Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Community Centers

Once long ago in the wilds of Oregon my family took up residence. Despite the relatively small frum community present at that time, there were two "orthodox" shuls, one barely hanging on by a thread. There was a very large conservative shul. I do vaguely remember there being a reform temple, but I have zero knowledge about it. But what I do remember, and remember vividly, was that Portland had a large Jewish Community Center. Think YMHA without the affiliation. The building contained anything and everything to provide services for ALL of the community. There were two gymnasiums and every type of indoor sports and recreation activity was provided. There was an indoor handball court. There was an Olympic size swimming pool, with both instructional swim and free swim. And, strangely enough given the lack of frum Jews, there were separate men's and women's swim times as well as mixed swim times. There were steam rooms and a sauna. There was fitness equipment. There were rooms for arts and crafts. There were a variety of meeting rooms, from large to small. Some of the rooms could be opened up to form a much larger area for meetings or for catered events.

The center ran all kinds of after school programs and weekend programs. The Jewish youth groups available at that time were the Bnai Brith groups--BBG and AZA--and USY, and they met in the Center. There were all kinds of men's and women's social groups that met there. Every summer the center ran a day camp. You could even arrange to get music lessons at the Center. There were speakers and presentations that were of interest to the Jewish community.

When the day school was begun in Portland no one was worried about having to provide facilities for all the extracurricular activities--what would be the point when the JCC had all of them already and was more than open to scheduling for the kids from the day school?

Then I came to New York. I do remember that there was a YM/YWCA in Boro Park--14th Avenue I believe. They, too, ran a day camp program in the summer. They also had all the sports facilities. And a lot of the people whom I know who were in BP in the 50s and 60s used those facilities. The local yeshivas, what there were of them, didn't have gargantuan facilities. If a school actually had a small gym area it was way ahead of a lot of the others.

After my marriage and when I moved to Staten Island I also found a highly active Jewish Community Center here. It was an older facility, but with all the sports and fitness areas and a pool. It had nursery and day care facilities. It ran a day camp up in the Willowbrook area in a campground that some sleep away camps would love to have. A few years ago the Center moved out of the area where it had been for decades (no long a center for Jewish life in that community) and built a beautiful facility adjoining the Willowbrook campground. It also built an annex on the other side of the Island.

The center in Willowbrook has a strictly kosher cafe, under the SI Vaad, and also has separate men's and women's sports programs as well as mixed programs. They present a lot of programs of interest to the general Jewish community as well as to the frum Jewish community. When my son was in high school at YTT they had arrangements with the Center for swimming and sports nights for the students. The local yeshivas in SI aren't endowed with multi-acre sites, multiple playing fields and state of the art sports venues. When needed, that's what the JCC is for.

It's a shame that more communities don't have Jewish Community Centers. They are an excellent way of providing all kinds of activities without there being duplication on the part of the schools in a community. And yes, I know why a lot of those communities don't have the centers: politics and hashkafah issues. For a center to work, ALL parts of the community would have to cooperate. Far too many groups that would insist that they don't want members of their groups mingling in any way, shape or form with members of the other groups. After all, if boys from yeshiva X and boys from yeshiva Y were to actually find themselves together in the same swimming pool, who knows what strange things they might pick up floating in the water.

I don't think that putting a number of yeshivas all into one mega building would work out, in the Brooklyn area for sure not. However, having one center containing gyms, pools, arts and crafts etc., with the expenses divided among all yeshivas as well as the community at large, and used by all those yeshivas and community members would have a cost benefit. There is way too much duplication of services that one Center could help to eliminate.

Right, yeshivas in a community cooperating for the good of each of them. I know, I know, I'm dreaming again. Well, I don't think that Hertzl was wrong--"If you will it, it is no fairy tale."


Lion of Zion said...

quoting herzl at the end reveals how out of touch with reality you really are (regardless of all the merits of the rest of the post, of course)

Anonymous said...

Where I grew up, there was no JCC or YMCA. We went to the local YMCA for swimming lessons, swimming and other activities. Yes, even YMCA's had seperate swimming time for mena and women, as well as mixed swimming time. (I don't know if they still do since I haven't been to a Y in many years.) Getting to know and getting along with all sorts of different people was considered important and part of the spice of life. Hyper-segregation was not considered a postitive.

Anonymous said...

I meant in the first line above to say "YMHA". Sorry - not enought coffee yet.

Rae said...

The idea of a central community center used by all yeshivas has merit, is practical, would save money and could serve to promote unity among the various community groups. So of course it will never fly.

Let's face it--there have always been answers to our problems floating around there somewhere. The warring factions of frum klal don't seem to want those answers, don't seem to want practical solutions like a community center. What they want is to be number one and to see the other groups slink off into oblivion.

Kalman said...

Lion--and what a sad commentary it is that quoting that line from Hertzl puts you on the outs with some other frum people.

I remember that Y daycamp in Boro Park because I went there. Don't know if you know it but they also came out to Staten Island and used the camp grounds that the Center there owned. Going over the bridge was an adventure for us. SI was so out of town it might as well have been California.

Anonymous said...

I can explain all those separate swimming sessions many, many years ago. It wasn't because of frumkeit. My dad once told me that those all men swims were bathing suits optional for the men, so not mixed swimming. More info then I ever wanted to know about my dad and uncles.

Anonymous said...

Re 8:34 PM comment above - There may be a misunderstanding there. Maybe the pool doubled as a mikveh.

Anonymous said...

I think the Y in Boro Park was a YMHA, but I can't quite recall.

It was *NOT* bathing suits optional in the pool. It was optional in the changing rooms and in the schvitz!!!

ProfK said...

Last Anonymous,
You are correct that it was a YMHA--my error. As to the bathing suits/no bathing suits, keeping far away from that one as I have no experience to say yes or no from.