The Y of it all

The Y of it all

YM-YWHA joins with Christian counterpart

A banner promoting Israel hangs in the lobby of the YM-YWHA of Northern New Jersey. Noam Safier

Beginning Sept. 1, the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne will be rebranded as “The Wayne Y” and its operation will be taken over by the Metro YMCA of the Oranges. The arrangement was approved last week by the YM-YWHA board.

There are no plans to change the current roster of Jewish programs, which range from a pre-school to programs for elderly Holocaust survivors, officials of both Ys say. Under the agreement, the building will continue to be owned by the YM-YWHA and its logo will appear alongside that of the Metro YMCA on brochures for Jewish programming.

The move comes in response to changing demographics and declining revenues at the YM-YWHA, which was founded in 1914 as the YMHA of Paterson.

The new operation will maintain the Y’s “Jewish culture,” said Lawrence Fechner, president of the YM-YWHA. “This is a joining of two organizations that have a very similar purpose,” he said.

Fechner said that the Y will continue to be closed on Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and at times during Passover. Now, it also will close on Christmas and Easter, but will not have decorations for those holidays. The Y began opening on Shabbat afternoons in 2006; in 2009, it extended its Shabbat opening hours to the morning.

The Metro YMCA of the Oranges encompasses five YMCA facilities in Sussex and Essex counties that share back office and administrative services. Bringing the Wayne Y into this system will result in cost savings. “That’s part of the advantage of being in a YMCA association,” said the organization’s president and CEO, Richard Gorab.

“The YMCA is an organization that promotes youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility,” said Gorab. “It is our objective to deliver our mission throughout the community while maintaining the core programs of Jewish content.”

With the resources of the larger YMCA, the Wayne Y will be able to catch up on building maintenance that had been deferred. “Our members will see improvements,” said Joyce Goldberg Fein, interim executive director of the YM-YWHA.

Fein said that her Y had approached Jewish institutions for partnerships before beginning negotiations with the YMCA 18 months ago.

Several years ago, a study of the YM-YWHA prepared for the Jewish federation warned of its negative long-term outlook, according to people involved in that study.

The decline in YM-YWHA membership “reflects the continued out-migration of the Paterson Jews beyond Wayne to points north and west,” said Wayne resident Eric Weis.

The Y moved to its Wayne campus in 1976.

The Metro Y hopes to double the Wayne Y’s membership through “a major marketing effort,” said Gorab. The Y currently has around 1,800 membership units and an estimated 5,000 members, of which an estimated half are Jewish, according to Fein.

“We anticipate that through our marketing we’ll be able to drive revenue,” said Gorab.

“It is regrettable that the Wayne Y cannot remain a totally Jewish institution,” said David Gad-Harf, interim executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. “However, we know that this was the only alternative that they saw that was feasible. We also know that the leaders of the Wayne Y are completely committed to maintaining if not strengthening their service to and programming for that area’s Jewish community.”

The YM-YWHA has been one of the eight major agencies supported by the federation. In recent years, it had received an allocation of $90,000, as had the JCC on the Palisades and the YJCC in Washington Township. But with an eye toward the change under discussion in Wayne, the federation changed its funding this current year from an unrestricted grant to targeted support for Jewish programming. In the process, the federation boosted the allocation to $100,000, said Gad-Harf.

“We envision the Wayne Y continuing to be a hub of activity focusing on the Jewish community,” he said.

The Wayne Y will not be the first Jewish facility operated by a YMCA.

In Toledo, Ohio, the Jewish Community Center has been under YMCA auspices since 1999, said Larry Lev, chief operating officer of the Metro Y, who held that position in Toledo. “The JCC of Toledo was a stand-alone organization,” he said. “It’s much more productive to stand together with friends than to stand alone.”

The Toledo JCC remains a center of the Jewish community, and is housed on a campus that includes two synagogues, he said.

Closer to home, the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison shares a campus with the YMCA of Edison. Under that arrangement, the JCC is closed Friday nights and until 1 p.m. on Saturday – but the building is open and operated by the YMCA during those Shabbat hours.

While the YMCA movement has its historical origins as a Christian one, today each Y defines its own mission in accordance with community needs. In New Jersey, that means diversity is a priority, said Lev.

“Our mission statement doesn’t talk about Christian values,” said Lev of the Metro Y.

“The Y is a non-denominational entity where people of all faiths are welcome,” said Lev, who serves on the board of Jewish Congregation-Kinnelon. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to work with the YMCA all these years.”

Lev said the process of combining the two Ys will take until at least the new year. Among the questions that have not yet been decided include whether the Y’s Tel Aviv café will remain under rabbinical supervision, and whether the Y will continue its policy of not conducting monetary transactions on Shabbat.

The YM-YWHA will continue to maintain an independent board and will own the building.

“We have a very rich history,” said Fein. “I’m part of that history – my grandparents were members of the Paterson Y.

“I feel optimistic,” said Fein, “I believe this is our best option. We will continue carrying forward our Jewish traditions toward the future.”

But Irwin Kijkai, a longtime YM-YWHA member, does not like the changes. Sitting on a bench outside the facility last Thursday, he said, “Jewish people have invested in the Y. Why are they changing it?”

“It will have another ta’am, another flavor.”

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