looming on the horizon, the whole family is eagerly preparing for the race. Josh comes to the J to cross-train, uses the treadmill, and takes yoga and spin classes. Rebecca comes regularly to use the JCC health and fitness facilities as well. And Josh is thrilled to be coaching his kids and passing his passion for running on to his boys.

“I’m an enormously zealous runner and really value the positive things that come from it,” Josh concludes. “Running can be an isolating, solitary experience and there are times when we all need solitary runs, to be alone in our thoughts. But running as part of the JCC community is particularly rewarding. There’s a special kind of joy that comes from running as a group, motivating and pushing each other, and developing real team camaraderie. That’s what the Rubin Run provides, and I love sharing that experience with my family as a time of memorable bonding that I’ve repeated and enjoyed for so much of my life

Josh hopes others connect t0 the JCC the way he and his family have and encourages all to make the Rubin Run part of their own family tradition, “The JCC is a place we can find our joy. It’s through running and the J that I found mine as a little boy with my dad and it means the world to me to now be sharing it with my wife and sons as well.”

Whether you want to excel at running or just want to enjoy a great time, the Rubin Run is for you. It’s all happening on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 10, and celebrates family and fitness, while raising important funds for programs that improve the quality of life for people who are differently-abled in our community. The JCC’s experienced fitness staff is available to train runners and help people learn to run slowly, smartly, and injury-free. For more info about the race, sponsorship opportunities, creating a team, making donations, or volunteering, visit our Rubin Run page or contact 201-408-1404 or email rubinrun@jccotp.org.