It was about this time last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly and her Girl Scouts Troop from St. Francis Roman Catholic Church, located on the West Side of Cincinnati. Kelly had called the Golf Manor Synagogue office to ask if she and her girls could visit and learn about a “Jewish church,” explaining that her troop needed to visit different places of worship in order to earn a particular merit badge. So the following week Kelly and her troop of 10, including another adult, promptly arrived at the front door. After friendly introductions, I asked her why she chose to visit an Orthodox synagogue over the others in the area. She answered that they already visited HUC and it was there that they heard about the Orthodox Jewish laws and rituals and wanted to learn more about the “Orthodox Jewish faith,” clearly believing that Orthodoxy was altogether a separate religion.
Inside the main sanctuary they all looked around. As they became aware of the Hebrew prayerbooks, the bimah, stained glass windows and the separate sections for men and women, questions were asked, I sensed with certain unease, and so I sincerely explained the value the Torah is for us religiously and the strength it provides for us nationally. In wonder of it all, they continued to ask more about our prayers and services; what it all meant and why there were separate sections for men and women? Not surprised by the questions, I easily answered their why, at which duly noted, they asked about the dress code for women and once again why? In view of the question, I explained the Laws of Tzinus (Modesty) that Orthodox Jewish women and girls very carefully observe and as a matter of fact, their leader replied that they teach the same thing to each of their girls. They asked me next about kosher food. So I gave them the basic Laws of Kashrut, of how we don’t mix milk with meat and what pareve means. And just before ending, one more question was asked: “Do all Jewish people eat Kosher?” I only said “no,” of which in the silence I thought it odd that to this no one asked why? Before we finished, I got from the kitchen some freshly baked cookies, their first known taste of kosher and pareve at its best. With delight on her face, one little girl quickly spoke out, “That means we can eat it with meat or with milk, am I right?” Quite proud of her own insight, I acknowledged that she was right, then I asked the group what else they learned and what did they think? The answer I received which amazes me still, came from the other parent, Arlene, who until just then never said a word. She said that she couldn’t understand why there wasn’t peace in the world because from what she learned—even though quite obviously we are different—was that we all come from one place, that is from one G-d. I agreed, my heart skipping beats, for truly I thought Moshiach is near.
We said our goodbyes and were glad to have met, and they took a few photos to remember the day. And after they left, I thought how wonderful it will be when each person genuinely connects to Hashem and appreciates the merits of all faiths to the Divine, that a perfect balance of peace and unity will be achieved in Israel and in the world.
Alan Eichner says that to follow the rules of Orthodox Judaism the Center would close the first two and the last two days of Passover. I agree; however, even if they followed the Reform practice, they would still close the first and last day. When the Center was situated in Roselawn, it abided by a compromise it had made with the Orthodox community. I would settle for such an agreement. Further, secular recreational organizations do not normally close on national holidays. Indeed, since many are off work those days, these are busy days for those organizations. For secular reasons only the J and the Y would keep their recreational activities open. The only reason to close would be for some religious reason.
Mr. Eichner suggests that more Jews should join The J. Does he ever wonder why they don’t? Why do some Jews who actually live in or near Amberley Village drive past The J to go elsewhere? Why are many Jews disaffected or uninterested in affiliating with The J. Why is the J called ‘The J’?
When I was a child growing up in Detroit The Jewish Center was called the Center or the JCC, and I practically lived there While I belonged to the Jewish Center in Roselawn for at least 30 years, we all called it the JCC. The only reason I can see for the “J” is to emulate the “Y”. What is the psychology for emulating another, competing, organization?
I cannot speak to all the reasons various Jews have for being disaffected or uninterested in the current. JCC. I do know why I am so classified. I left the JCC in Roselawn when I took a job in another city for a number of years. When I came back, I settled in Montgomery and the JCC was still located in Roselawn, long past the time when most Jews had left the area. While they had not yet solidified a new location, they had an option on property on Deerfield Road in Blue Ash. I was going to rejoin the JCC when they built on Deerfield, and joined the Y in the meantime. Instead the powers that be dropped that option, and closed the JCC in Roselawn with no other full service location in place. This condition lasted for several years. Then, I have been told, they had several options on property in Blue Ash, off of Reed Hartman, that they, also, allowed to lapse. I have also been told that they looked at property in Montgomery. While the Jewish population in Greater Cincinnati is dispersed, the population trend, particularly among the younger set, is moving north and east, witness Chabad Jewish Center in Blue Ash, Ohav Shalom on Cornell, and Northern Hills on Fields Ertel. The options mentioned above recognized this shift in Jewish movement, although the one on Deerfield did suffer from poor egress, but then whoever took out the option must have known this. Then they built in Amberley, a move back from the shifting population. It would seem not enough Jews in the Loveland direction have any interest in providing a viable Jewish majority at the J. Loyalty to the Center is a two way street. Why should any Jew be loyal to an organization that seems indifferent to the views of the general community? I recall, just a few weeks ago, a number of complaints from Center members when a director they liked was removed. In the 47 years I have lived in this area, I cannot recall anyone from “Jewish leadership” polling the general community as to their likes or dislikes. They seem to make all their decisions devoid of any input from the general community.
Further, my main activities at the JCC in Roselawn were racquet ball and swimming. While my racquetball days are behind me, I still swim for exercise. The Y has two indoor pools, each 6 lanes wide and 25 yards long, standard for high school indoor swim meets. The outdoor pool is 50 yards long with a center portion that has a width of 25 yards, and can provide 6 lanes in the side to side direction, when the rest of the pool is closed for other water activities. For some inexplicable reason The J built what looks like a 60 foot long pool with 4 lanes, not really suitable for serious lap swimmers. It does have nice aquatic features for children, but not for adults. If I had young children, I would probably belong, for my children’s sake. My own children were heavy users of the Center in Roselawn, as it is, my children now have children. I joined the Y when I had no Center to go to, and I now have no good reason to leave.
I also have had conversations with non Jews I have come to know at the Y who used to belong to the JCC in Roselawn, but joined the Y when the JCC closed. They had no problem with the JCC closing on holidays and were proud that they had come to know the various Jewish holidays. Even though some live closer to the J, they are satisfied with the Y and have no desire to switch again.
Jerome C Liner