All Things Jewish
"The JCC — more than any other agency more than any other
organization — has the opportunity and the ability to affect
and permeate the lives of every person in our communi t y. "
— Sharon Hart, immediate past president
is Detroit Jewry's central address — a place to learn,
advocate, mingle, work out, dine, relax and grow
culturally, whatever one's Jewish upbringing. But is
the Jewish Community Center vital to our collective
In many ways, it is. In other ways, it needs to re-examine
how it operates. Still, we're a richer commu-
nity because of it. There's no mistaking that.
The 77-year-old JCC faces several core
challenges as it basks in the glow of a $35
million capital and endowment campaign
sparked by the Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit and its finance arm,
the United Jewish Foundation. How these
challenges are met will influence whether the
ROBERT A. JCC remains vital.
"We are not perfect, but oh lord, we try!"
said 'new President Hannan Lis at the JCC's
annual meeting on June 18.
And he's right.
There was controversy, but the past year, under the presi-
dency of Sharon Hart, saw a wealth of success stories at both
JCC buildings. The JCC hosted the Seminars for Adult
Jewish Enrichment, Florence Melton Adult Mini School,
Lenore Marwil Film Festival and Jewish Book Fair. The Janice
Charach Epstein Gallery drew a record number of visitors.
The Sara and Irving Pitt Early Childhood
Development Center enrolled a record num-
ber of kids. The special needs program landed
a key grant. The Inline Hockey Center and
the Inline Hockey League were big draws.
The permanent, impressive Jewish War
Veterans-Michigan exhibit "We Were There"
opened. And both buildings drew crowds to
Health Club and fitness changes continue;
time-will tell how they are received. Also
coming are the Henry and Delia Meyers Library and the
Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Judaic Enrichment Center.
"We looked at everything, Hart said in her farewell address
as president. "We looked at it in a renewed way with new
goals and renewed anticipation."
That hard look came amid continued construction cost
overruns at the JCC; Federation cast a rescue net worth $2.5
million over five years to finish capital upgrades deemed key
to boosting membership and serving the larger community.
PR headaches also arose over the Book Fair's scheduled
hosting of Leonard Nimoy's talk about his provocative new
book, Shekhina, and the poorly handled announcement that
the racquetball and squash courts would be removed as part of
the West Bloomfield building's new sports and fitness wing.
On The Table
As Lis moves up and Hart now chairs the JCC executive com-
mittee, JCC-Federation leaders must answer:
Is the current JCC model the right model to project five
years out? What guideposts for drafting a reliable long-range
vision statement does the JCC lack? What are optimal JCC
staffing and training levels, given huge swings in use during
Is covering JCC operational budget deficits and construc-
tion cost overruns the best investment of unrestricted
Federation dollars? Can the JCC tap into more grants, foun-
dations, funds and donations to relieve the pressure on
Federation, which is retreating in the wake of a major revenue
Notably, Federation kicked in 31 percent of the JCC's $10
million income this past year, or $3.1 million. Programs and
fees generated 29 percent and membership only 16 percent.
at do we really know about the member base? Is
the ratio between Jewish and non-Jewish members optimal?
And why does the announced membership of 10,000 never
seem to change despite stepped-up marketing?
Can we assure that the Health Club will continue to be able
to compete with private, nearby operations with longer hours
and the ability to secure lines of credit to more quickly adjust
to ever-changing trends?
Should the JCC again have a rabbi on staff to bolster its
role as the center for informal Jewish learning or can the
Michigan Board of Rabbis help fill in any gaps in rabbinic
Ultimately, we as a community must decide to what extent
we should subsidize the JCC, given that economic uncertainty
has forced Federation to scale back allocations to smaller,
more vulnerable communal agencies.
For its part, the JCC must inspire people to
join, use and give so that membership, rev-
enue and endowments rise substantially.
At The Helm
I respect both Lis and Hart and their commit-
ment to the JCC. They're doers, not just
Hart took flak for the racquet courts
blowup, but led tirelessly in a period of great
change. She never hid from turmoil and
remains a vibrant communal ambassador.
As president, Lis vows to "continue to balance sometimes
conflicting community needs and priorities in a fair and hon-
orable way." I don't doubt that. He knows the reward for
learning from mistakes and, as he puts it, "always trying to do
the right thing."
I echo Lis' belief that the JCC must reinvent itself to stay
vibrant and competitive. "We need to re-examine ourselves, to
ask some tough questions, and to survey our members and the
community to look for fresh ideas," he said.
Year after year, the JCC touches more lives than any other
Jewish agency. All the construction dust these past few years
hasn't diminished that fact.
The JCC has been part of my life for more than half of its
existence. Over time, it has taught me how to interact as a Jew
just as the synagogue has taught me what it means to be a Jew.
The echoes in the corridors of the West Bloomfield and Oak
Park buildings are echoes of promise, not of despair.
But to emerge stronger from all its changes, the JCC must
put its blueprint for the future to the test of public scrutiny.
With pride, Sharon Hart calls the Jewish Community
Center of Metropolitan Detroit "our JCC" and "your JCC"
instead of just "the JCC."
I like that.
And I want my JCC to stand up to community inspection
and introspection as well as wean itself from so much depend-
ence on Federation.
Ideally, Jews will flock to the JCC because it resonates
despite all the demands in their lives.
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