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Letters: Real Purpose Of The JCC

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Underlying the self-congratulatory hype of the Jewish Community Center’s supposed “revisioning, rebranding and repositioning” (“Let It Ride,” April 26) is a sad reality.

I was a JCC employee in the mid-1970s. I recall being told at an employee meeting that JCC membership following opening of the Maple-Drake building in 1976 was about 13,000. I also recall being told that membership in the last days of the Curtis-Meyers building was about 7,000 or 8,000. In both cases, the membership was entirely Jewish.

Now, according the JN article, membership has fallen to only 3,000, a mere 1,800 (60 percent) of whom are Jewish. In other words, the JCC is currently serving only a minuscule proportion of Metro Detroit’s approximately 70,000-strong Jewish community.

Attempting to mask this pathetic situation, the JCC’s CEO, Brian Siegel, claims that the JCC is “serving thousands of people who aren’t members . . .”  Mr. Siegel, however, provides no statistics to back up this amorphous claim, and I’m skeptical. The idea that non-members may once in while go to some function that happens to be in the JCC building cannot be turned into a claim that they are in any meaningful way being “served” by the JCC.

In another attempt to gloss over the fact that the JCC is no longer serving much of the Jewish community (and has almost as many non-Jewish as Jewish members), Siegel has now decided, more than 90 years after the JCC was first established, that a major purpose of the JCC is to be a “critical engine for building meaningful bridges between Jewish people and non-Jewish people in the larger community …” But wait a minute — doesn’t the Jewish Community Relations Council claim that mission? Why is this suddenly the JCC’s mission? The broader metropolitan Detroit community already has countless opportunities for interactions — in social, educational, cultural, business and other settings — between Jews and non-Jews. Who needs a supposed “Jewish Community Center” for that purpose?

Good relations between Jewish and non-Jewish communities is, of course, very important. But promoting specifically Jewish identity is also very important; and, with Jews a small minority, Jewish identity is easily lost. It seems obvious to me — and in the past I think it was obvious to nearly everyone — that the purpose of a Jewish Community Center is to bring the Jewish community together for cultural, educational, social and recreational activities. That purpose is apparently now forgotten.

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Siegel also trumpets that the JCC “has been in the black for two years …” But is the JCC’s supposedly now-secure financial position based on large subsidies from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit? Siegel didn’t address that issue. The latest-available Federation annual report (2016-2017) shows an allocation to the JCC of more than $1.7 million. If the JCC’s supposed “operating profit” is based on getting large Federation allocations, is it a real “operating profit”?

And, by the way, why is it anathema for the Federation to spend even one single cent on any sort of Jewish Community Center-type facility in Oak Park/Huntington Woods/Southfield while granting huge sums to a Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield?

Siegel also claims that the JCC is “… moving toward a vision of itself that is not bounded by a building … it’s moving to where the customers are. The JCC has to deliver programs outside the building.”

As far as I could see, the only evidence Siegel provided to show that the JCC is doing anything of that sort was to cite supposed JCC co-sponsorship of a few activities that are run by other organizations. In the Oak Park/Huntington Woods/Southfield area — abandoned by the JCC with the closure/demolition of the JPM building — I’ve seen no effort by the JCC to deliver off-site programming.  At best, a very few legacy programs linger on in borrowed quarters, with no new programming being created.

There are a couple of things that Siegel is quoted as saying that I do agree with. He states that “the trust has been lost,” and goes on to ask “[h]ow do we rebuild that trust? We have to prove it on the ground.”

Yes, Mr. Siegel, I quite agree with you that “the trust has been lost.” And yes, I further agree with you that the JCC has to “rebuild that trust.” But, Mr. Siegel, in my opinion, and that of a great many others, the JCC has so far utterly failed to rebuild any trust.

David Barth

Oak Park

Newsroom

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