JCC extends hours, kosher event policy

BY JULIA RUBIN AND DAVID BAUGHER, OF THE JEWISH LIGHT

Changes are underway at the Jewish Community Center after the Board of Directors approved a task force recommendation that it extend its hours to Saturday mornings and the second days of certain festivals.

In the past, the JCC did not begin its hours of operation until 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoons; it will now open its doors in the morning. Also, the JCC will be open on the second day of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, the second and eighth days of Passover and second day of Shavuot. Rabbi Brad Horwitz, who was the staff chair of the task force, said the committee was striving to promote diversity in the Jewish community.

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“The concept behind the recommendation was the whole idea of inclusivity,” said Horwitz, who is also the director of the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life at the JCC. “The JCC should be a place where the widest range of people in the Jewish community feels included.”

Ken Weintraub, president of the JCC agreed.

“We are the big tent within the organized Jewish community,” said Ken Weintraub, president of the JCC. “These changes really help effect that type of inclusiveness for individuals within the community of all persuasions and backgrounds.”

While Horwitz and Weintraub cite increasing the JCC’s inclusivity as a driving force behind the committee’s decision, co-chair Michael Oberlander also pointed out that “the main rationale was to remain competitive with other fitness and health clubs.”

Horwitz was also quick to point out that while the facilities will be open for fitness and health-related activities, no required classes or programs will be held on these days. In addition, any such activity that is offered on Saturday mornings or during certain festival days will also be offered at other times, so as not to make any member feel obligated to attend such events on Shabbat or holidays.

The task force included members and clergy from all branches of Judaism, including Rabbi Mordecai Miller of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel. Miller said he is pleased that the board passed the new guidelines and that the process showed such a high level of cooperation within the Jewish community.

“Our intent was to deal with reality on the ground,” Miller said. “I don’t see these new guidelines as a conflict at all. If anything, we can now add a level of consciousness about Shabbat and other holidays.”

Rabbi Ephraim Zimand of Traditional Congregation was also a member of the task force. Appointed by the Rabbinical Association as a representative to the committee, he said he was not aware of its purpose at the beginning. However, like other members of the task force, he saw a need within the community.

“Personally, I don’t think that the JCC should be open at all on Saturdays. But, since it is open on Saturdays already, I don’t see this as a decrease in policy,” Zimand said. “I am not upset with the decision. In fact, I voted for the extension.”

However, not all members of the St. Louis Jewish community were pleased with the task force’s recommendations. Rabbi Yosef Landa, chairman of the St. Louis Rabbinical Council, explained that many Orthodox rabbis were “less than happy” with the decision and see it as “diminishing the Jewishness of a Jewish institution.”

In a letter addressing the chairs of the committee, Rabbi Jeffrey Bienenfeld of Young Israel argued that “Jewish organizations have a responsibility to sustain in both word and deed Jewish values and traditions.”

“I believe that when holiday observance is publicly dismissed, albeit unintentionally, by Jewish organizational policies, we jeopardize and place at risk the very Jewish continuity that all our programs attempt to promote and insure,” Bienenfeld wrote. “Why does it seem that the JCC by considering such policy changes appears to contradict its very raison d’etre?”

While Rabbi Howard Kaplansky of United Hebrew Congregation was not directly involved with the committee, he said he finds the guidelines particularly “well balanced.”

Rabbi Jim Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth shares the sentiment and said he hopes the new guidelines will help strengthen the JCC by encouraging more people to join.

“I trust that the committee was thorough in representing the various viewpoints of the community,” Bennett said. “And, I think the decision was respectful of and good for the whole Jewish community.”

In other action, the task force also issued a new policy providing that all food served at large events sponsored or co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center will now be kosher.

The move was prompted by concerns over the previous policy which provided for a separate kosher meal to those who wished it. That policy, adopted in 2004, had been the target of a resolution by the St. Louis Rabbinical Association passed that year opposing it as “unacceptable” and saying that it made it “difficult to impossible for various members of the Jewish community to participate.”

Zimand, a member and ex-president of the Rabbinical Association, hailed the JCC’s new change as a positive one.

“We’re very, very pleased at the action the JCC has taken,” Zimand said. “Before, it was as it is now, which is that all community-oriented JCC functions will be kosher.”

In a release issued by the JCC, Rabbi Brad Horwitz, staff chair of the task force, said that “these new policies have the best interest of the Jewish community in mind. The JCC strives to be a place where the widest range of the Jewish community feels welcome and included. By requiring our large community-oriented events, even offsite, to be kosher under Vaad Supervision, the JCC is making the statement, ‘Jews of all backgrounds are invited and encouraged to participate in our programs and activities.'”

While Weintraub noted that a few small events under the JCC’s auspices, such as fundraisers, may still remain outside Vaad Hoeir supervision, he stressed the JCC’s strong continuing commitment to kashut.

“All food preparation in the JCC is kosher and it has been and will continue to be,” he said.

Zvi Zuravin, executive director of the Vaad said he was pleased with the move but hoped that the JCC would eventually ensure all events would be kosher.

“We welcome the opportunity to provide for JCC functions and we hope we will be given the opportunity to provide for each and every event,” Zuravin said. “We’re definitely capable of handling that.”

Weintraub said that the JCC had done its best to “seek total community input and participation” but complete agreement is not always possible.

“It is rare that any issue achieves full consensus or unanimity, and in this case it was no different,” he said. “It is no surprise that certain representatives of the Orthodox community may be opposed to the revised policy; however, their participation in the process was critical. We fully recognize the importance of maintaining the broadest input from all segments of the community as the JCC continues to fulfill its mission as a Jewish institution.”