Suburban Baltimore JCC may open on Shabbat

BALTIMORE (JTA) — A suburban Baltimore JCC may open on Shabbat afternoons for the first time, pending a vote of the full board of trustees.

Baltimore is one of the few major Jewish communities without an open Jewish community center on Shabbat and the issue has divided the community in the past, the Baltimore Jewish Times reported.

The JCC executive board has voted to open the suburban Owings Mills campus, located in a primarily non-Orthodox neighborhood, on Saturdays from 1 to 6 p.m.

The community is home to two JCC campuses. The Park Heights Avenue building, in the middle of an Orthodox neighborhood in Baltimore City, has special programming such as separate gender swim and workout areas, and was not considered for Shabbat hours.

The opening of the suburban campus, however, comes with conditions: There will be no financial transactions, including the sale of food or membership signups; no organized classes; and no staff forced to work. In addition, area congregations are being told they can hold programs for free such as the traditional third Shabbat meal as well as Saturday evening Havdalah services in the building.

Rabbi Steve Fink, president of the multi-denominational Baltimore Board of Rabbis, has said the group will not issue a statement on the decision. Area non-Orthodox rabbis said they are satisfied with the conditions. The Board of Rabbis does have some Modern Orthodox members who oppose the move. Likewise, members of the Orthodox rabbinical group, the Va’ad HaRabonnim, are strongly against the proposed opening.

The JCC full board will vote on the matter May 13. The board of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore will vote the following day. Both boards seem likely to approve the opening, despite continued lobbying by Orthodox leaders.

Meanwhile, Baltimore’s influential Orthodox community is considering holding a pro-Shabbat rally on Sunday to protest the likelihood of the JCC opening on Shabbat. In 1997, during a similar effort, some 3,500 Orthodox Jews turned out at a similar event. At that time, the JCC board had approved the opening, but was subsequently overruled by the Associated board.

The vote comes after recent membership surveys show opening the Owings Mills campus on Shabbat to be the No. 1 request. It also occurs as the facility, which has about 18,000 family units, struggles with a 7 percent drop in membership in the last two years due to the economic crisis and competition from area health and fitness centers that are open seven days a week.
 

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