Exercising Our Judaism

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.


  1. Very good article and I agree with you. The fact that our JCC is closed on Shabbat is a huge disadvantage for our community that is now increasingly in interfaith relationships. My guess is that only 10% of the Jewish population in Ottawa practices Shabbat completely. This is probably the same 10% of those that our members of the JCC. It is for this reason that from strictly a gym point of view, the JCC can never compete with other gyms in the city for those who do not follow Shabbat.

    I completely understand the rationale for closing and I am totally sympathetic to those that argue for it to be closed but for me the bottomline is the future sustainability of the JCC, and the main will of the community. The JCC should be a dynamic place in that, once a decision is made about shabbat opening or closing, then it should be revisited every few years as community demographics change (although it is certainly controversial, I still think the conversations should happen).

    I believe the best compromise is to make sure that if a JCC opens on Shabbat, that the bare minimum be open, for example the gym and the pool and have no programming on Shabbat. The rationale for this would be that a Shabbat opening would then not exclude anyone that could not attend for those that practice Shabbat. No one then would feel excluded. This could be starting point for some JCCs.

    Comment by Jackie — January 22, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  2. I agree with Jackie’s comments. I would also add that opening on Saturdays would help alleviate Sunday pressure on the facility (e.g., fitting in all swimming lessons around other, free swim, etc.), thereby making room for more programming overall. The point about creating an “alternative shabbat experience” (away from shul, yes, but also away from the shopping mall) is also intriguing, as our Jewish communities continue to search for non-theologically-oriented gathering experiences for some of its members.

    Comment by Mira — January 25, 2007 @ 8:48 pm

  3. I agree with Jackie as well. It is important that the JCC be able to compete with other community facilities in order to survive. There is a great financial disadvantage to a community centre that is closed for 24 hours on a weekend when others remain open. Potential members choose to pay the price when it suits their needs. Not only should it have all the equipment and be clean; it should also provide a place that family can be together without cramming it into just one day on a weekend. That’s where the JCC needs to change.

    Comment by Pamela — January 27, 2007 @ 7:55 pm

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