May 14, 2009
The JCC of Central New Jersey informed members that it will soon open on Saturdays, in a move its president said came after careful deliberations over a policy that would “make the center most relevant to this Jewish community.”
As of June 20, the JCC will be open on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. for social and recreational use.
The cafe will be closed, and there will be no exchange of money; no competitive sports or league practices will be held.
The JCC has been closed on Shabbat since the center’s establishment. The announcement brings the center into line with the majority of JCCs in New Jersey and around the country. The YM-YWHA of Union County, however, is still closed on Saturday as are centers in Deal, Tenafly, and Washington Township; five other NJ centers are open.
According to the letter sent to members last week, the new schedule applies until Labor Day.
Barak Hermann, the center’s executive director, said that after Sept. 7, depending on demand and financial viability, the hours of operation on Saturdays could be reduced or extended. The board of directors approved a policy allowing for opening from as early as 7 a.m.
The decision to open the center on Shabbat came after a long process of deliberation, JCC officials said. JCC president Mindy Goldberger said reconsideration of the Saturday policy began in 2005, when the JCC accepted a new strategic plan.
Discussing the decision last week, Goldberger said that in February 2008, the board members spent time together on a retreat, to crystallize the vision for the JCC’s future. The question of the Shabbat policy emerged as a clear priority. A task force of lay members, formed under the leadership of former JCC president Marcia Wasser, was asked to explore the issue and come up with a recommendation.
The toughest challenge for the committee that explored the issue, said Goldberger, was to balance personal beliefs and opinions with the overall question of how the center can best serve the community — as a welcoming gathering place for Jewish families with many different levels of observance, as well as for those with no religious affiliation and members who are not Jewish.
The 14 task force members arrived at their answer in March, and the board accepted it on Monday, May 4.
‘Careful and thorough’
Unlike in some other communities where — at least initially — there was a concerted protest when JCCs suggested opening on Shabbat, the Central JCC announcement has to date drawn no publicized opposition. The only gesture of disassociation has come from Rabbi Elazar M. Teitz, rabbi of the United Orthodox Community of Elizabeth. He e-mailed a brief message to New Jersey Jewish News, saying, “Please be advised that as of June 20, the cafeteria at the JCC in Scotch Plains will no longer be under our Kashruth supervision.” The notice was signed by Teitz and Rabbi Levi Block of the Union County Torah Center. Teitz declined further comment.
In response, Hermann issued a statement saying: “The JCC is disappointed about losing the supervision from Rabbi Teitz. The JCC will do its best to ensure that options will be available in the cafe that are suitable for all levels of kashrut observance.”
Wasser, in a statement issued by the JCC, said: “We frequently reached out to local rabbis, Federation and lay leaders to get their input and keep them informed. We invited all area rabbis to a meeting at the JCC to facilitate a group dialogue. This gathering set a precedent in our community. I am very proud of the thoughtful, thorough and collaborative way in which we accomplished our task.”
Goldberger was emphatic that there was no time limit set and no preconception about the outcome. “I’m very proud of how careful and thorough the process was,” she said. “In the end, the only consideration was what policy would make the center most relevant to this Jewish community.”
Hermann said membership has declined by 3 percent over the past year, and the organization — like most others — is facing financial stresses, but the decision to open on Saturdays had nothing to do with the economy. The move will, in fact, raise costs because of the additional staff salaries involved in the Saturday hours. Whether it improves retention or attracts enough new members to actually raise revenue will take some time to answer, he said.
The crux for him, Hermann said, was that it was time “to evaluate the requests and needs of our membership to open on Saturdays. By ensuring that there was a thorough and respectful process with much deliberation and great respect for the needs of the Jewish community, we felt that being open on Shabbat will provide a wonderful community location to gather if the membership and community so chooses.”