On Jewish community

The big news in our community is that the YJCC in Washington Township has closed.

You almost could hear it slammed shut, as if it were a huge dusty book.

In fact, that’s not quite what happened. The book isn’t closed. The YJCC, which already has been through many incarnations — with and without walls, in Hackensack, in Paramus, in the Pascack Valley — and nearly an alphabet-full of letters — YM-YWHA, JCC, the oddly metaphysical YJCC (I don’t know why, JCC! Or even why, JCC? Tell me, please!) — is facing another one.

It is quite likely that the YJCC will survive. We certainly hope it will. But we also would like to consider what we all might have learned from the experience.

First, as we all know, life is a series of trade-offs. The JCC’s board realized that it had no good options as it moved to shutter the building, sell off its assets, and start again. The demands of its calendar year, with the budget due in June, the fiscal year starting in September, and the school year starting then as well, gave the board a firm deadline. Something had to be done either right away, or not for another year. Waiting a year, watching a year’s worth of money inexorably trickling away, was not possible, it decided. So it pounced.

The staff and the members were left feeling abandoned. It felt as if some giant had taken a rusty hatchet to the ties of community that had bound them. They felt violated. Their community was demolished.

But it also is true that the community had abandoned them long before. As Julie Eisen, a long-time YJCC supporter, explained, there has been a cultural, generational shift in the understanding of community. The YJCC building, with its rigid walls, did not give the flexibility that so many one-time members and their grown children have come to demand. And it also seems that there is a lessening of the need to feel part of the community.

It used to be that Jews supported their local institutions — shuls, Ys and JCCs, other nonprofit agencies — because they felt an obligation to do so. Now, much sociology, including the constantly cited Pew Report, shows that the sense of obligation is waning. We don’t know if that is true, but we do know that the YJCC is in a wealthy area. If only many of the people who are mourning its closure — not the seniors, not the young families, not the special needs families, but the people who never used it but liked knowing it was there, just in case — felt a communal obligation to join, just because they could, just because it was the right thing to do, it would be flourishing now.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)