Supporting a diverse community

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At the 14th Street Y, Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein creates programs “for New Yorkers of every background”


  • Photo: Bridget Badore

As executive director of the 14th Street Y located on East 14th Street and First Avenue, Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein oversees a diverse community, serving New Yorkers from all walks of life, from toddlers to senior citizens.

Rabbi Epstein joined the Y in 2013 and loves getting to know the members, staff and business owners in the community. “As a rabbi who runs a historically Jewish community center, in one of the most creative and vibrant places in the world, I love that we are able to use our cultural inheritance and creativity to create real and supportive community for New Yorkers of every background, race, ethnicity and religion,” says Epstein.

Among the wide range of programs offered, the 14th Street Y coordinates Downtown Jewish Life a network of 30 synagogues, museums, and Jewish organizations in Downtown Manhattan.

In addition to its robust cultural offerings, the 14th Street Y offers programming that appeals to a wide variety of interests and needs of the community. “We work to serve as a center that can serve as a supportive community for people of every age, stage, background and socioeconomic status, supporting their social, recreational, spiritual, wellness and educational needs,” explains Epstein. “So, for some people, this is their pool or their fitness center or home basketball court. For others, it is their preschool, their parenting support network, their child’s after-school activity. For many, we are the place for their cultural engagement, for adult education classes, or for their social outlet either after the workday or during the fulfilling days of retirement.”

The 14th Street Y is a part of the city’s Educational Alliance, a social institution that has served Lower Manhattan since 1889. Originally established as a settlement house for East European Jewish immigrants emigrating to New York City, the Alliance eventually grew and evolved into an organization that offered social service programs, and was one of the first organizations to offer Head Start for early childhood education.

“Everyone wants to live meaningful, healthy, and interesting lives, connected in real ways with others — and I see that happening here every day,” says Epstein. “Whether it is in our theater, our pool, our preschool, on the basketball court, or in the fitness center, I get to see people of all ages and backgrounds playing, learning, and growing together, making a real village of neighbors here in the East Village.”

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