Asmall thing like a logo is demonstrating how big a problem merging entities can be. Recent press releases coming from the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne and a recent letter to the community from the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges made it appear as though the YM-YWHA will be turning into a YMCA come September.
Actually, the two are merging their efforts, according to Joyce Goldberg Fein, executive director of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey. She stressed in an interview with The Jewish Standard that the facility will retain its Jewish programs, including its “Jewish nursery school, Jewish programming for seniors, and all the things we do.”
While the YM-YWHA will retain ownership of its physical building in Wayne, the Metro YMCA of the Oranges will take over managing day-to-day operations on Sept. 1, according to Lawrence Fechner, the Jewish Y’s president.
“They will be running the building like a business, which is something we have had trouble with,” he said.
As previously reported here, the merged facility will be officially rebranded “The Wayne Y.” That was not at all clear to people, however, in the wake of a July 18 letter from the president and CEO of the Metro YMCA of the Oranges. The letter was sent on his letterhead, with only the YMCA logo visible. There was no YM-YWHA logo. The letter was “basically saying, ‘Welcome to the [YMCA] family,'” according to Randall Mark, rabbi of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne and current president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis.
“My sense is, everyone’s feeling their way – maybe the two groups aren’t totally aware of the sensitivities of the other,” Mark told the Standard. “Maybe the CEO of the YMCA sent out this letter to be welcoming to members of the Wayne Y, and people were like, ‘Whoa – what’s going on here?’ So maybe everyone needs to be taking baby steps.”
The letter flap was not the only thing to raise concerns about the Jewish character of the merged entity.
Last week, three press releases were sent to area newspapers and other media outlets promoting classes for infants, toddlers, and parents. While the programs appeared geared toward the Jewish community, the press release letterhead also bore only the YMCA logo. There was no accompanying YM-YWHA symbol of any kind. In addition, each of the three releases contained a so-called “boilerplate paragraph,” which described The Wayne Y as being a part of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, but did not mention any YM-YWHA affiliation.
The absence of the YM-YWHA logo was an oversight, said Fein, who also took responsibility for inclusion of that particular paragraph. In the future, she said, “all communication” from the Wayne Y (including brochures, fliers, letters, and press releases) will include the YM-YWHA logo, as well as the words “The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges is a proud partner with the YM-YWHA.”
“Going forward, there will either be no boilerplate or most likely there will be mention of the YM-YWHA,” as well as the YMCA, she said.
Such details reflect the substance of the merger, which includes respect for the facility’s Jewish character, she maintains.
She added that “there will be the same amount of Jewish programming” as members have come to expect, including nursery school and day camp with Jewish curricula, and senior adult programs that are “Jewish in tone while welcoming to all.” She also said that the Y will continue to celebrate Jewish holidays in its programs, but not religious holidays of other faiths.
At present, about 50 percent of YM-YWHA of North Jersey members are Jewish, she said.
Fechner, the YM-YWHA president, echoed Fein’s comments. “Part of our arrangement with the YMCA is the YM-YWHA logo will be affixed to every ad, every document that comes out regarding programming or things going on at the Y,” he said. “We have made certain representations to our board. It has to be the way we said it would be and it will be.”
Mark, Shomrei Torah’s rabbi, shared some thoughts on what he sees as the realities that have shaped the new partnership.
“This Y was Jewish in conception and commitment. However, half the people using it were not Jewish and it has not seen strong support from the Jewish community in recent years – because if it had, none of this would have come about. It’s not like [the community] said, ‘This [merger] creates the best of all possible worlds, let’s set this up,’ but rather, ‘Here’s an institution that once thrived in the Jewish community and is now struggling to survive.'”
Mark believes the ability of the Wayne Y to retain its Jewish character will depend on the commitment of its Jewish members.
“As I understand it…, Jewish programming will be offered as long as the community wants it. My sense is it’s a ‘Use it or lose it’ situation.”
Eric Weis, a member of the Wayne Jewish community who belongs to both Shomrei Torah and the Y, said he was unconcerned about the logo flap and believed that others were as well. People are more concerned, he said, with substance, not symbolism.
“I would love to be able to [continue to] go into the Y and enjoy Jewish cultural programming and [eat in the Y’s kosher] Tel Aviv cafÃ©,” said Weis. “I don’t really care about the logo.”