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Rabbis question JCC move to open Saturday mornings

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Rabbi Ari Ellis, right, with Herzlia Adas-Yeshurun Synagogue president Earl Hershfield

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Council of Rabbis says the city’s Rady Jewish Community Centre is sending the wrong message to young people about Jewish observance with its recent decision to open on Saturday mornings.

The rabbis – Alan Green (Shaarey Zedek Synagogue), Larry Lander (Congregation Etz Chayim), Neal Rose (the Simkin Centre) and Ari Ellis (Herzlia Adas-Yeshurun Synagogue) – responded to the JCC’s mid-December move with a Jan. 9 letter on the front page of the city’s Jewish Post and News.

The rabbis said that they understand what prompted the decision to open at 8 a.m. instead of noon on Shabbat, as was the previous practice.

“We appreciate the obligation to serve the needs of Rady Centre members, many of whom are not Jewish, and the vast majority of whom are not Sabbath observant,” they said. “We also appreciate that the decision to open Rady Centre facilities on Shabbat morning will have little if any impact on synagogue attendance on Shabbat morning.”

Their objection, they said, is rooted in “the symbolism of this change,” since the centre had “originally refrained from… opening on Shabbat” and later “from opening on Shabbat morning,” which, they said, “signalled a laudable intent on the part of the community at least to acknowledge the ideal of Shabbat observance.”

They added that this intent was “praiseworthy… given that neither the administration nor the membership of the Rady Centre is oriented in a particularly Shabbasdik direction.”

The rabbis said that such “decisions not only affect the current generation of Winnipeg Jews, but also, our generations yet unborn… How much further down this road is it prudent for us, as a community, to travel? And what kind of message are we currently sending to our young people, about the incorporation of Jewish values into their lives?”

Rabbi Ellis, whose congregation is Orthodox, told The CJN that the troubling JCC move raises the questions of “how important is Shabbat observance in our community and what kind of community do we want?”

In response to the rabbis’ letter, JCC executive director Gayle Waxman noted that the majority of JCCs in North America are open Saturday mornings. “Most Canadian JCCs, including those in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, are open Saturday mornings,” she said.

Waxman said the JCC made the decision after extensive research and much consultation over a long period of time.

“We recognize that there are those who may not support this decision, and we respect that,” she said. “We feel it’s important to maintain a respectful dialogue within the community where all viewpoints are expressed.”

She added that the majority of the feedback has been positive, from both Jewish and non-Jewish members.

In a statement on the centre’s website, JCC president Eric Sawyer wrote, “I know that many members have indicated that they would like to work out on Saturday mornings, and I am pleased that we are able to respond to this request.”

He added that “as is the current practice, there will be no exchange of money on Saturdays. Payment for any programs or services will need to be made prior to Shabbat.”

With files from JTA

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