Palo Alto JCC creates Oasis for kids, adults

An open-sided tent inspired by Abraham and Sarah’s desert home is one stop on the Jewish journey now available to youngsters in a play space at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, where their parents can sit outside nearby at a redesigned cafe.

A new play area occupies what was once a concrete courtyard. photos/dalia jude

The new Oasis Play Space, built around a theme of welcoming wanderers in a desert setting, also features man-made grassy hills and an archeo-climber resembling an archaeological site that kids can climb and explore. The tent will be used for performances and celebrations, or just a place of refuge for tired kids.

“It is a piece of sculpture. It’s not a playground, that’s your typical slides and swings. This is a play space,” said Mimi Sells, the OFJCC’s senior adviser for special projects. “This is a place where kids can be really creative, make up their own games, explore. And every time they crawl somewhere they’ll find mirrors in the tunnel or shiny things inside the cave. There are so many surprises built into this.”

The inspiration for creation of the play space, which had been a concrete courtyard with palm trees, was sparked when Zack Bodner became the JCC’s chief executive officer three years ago. He walked people through the Taube Koret Campus that opened in 2009 and spoke about his vision for a space where children could play, parents could relax and the community could come together. The project cost more than $1 million and was funded through grants, the OFJCC capital campaign and a Koret campaign gift.

The grand opening of Oasis is Sunday, July 17. Also making its debut will be Nourish: A Newish Jewish Cafe, as well as a new family center for parents with infants and an outdoor workout space for members. The celebration, from 1 to 4 p.m., will include free samples from the cafe, face painting and carnival games, music and entertainment and demonstrations at the outdoor training area.

Nourish’s menu features New York deli items, California cuisine and Israeli food. The cafe is not kosher, but will offer kosher-certified sushi meals from Holy Sushi. The renovations have opened it up so that it is now an indoor-outdoor space next to Oasis, allowing coffee and playtime to go together.

The Oasis Play Space has a desert theme.

Oasis, designed by Richmond-based Scientific Art Studio, is aimed at children ages 5 months to 10 years old and is split into two main sections, one with larger artifacts for older kids to climb and jump off, and the other for young children with tactile objects like a larger-than-life pomegranate and a waterfall feature. SAS previously designed the iconic giant baseball mitt at AT&T Park in San Francisco and the playground at the San Francisco Zoo.

In addition to Abraham and Sarah’s tent, the play space includes biblical references, such as a fig-tree table for little ones and papyrus plants. The space features the seven species — the staple foods for Jews in the land of Israel during biblical times — that also are represented around the campus by the different colors of each building.

Since the OFJCC is across the street from Kehillah Jewish High School, the new area is expected to attract teenagers as well. “This is a place for everybody because Kehillah kids will come and sit on the grass and have lunch, families will sit there and have a picnic, seniors or grandparents will sit and watch the kids play. You don’t feel rushed and you feel very safe because it’s a contained environment,” Sells said.

Dalia Jude

Dalia Jude was a J. intern in summer 2015.