I can no longer wait to express my sadness at the loss of our Jimmy Prentis Morris JCC in Oak Park. My heart aches each Shabbat as I drive up to the Federation apartments to pick up a woman I take to shul and see lots of Orthodox families walking past an empty mound of grass.
In 1976, before I had children, my friend and community leader Janet Levine asked if I would help get a pool built at the 10 Mile Jewish Community Center. She said there was no nearby pool for Jewish kids to learn how to swim. We quickly learned one of the commandments is to teach a child how to swim so they don’t drown. We used that as a tool to get our voices heard. The alternative for kids was the YMCA in Royal Oak, which had a cross over the pool.
Janet and I worked for 16 years organizing a grassroots group from Huntington Woods and Oak Park. We had many meetings with the heads of the JCC and Federation over the years. Finally, the Federation decided to offer loans to young Jews to see if they would live in Oak Park. The Neighborhood Project was born and offered $5,000 loans to hundreds of families to see if this was a viable community and to stabilize it. Again, we waited.
By the time a pool was built, 16 years had passed and my three children were the first ones in it.
Over the years, we used our little JCC for children’s concerts, adult concerts, nursery school, day care, exercise classes, basketball, senior adult activities, knitting groups, woodworkers, painting classes and ESL classes. We also had a health club and swimming pool that was wheelchair-accessible. Book Fair finally came to our side of town. We would take our kids for a kosher lunch or dinner. I was able to make friends with women who still lived in my old Detroit neighborhood as well as Holocaust survivors.
Where are those familiar faces I used to see? Everyone is sad at the loss of our gathering place. We truly feel forgotten while the Federation says they are concerned about the needs of the entire community.
My question for Federation: Where can we gather as a community now on a daily basis? Consider building a Starbucks there for us to at least get a cup of coffee and meet an old friend. You don’t have to worry that it won’t be self-sustaining.