I work out everyday. And just as praying three times a day is part of my daily routine, so is exercise. However, while I am sure to daven on Shabbat, it is the one day I take off from exercise. This is my personal routine. Others have found other routines that work for them. Perhaps that is what has intrigued me about the ongoing debate about the increasing trend of JCCs opening on Shabbat, as reported recently in the Forward. But the debate doesn’t seem to be about the various expressions of Shabbat. Rather, it is about the issues of core business and competition in the marketplace.
According to a recent study, two-thirds of JCCs are open at some time during Shabbat. Many of these institutions are attempting to provide alternative Shabbat experiences. At the same time, many synagogues are attempting to provide alternative Shabbat experiences (boasting a Synaplex model). While few would question a synagogue being open on Shabbat—even for alternative experiences—I wonder why the adamant opposition to JCCs open on Shabbat. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the recent NJPS found that the majority of members of JCCs are also synagogue members. Since that is the case, they are indeed competing for the same market.
Maybe the answer can be found in reaching the majority of folks in the Jewish community—and this includes an increasing number of interfaith families—who are currently not involved with synagogues or JCCs. So rather than just doing business as usual—and simply opening up the JCC (and its fitness center)—perhaps we need to consider how to reach those who aren’t affiliated, who aren’t engaged, and who maybe do not have the inclination to take their first step into the synagogue.