Y Are You Going to the Gym on Shabbes?

As hard as it is to market an institution to both secular and religious Jews, it is even harder to market an institution to both gentiles and religious Jews. The gym is perhaps the hardest facility of the Y to keep closed, as the weekend is an obvious choice to get in a work out or two.
Since 1874, the 92nd Street Y has been closed on shabbes. Beginning in January, the gym will be open on shabbes. Religious Jewish programming will also be available for the first time.
Y spokeswoman Alix Friedman denied that opening the gym on shabbes was financially motivated in any way, but the Times did the math. “6,000 members at $925 a year works out to more than $5 million, a significant portion of the Y’s $50 million annual budget.”
The Times noted that the Upper West Side JCC keeps its fitness center open on shabbes as well.
Full story.

9 thoughts on “Y Are You Going to the Gym on Shabbes?

  1. Actually, the JCC in Manhattan’s gym (including both pool, gymnasium, and fitness center) doesn’t open until the afternoon on Shabbat. During those Sat. morning hours that the JCC is closed, it:
    a. gives a free rental to NYC non-profits who bring in underprivileged children from all over NYC to use the art studios and pool
    b. gives its members (who are both Jewish and non-Jewish) free access to the Y that’s a few blocks a way on the west side in the 60’s
    It should also be noted that the JCC in Manhattan, while open on Shabbat, does not conduct monetary transactions nor provide any of its regular classes such as yoga, pilates, etc. Also, there are many observant Jews who take advantage of the JCC on Shabbat [we know this because they have a shabbat elevator]. For example, they use the beit midrash, meditation room, or play basketball.
    Finally, the JCC in Manhattan’s main criticisms from those I know in the young religious Jews on the upper west side (namely those who run independent minyanim) is their strict policy of not holding services in their building.
    On a personal note, I am one of the instructors for the new “children’s Torah class” that will be taking place at the 92nd st Y on sat mornings. Stay tuned for my post on that one…

  2. Shamir,
    You wrote, “Finally, the JCC in Manhattan’s main criticisms from those I know in the young religious Jews on the upper west side (namely those who run independent minyanim) is their strict policy of not holding services in their building.”
    This is possibly a good idea. We all have a synagogue we don’t go to. Hell, I got a minyan’s worth.
    You could definitely argue that it’s better not to alienate with an in house minyan.
    Best of luck with your children’s Torah class!

  3. That may be true, but they’re alienating people as it is by not allowing minyanim in their building. The biggest perpetual concern of many of the NYC independent minyanim is finding space for services (NYC apartments are just too small), and if an organization that claims to be a “Jewish community center” won’t provide the Jewish communities with what we need, then we’ll conclude that the JCC is simply irrelevant to us. (The “we” being those who don’t have kids to put in preschool or money for gym memberships.)

  4. DK – yeah i was trying to mention it without showing which side i am on the issue. as BZ said, it is a hardship for many independent minyanim to find space. at the same time, you are on the nose – if some independent minyanim meet there, then there is the possibility of others feeling alientated.
    for example, i once went to a shabbaton there that was co-sponsored by the jcc and edah. in order to give people the chance to daven mincha, instead of giving the 20 min. regularly necessary, they had to stop the conference for 45 min to allow people to go to the closest place – West Side Institutional, an Orthodox synagogue a couple blocks away.
    On the one hand, it was necessary that the JCC not bend the rules for them, even though most of their participants were Orthodox and most were cool with going to WSI. On the other, it was rather inconvenient to have to disrupt the Shabbaton. Additionally, it wasn’t necessary un-alienating for someone like myself who wouldn’t have time to catch minchah at an egalitarian shul.
    I am not sure what Edah would have done if they were having a conference at a JCC with the same rules that didn’t have a place to daving in walking distance.
    Further, I wonder if a JCC of this size could sustain itself as a place that has shabbat programming if it was located somewhere that did not have any shuls in walking distance.

  5. BZ,
    You are correct, there is a risk either way, but there is more of a risk if you do.
    BZ and Shamir,
    To serve the Jewish community in its entirety, you have to stay non-denominational. And that means No Praying.
    Also, the backlash of synagogues who don’t appreciate the competition of the JCC might be something fierce. Just what the JCC doesn’t need. Quite frankly, if I were an executive director of a modern-Orthodox or Conservative synagogue, and I found out that the JCC were hosting some 20 and 30-something service because it was “post-denominational,” I would be tempted to let them have it. If I were the exec direct of the Orthodox synagogue, I could really find ways to put on the pressure.
    And it would just be business. Mostly. Just a thought. I could be wrong, and so could they.
    Also BZ — I think pre-school and gym memberships is the bread and butter of these institutions. And why risk a family for a single?

  6. I’m not saying the JCC (from the perspective of their own bottom line) should be doing anything different. I’m just saying that the JCC is irrelevant to me and my “unaffiliated” friends.
    But I think these arguments (which I’m not hearing for the first time) are fallacious. No one program that the JCC runs actually serves “the Jewish community in its entirety”; the JCC serves a wide range of Jews (though not the entire community) by offering a wide range of programs. It is true that not everyone is into praying, but not everyone is into yoga either.
    And yes, if the JCC were to sponsor a minyan of its own, this would be a denominational statement that it doesn’t want to make, but not if the JCC were simply renting space to outside independent minyanim. JCCs in other cities (e.g. DC) host independent minyanim without negative repercussions.
    Finally, the “competition” argument assumes incorrectly that the pool of people willing to participate in a religious community is static, and is merely to be divided up in a zero-sum manner between institutions. In fact, the independent minyanim don’t attract people who would otherwise be happily joining synagogues; they attract people who otherwise wouldn’t have a Jewish community. Furthermore, if indeed the independent minyanim are “competing” with synagogues, then the JCC’s policy isn’t succeeding in preventing this; independent minyanim are sprouting up all over with or without institutional support. If the synagogues want to attract young people, they should examine themselves and think about what they can change, rather than attempt to eliminate “competition” in the hopes that, in the absence of alternatives, young people will come crawling to the synagogues. It won’t work.

  7. Even if your points are frequently valid, they won’t always be valid. Certainly a large “independent minyan” might take away at least a couple of members from an established synagogue, whose membership dues are much higher than for a minyan whose cost is more or less to merely meet once a week.

  8. To serve the Jewish community in its entirety, you have to stay non-denominational. And that means No Praying.
    David thanks for the reminder why American Jewry is disappearing. God forbid if Jews want to pray to their god.

  9. Josh,
    That is definitely a fair point. But the needs of a specific institution are often different, even contradictory to the needs of the community as a whole that they serve.

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