To the excitement of many community members, the JCC of Greater Baltimore will soon host its fourth annual block party, a yearly community festival that brings together local organizations such as Jewish agencies and community nonprofits.
The block party is one of the JCC’s biggest events, drawing thousands of attendees, vendors and partners each year. But few realize that when the event was initially planned, a number of people opposed it because they felt that inviting organizations that competed with the JCC in programs and services could take business away.
“In the first year, there were a lot of people who didn’t quite understand the need for bringing people together from a community lens,” said Paul Lurie, chief operations officer of the JCC. “However, we believe that our job on that day is to show people everything great in the community.”
Lurie explained that the JCC believes strongly in its own programs and mission but wants to showcase the importance of similar offerings around Baltimore. Whether a child decides to attend summer camp at the JCC or at Beth Tfiloh, he said, the important thing is the success of Jewish day camps in general.
“We wanted to break down the walls, we didn’t want to be territorial. We really wanted to showcase that we were about community first. Even if one person might see another program and decide to go somewhere else, being the player in the community who can bring people together is of much bigger value to our organization than trying to keep everything internal,” said Barak Hermann, CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “I think for a lot of people, sometimes you don’t see the big picture. Our job is for us to play that role in the community. Our mission is to reach out and engage people. I don’t look at other Jewish agencies and community nonprofits as competitors. It doesn’t hurt our relationships in any way to host them. We want to constantly improve those relationships.”
The event has grown enormously in the past few years. The first party took place in 2014 with about 40 community partners and nearly 4,000 attendees, double the goal set by the JCC. This year, the number of community partners is pushing 70.
“A lot of partnerships have come out of the block party beyond the day of the event,” Lurie said. “We now have annual relationships with a lot of other people that really started with that first block party and us saying, ‘We want to be a part of a bigger community. Who wants to help us build this better community?’”
Billy Treger, the JCC’s publicist, said of the community partnerships: “The goodwill extends itself both ways when you invite these partners to come here. We’re not calling them competitors. They’re partners. We’re all doing the same good work. Why not let the community see all the good work that everyone is doing and have it be a big, fun party for all?”
The block party, which takes place Sunday, June 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC campus, is a free event, made possible by the event’s sponsors, including The Associated, Lifebridge Health, Stevenson University, Greenberg Gibbons and Heritage Toyota.
Following the success of last year’s event, which was forced indoors due to the weather, this year’s block party will be “the best of both worlds,” according to Lurie, with food, activities and booths both inside and outside of the JCC.
The event will feature classic attractions like inflatables, face-painting and photo booths, among other activities. A mainstage will feature entertainment throughout the day, including Barry Louis Polisar, a singer-songwriter known for the eccentricity of his songs; a karate demonstration from Comprehensive Survival Arts; the Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble; and the magic and illusions of Brian Rudo.
This year, the event will be more family- and kid-focused. The model for vendors has changed to make the event less about selling wares and more about fun. There will be a new “baby block” area specifically for the youngest age group that will be away from the older kids. Additionally, the JCC added a new zipline feature to its camp for this summer, which will open the day of the block party.