For several years the Simon Family JCC has received requests not to close for so many Jewish holidays and to expand its Shabbat hours. The growth in the Kids Connection program and the Infant Care Center meant the closings had an even greater impact on the ability to serve working parents.
Based on feedback from Fitness Center users and childcare families and supported by comments in the 2011 and 2012 JCC Excellence Benchmark Study, the board of the Simon Family JCC established a Holiday Hours Task Force to investigate expanded building hours beginning in July 2013.
Committee members Jay Klebanoff, Howard Roesen, Terri Sarfan, Marty Einhorn and Rebecca Tall, along with Scott Katz, Center director and Larry Mestel, general manager, reviewed other JCCs, especially those similar in size and demographics to the Simon Family JCC.
Research found that the business need to appeal to a larger membership base has forced the issue for many JCCs around the country. In fact, most similar JCCs have already, or are in the process of, changing their hours and days to accommodate the majority of their membership base. By making fitness center and daycare options available on more Jewish holidays, and by expanding Shabbat hours, they are more competitive with local and national fitness centers and daycare facilities.
“It is simple and straightforward: our business was down, and we want to boost membership,” says Howard Roesen. “We want the JCC not just to survive but also to thrive, so we really have no choice.”
Formerly closed for all major Jewish holidays, as well as some non-Jewish holidays, including Christmas, the Simon Family JCC will now close only three days a year: the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the first day of Passover. The fitness center will also open an hour earlier on Saturday mornings.
The JCC will also remain open on Fridays until 6 pm, year round, to help working families using the JCC’s daycare options and to accommodate fitness clients. Though open for these Jewish holidays, it won’t be business as usual. “We will still observe our Shabbos policy of not exchanging money or holding special organized activities during the Sabbath,” says Roesen.
The Simon Family JCC board voted overwhelmingly to support the committee’s decision, recognizing that the JCC can only be successful if it adopts a competitive business model. “The decision to move forward with extended hours and open days is part of our bigger three-year business plan,” says Terri Sarfan, JCC president.
“Obviously, from a Jewish perspective, it’s far from ideal,” says Tracie Guy-Decker, former marketing director, “we won’t allow the JCC to stop being Jewish, nor do we want to apologize for being the Jewish Community Center.
“But we can’t fulfill our Jewish mission without a business model to support our community obligations. In the long run, I believe it will mean a more successful JCC, allowing us to better serve the whole community,” she says.
Sarfan points out, “We will be open Thanksgiving morning, so members can come get a good workout in before they sit down to a big turkey dinner.” She also notes that even in the first year, the change will mean more Jewish programming. “We are excited that we will be open Christmas day and will have programming here for Jewish families.”
The Simon Family JCC is a constituent agency of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.
by Leslie Shroyer