If You Open It, Will They Come?

Another JCC—this time the Marcus JCC in Atlanta—has decided to open its doors on Shabbat, ostensibly to reach the unaffiliated and those currently not engaged by the local Jewish community. Understandably, there are many in the community who are opposed to any Jewish communal institution outside of a synagogue that’s open on Shabbat, even though a small portion of the Jewish community—including the so-called affiliated—are found inside a synagogue on Shabbat. But the real question is much simpler: Why does this or any JCC, or any other communal institution for that matter, believe that just because you open its doors on Shabbat or any other day, people would suddenly enter?

If the JCC is to be an entry point in the community, and if it is going to open on Shabbat and take all the flack for doing so, then a lot of work has to be done to forge a path for people to get there. Our Public Space Judaism model is one of the paradigms that could work. Then once they get to the JCC, they could find accessible Shabbat programming. Consider it a version of Synaplex, the community building initiative designed by STAR that enables people to participate in Shabbat in a way that speaks to them. But the JCC version transcends the walls of the synagogue.

Then maybe the families that enter would be interested in staying to explore the other options, including the synagogue, which the community has to offer.

1 Comment

  1. Rabbi Olitzky is correct in stating that more must be done than just physically opening the doors on Shabbat. Leaving aside a discussion of the merits of doing so, metaphorically speaking, there are many other doors that all Jewish institutions need to open more widely in order to engage the “unaffiliated” in meaningful Jewish life.

    Additionally, I would like to know what the impact of opening on Shabbat or expanding Shabbat hours has been on other JCC’s. Has the policy change increased membership and participation?

    Comment by Rabbi Hayim Herring — July 31, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

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