TORONTO (JTA) – Officials at Montreal’s YM-YWHA/Jewish Community Centres have voted to open the facility on Saturdays.
Starting in October, the facility will open at 1 p.m. Saturdays, the board of trustees voted Monday. Votes in 1999 and 2003 had rejected the Sabbath opening.
"We are more than aware of the debate around this issue," Executive Director Michael Crelinsten told The Suburban newspaper. "We have spoken with many members of the community. We have met formally with Federation CJA and a number of key rabbis, and have had conversations with others. We’re fully apprised of the range of feelings people have about this.
"We will do everything we can to be respectful of these sensitivities," he said.
Crelinsten said that being respectful means opening at 1 p.m., so as to not interfere with morning services; no exchange of money; no organized classes; and closing the front desk and restaurant.
Crelinsten denied the decision had anything to do with the Y’s financial position.
"It’s mission driven," he said.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Montreal’s Beth Israel Beth Aaron Synagogue slammed the decision.
"The very fact they say they’re not opening in the morning on Saturday reveals a complete misunderstanding of the rabbinic interventions," the rabbi told The Suburban. "There was the impression that the reason the rabbis were distressed over this was that we were worried about competition. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"Also, when this issue previously came up, they consulted their membership, which overwhelmingly rejected it. One would be hard-pressed to believe since 2003 that the sentiments of the membership have changed drastically."
Poupko said the Y "broke faith with their own membership, with the community and with Shabbos."
Michael Crelinsten, executive director of the YM-YWHA Montreal Jewish Community Centres, told JTA that members who responded to a survey about a possible Shabbat opening in 2003 were pretty much split down the middle on the issue.
"The decision to open at 1 p.m. was made entirely out of respect for those who attend Shabbat morning services, including the two services held each Shabbat in our facilities,” Crelinsten said.
Some community members welcomed the decision as one of freedom of choice.
“I’m happy about it,” Y member Dori Yates told The Suburban. “It’s convenient.”
A suburban Baltimore JCC recently began opening on Saturdays.