Navigating the Shifting JCC Landscape
The Contours of Our Jewish Community: Snapshots from the 2018 Population Study
From the JN Staff
Editor’s Note: Each week, the Jewish News will offer insights into the findings of the 2018 Detroit Jewish Population Study with the intent of stimulating discussion about its potential meaning and impact.
Data from the 2018 and the 2005 Detroit Jewish community population studies show the West Bloomfield-based Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit continues to face membership and perception challenges while also showing more participation by non-members in the programs it hosts.
The random-sampling methodology utilized by lead investigator Ira Sheskin reports 8 percent of the community’s 31,500 Jewish households have a JCC membership. It was 15 percent in 2005. JCC in-house surveys report 3 percent Jewish household membership in 2018 and 10 percent in 2005.
Further illustrating the shift away from membership, the 1989 Detroit Jewish community population study conducted by Steven Cohen and Jack Ukeles reported 21 percent of Jewish households with JCC memberships.
In the 2018 study, 35 percent of those who said they were very or somewhat familiar with the JCC gave it an excellent rating. However, 21 percent gave it a fair or poor rating, placing Detroit’s JCC 27th out of 32 communities similarly surveyed around the country.
The fair or poor ratings were higher among Oak Park/Huntington Woods respondents (31 percent), donors to Federation’s annual campaign (32 percent) and those who were asked but declined to donate to Federation’s annual campaign (46.5 percent).
In recent years, efforts have been made to de-emphasize membership metrics and focus on attracting people to attend JCC-sponsored programs. According to the 2018 study, 43 percent of the Jewish community’s non-JCC member households had someone participate in a JCC program in a recent 12-month period. This increased from 30 percent reported in the 2005 study (the Berman Center for the Performing Arts opened at the JCC in the period between the studies). Programs attended included book fair, film festival, music festival, adult Jewish learning, etc.
According to the 2017-2018 annual report of the Jewish Federation/United Jewish Foundation, the JCC received $4,167,382 from the annual campaign and $2,177,715 in other support (including endowment contributions) for a total of $6,345,097.
When the JCC opened its West Bloomfield location in 1975, it was the largest JCC structure in North America. It was built upon core assumptions of attracting Jewish families from Flint to Ann Arbor, providing activities and services that would appeal to all age groups, and extending Northwestern Highway beyond its current Orchard Lake Road terminus. As the JCC pursues a strategy focusing on programmatic outreach and de-emphasizing the JCC’s physical attributes, what would you recommend the community do with the building?