Our Stories

CAMP IS COMING: Another Remarkable Summer with Lessans Camp JCC

Rockville, MD, May 20, 2024 – Every Bender JCC member contributes to our mission of being an inclusive community where thousands of individuals of all abilities, ages, and backgrounds can fully participate year-round. You may only come to use a lap lane, work out in our Weinberg Health and Fitness Center, or participate in a group exercise class. Still, when you commit your dollars to the Bender JCC, you share in our community’s defining values: “Welcoming and Inclusive (Hachnassat Orchim),” “Respect (Kavod),” “Community (Kehilla),” and “Working Together (B’Yachad).”

These values come into clear focus for seven weeks every summer when our Lessans Camp JCC campers, counselors, and staff fill nearly every square inch of our building and outdoor spaces with non-stop fun! While Lessans Camp’s arrival and presence may impact our members’ daily routines at the Bender JCC, we’re all reminded that there are hundreds of children and young adults with disabilities who would not otherwise be able to enjoy the summer camp experience they deserve if not for Lessans Camp JCC and our members’ commitment to our community’s value of inclusion.

What does it mean for our community to be inclusive? Our Director of Inclusion, Kate Falls, often reminds us that inclusion goes beyond programs or platitudes and is bigger than any individual. Inclusion is belonging, the feeling of being welcomed, valued and needed by our community. Regardless of ability, each of us should feel that our community accepts us “as we are” and for “who we are.” All members — including people with disabilities — deserve to feel equally at home at the Bender JCC.

While our hallways do get busier and louder over the summer, Lessans Camp JCC is a daily reminder that every individual can bring their whole self to the Bender JCC as our members understand that a person’s differences and unique gifts make our community stronger; indeed, the work of inclusion belongs to all of us.

We are deeply grateful for your membership contribution year-round. During these polarizing and complicated times, the Bender JCC continues to open our doors to the diversity of Greater Washington. Our ability to build bridges in and for our community is possible because of your commitment. We’re planning a series of member appreciation experiences this summer to show how much we value your essential role in our incredible community – keep an eye out for more information on these gatherings.

I hope you have a safe and rejuvenating summer! In friendship,


Past Stories

Dr. Richard Reff (Ricky) and his family recently established the Shirley Robinowitz Kullen & Reff Family Endowment for Senior Programs to providing funding to support Bender JCC senior adult programs.

Shirley Kullen, seated, and her family recently celebrated her 101st birthday at the Bender JCC’s Wellness Wednesdays program. Jeri Reff is behind Shirley. Back row, from left: Ethan, Jodi, Ricky and Bobby Reff.

Rockville, MD, November 2, 2023 – The Bender JCC’s programming for senior adults is highly valued by those we serve. With a purpose to prevent isolation, improve nutrition and build community, we help enable participants to age in place with connections to support services.

Ricky’s mother, Shirley Robinowitz Kullen (Sugar), is a participant at Wellness Wednesdays, part of the Selma Sweetbaum Senior Nutrition Program. Sugar recently celebrated her 101st birthday with her friends at Wellness Wednesdays.

In creating the fund, Ricky stresses the importance of investing in this vulnerable population.

“Seniors are an isolated group. Too frequently, they’re left behind. Many of them are not tech savvy and don’t have the ability to connect with the methodologies that we typically use today, like Zoom and other computer-based programming, so it becomes really important to have this resource.”

A past-president of the Bender JCC, Ricky remembers when the Bender JCC held a program on Fridays during which preschoolers and older adults would gather to welcome Shabbat.

“I remember one time when my children attended the preschool and a 100-year-old resident of the Hebrew Home came to spend time with them. The Bender JCC is unique in being able to offer such multi-generational and memorable experiences.”

Ricky hopes that in the near future, this critical program that is a lifeline for so many in our community can be held more often than once a week.

“My motivation to create the endowment was seeing the meaningful way in which senior programming at the Bender JCC benefits my mother. Others might not have that first-hand experience, but it’s important to keep an eye to the future. Having such an inclusive and welcoming and warm community is what we would like to have available to our parents and us. We’re not around just to punch the clock.”


Community member Renee Brodsky goes above and beyond in service of youths participating in the JCC Maccabi Games.

Rockville, MD, October 5, 2023 – Support for the Bender JCC can come in various forms. One of the ways in which Renee Brodsky (pictured right) supports the Center is through her involvement with the JCC Maccabi Games, an annual Olympic-style event for athletes age 13-16 created to promote community service and sportsmanship, and to build Jewish identity.

Renee’s three children — Kevin, Kyle and Lauren — all participated in the JCC Maccabi Games over the years. Their journey began 25 years ago when Kevin, then 16, played on the soccer team.

“We traveled to watch the games and loved the experience,” Renee reflects.

The uniforms lacked a little luster so the next year, Renee helped to get nicer soccer uniforms. From there, she graduated to obtaining uniforms for all the teams that comprised the Greater Washington delegation. Now 25 years later, Renee’s role has expanded exponentially as delegation head.

Leading up to the Games, Renee orders the uniforms, jackets and bags, has them customized, then packs and distributes them.

During the week of the Games, Renee keeps coaches and athletes informed of all they need to know. She attends games and helps out in any she can, such as having a cooling towel ready for athletes during time outs, making sure enough water and sports drinks are on hand, and shuttling injured players for medical treatment. She checks in with athletes, connects with parents, and takes photos. She is the point of contact for any issues with coaches, athletes or parents.

When the games are over, Renee collects feedback from the athletes for improvements that can be made the next year, and she helps make sure all the vendors have been paid.

Getting to meet Jewish people from all over the world is one of the best parts of the Games, Renee says. “Some of our athletes don’t come from religious families and don’t belong to a synagogue, so they may not know many Jewish people. It’s always amazing when they get to the Games and see so many Jewish teens all in one place, and playing the sports that they love, too!”

A favorite memory for Renee is when the Bender JCC hosted the Games in 2004. She was a co-chair of our delegation and her family hosted teens at their house. Another highlight was when her two sons played on the same soccer team. “When my younger son, Kyle, scored a goal, his older brother, Kevin, and a bunch of the other athletes ran to him and hoisted him in the air. It was the first goal scored against the undefeated LA team!” She adds that this year, getting to go to Israel for three weeks for the Games was amazing.

For parents of athletes participating in the JCC Maccabi Games, Renee recommends traveling to the Games and staying at the parents’ hotel. “It’s like going back to summer camp!” During the day, she says, parents watch and cheer on the teams; at night, they go out with parents of athletes from other delegations while the teens spend time with their host families.

Renee says that the Games and the Greater Washington delegation have meant so much to her family that she’s wanted to give back as much as she could.

“Originally, it was to make sure we had uniforms the kids liked. Now I volunteer my time to make sure everyone who participates has a wonderful experience and that the Greater Washington delegation continues to participate in the Games, in hopes that my grandchildren will one day get the opportunity to be a part of our delegation!”

Renee says that she loves her Maccabi family, which consists of athletes, coaches, delegation heads and the JCC staff.

“I enjoy seeing them every summer and getting to know the teens. I have also gotten to travel to cities that I haven’t been to before.”

Renee is thankful to the Bender JCC for allowing her to participate year after year and enabling her family to create all the memories they have from the Games.

“My kids are still friends with some of the other Jewish teens they met through the JCC Maccabi Games, and I have my Maccabi family!”

The Bender JCC is deeply grateful to Renee for the immeasurable amount of time, energy and commitment she has devoted to ensuring that the Maccabi experience is wonderful for teens, parents and coaches.