Coming Soon sign for the Jimmy Prentis Morris JCC
Was this sign an empty promise?

I wrote my initial viewpoint about the future of the Oak Park JCC (“Former Mayor to Federation: We Deserve Better From You”), published in the Nov. 28, 2017, edition without knowing what I expected. Would I be the only one to carry the banner after two years or motivate more to come forward?

The “Save the OP JCC” group is organized and raised money for the cause, since donated to charities, and several have similarly written, and many have voiced their support for my opinion. I wanted to bring attention to the pledge that Federation board members made to the residents of this area.

I addressed the lack of transparency — of promises made and not fulfilled, of claims that an anonymous donor came forward to save the JCC and then, without a real, concrete plan of action, tore down the whole building — and the anonymous donor disappeared along with it.

After meeting with residents and seeking input, you tore down more than just a building and plunked down a sign that read, “Coming Soon – Spring-Summer 2017.” Winter arrived, and the sign was still up, surrounded by snow as a haunting and offensive reminder to us. So, what did I expect?

I expected some response from the board, which we eventually got, kind of, in the Jewish News on Dec. 19, 2017, (“JPM: Jewish Federation Responds to Community Concerns”) in a long statement that did little to assuage our feelings that it’s still just more talk, little action … except to offer that a “population study will begin in January 2018.”  So, that means we could expect a new sign that reads “Coming Soon: Results of Population Study – Spring/Summer 2018.”

Let’s discuss this population study being done by telephone, with a shortage of funds that must be costing something. Have you been called? Not me. Do they base it on master lists of donors? Is it possibly skewed or biased by the location of donors?

Many of the people I’ve talked to in this area have stopped making contributions to the Federation and, instead, make donations directly to their favorite charity. Sadly, the level of trust has worsened. They are disappointed, frustrated and now, three years later, are non-believers that anything will really happen. Many feel it’s a waste of time to try and have a real conversation about the issues facing us.

Coming Soon sign for the Jimmy Prentis Morris JCC
Was this sign an empty promise?

A quick scan and sampling of the more than 200 board members/directors listed by Federation gives me the impression that this area of Oak Park, Huntington Woods and Southfield is under-represented with under 25 percent of the names. Are these the same people that voted to kill the Oak Park JCC? Would they have been so quick to do the same to the West Bloomfield location? What was the impetus for the Revolution — “No taxation without representation?”

Ask me — I can tell you where the Jewish population is in this area. We’re it! You recognize and wrote that “the neighborhoods of Oak Park, Southfield, Huntington Woods and surrounding areas remain vital and essential parts of our overall community” and … “The A. Alfred Taubman Campus on 10 Mile Road remains an important anchor for Jewish life in the area.” And, in your reply, you state “we can offer better information — specifically an explanation of why this has taken so long, as well as a description of what we expect for the future.” However, what we get is another six months of waiting for something else.

I’ve spoken to several members of the board and many “former” members and donors. The feedback I got includes, “If I knew then what I know now, I never would have voted to tear it down.” “I’ve already joined another health club.” Despite the good that the Federation has done, and hopefully continues to do, many people distrust the Federation and refuse to donate.

As Ben Falk wrote in the Jan. 28, 2015, edition of the Jewish News, “The Morris family’s wish was that the gym, named for their son (Jimmy Prentis Morris, who 50 years earlier was struck by a train while driving with three friends from a U-M football game) at the OP Jewish Community Center would inspire others to see the needs of the 10 Mile branch and come forth with gifts that will enable the center to better serve its community.”

Is this how we pay tribute to the Morris family? Is this how we pay tribute to all those who endeavor to leave a legacy for future generations, like Al Taubman, Eugene Applebaum, Max Fisher and others? We must do better.

The time for more talking, more committees and more studies are past. Now is the time for action. More talk just rings hollow like echoes from the emptiness of the OP JCC land surrounded by the Charlotte Rothstein Park, the Federation apartments and the other facilities.

Come forward with your still-anonymous donor and an action plan to replace the JPM building.  The new facility should have a large multi-purpose room for community programs and Israeli dance classes, a kitchen to teach Jewish cooking and classrooms for music and art. The building also should house other Jewish agencies and a for-profit, affordable kosher restaurant, offering patrons a haimish place to meet. It’s got to be larger than a room to hold a minyan, but there shoud be a place for that, too.

You have the power to make a difference. You say you want participation from this side of Telegraph — but to regain their trust, involvement and contributions, the board not only has to listen to the people, but actually “hear” us.

While you aren’t mandated to provide equal service based on contributions and can make your decisions based on financial support, you may be missing the point of being held accountable to the whole Jewish community.

The quality of your process has strained the relationship between the Federation and the smaller communities in this area of the “former OP JCC.” The leaders of the Federation must take steps to start the healing process. Now.

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It does not appear that the community and the Federation assign the same priority of replacing the Oak Park JCC.

This should be about setting an example for future generations — about relationships, not dollars. Shouldn’t we teach our children that we all have a responsibility; that we all have an obligation?

Is there time to repair the relationship between the JFMD and the whole community?

You state, “The JFMD is the cornerstone of the Jewish community. We are committed to taking care of the needs of the Jewish people and building a strong and vibrant Jewish future in Detroit, in Israel and around the world.”

You’ve put it in writing. If so, then show it by letting it begin, again in Oak Park as the central point of the contiguous communities with significant Jewish populations. Now, let your actions demonstrate your commitment. The future of this area — your legacy — depends on your positive response. It’s up to you.

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Jerry Naftaly
Jerry Naftaly

Jerry Naftaly is the former mayor of Oak Park and a 60-plus year resident.