In an effort be more inclusive to an increasingly diverse Jewish population, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh is expanding its Saturday hours of operation at its Squirrel Hill and South Hills locations.
The JCC has also codified its standards for kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) at all its facilities.
Both developments are part of a new set of Shabbat, holiday, kashrut and program guidelines for the JCC, which its board of directors approved on Aug. 2.
An ad hoc task force spent a year working on the guidelines, looking at other JCC operations, surveying its membership and consulting an outside advisor.
Among other things, the guidelines define holidays, address when they begin and end, and set rules for vendors, programs and other activities that take place at JCC facilities.
“The JCC continues to examine how the Jewish world is changing and how our constituents look to us to meet their developing needs,” said JCC President and CEO Brian Schreiber and Board Chairman Jeffrey B. Markel in a letter sent to the membership this week. “We are positioning the JCC to respond to this emerging landscape. The diverse nature of who we serve requires this level of thought and planning.”
Beginning Dec. 18, the JCC will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Organized youth programs will still start after 1 p.m. and membership and administrative offices will remain closed on those days.
“In keeping with the special nature of Shabbat — rest and withdrawal from the work day world — programs at the JCC will reflect a level of difference from other days and focus on individual and community activities associated with leisure time, opportunities for Jewish learning, and family engagement,” the letter said.
The JCC will also open on a limited basis on the second days of festivals — Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot. Early childhood, after-school care and health and fitness activities will be offered on those days; the offices will be closed and classes and sports leagues will be rescheduled.
The extended hours are not unique to the Pittsburgh JCC. “That seems to be the trend [nationwide],” said Miriam Rinn, a spokeswoman for the JCC Association, which represents JCCs across North America.
As part of the process to develop guidelines, the JCC surveyed its members, Schreiber told the Chronicle.
“It’s the first time we’re able to quantify both how our members evaluate themselves Jewishly as well as what kind of impact we have on our Jewish members and it really is quite diverse,” he said.
The “benchmark survey,” as it was called, garnered more than 1,500 member responses.
According to Schreiber, the commentary portion of the survey strongly indicated that members wanted extended hours.
“Many people feel our hours of operation were limiting,” he said, “limiting their opportunity to experience the Jewish community on their terms, and that came back pretty strongly.”
Included in the new kashrut guidelines:
• Food provided by the JCC will contain no ingredients from biblically forbidden animals.
• Food provided by the JCC will not combine, in the same item or set of items, dairy and meat ingredients, nor may they be prepared together.
• Meat provided by the JCC will be slaughtered by a ritual Jewish butcher.
• In order to avoid serving meat that is not properly slaughtered, all food provided by the JCC in activities off-site will consist of only biblically permitted fishes, dairy and vegetarian items.
In addition to these guidelines, the Squirrel Hill center will be under rabbinic supervision.
Schreiber said all the guidelines were developed with traditional and progressive Jews in mind, and that the task force included Jews from across the religious spectrum.
“I think our guidelines really reflect a balance between tradition and a more contemporary progressive philosophy,” he said.
In fact, Rabbi Scott Aaron, who served as an advisor on the project, said he tried to provide a “baseline,” informed by all streams of Judaism, to help the task force make its decisions.
“I was not there to say this is halachically acceptable or not,” said Aaron, who is the community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning. “I was there to say here is a baseline to help you inform your decision making.”
He added, “they (the task force) were committed to doing something that was distinctively and solidly Jewish … but they weren’t looking for a single denomination of understanding, so they asked me for something across the line, which is my obligation in this position [of community scholar].”
Schreiber said he is in the process of sharing the findings and the changes with rabbis from the various denominations.
“As we develop our program we want to make sure the Jewish dimension of all JCC life is incorporated into our planning process,” he said, “and you can’t do that until you create guidelines for how we’re going to observe kashrut, Shabbat and Jewish holidays within the framework of a rapidly changing community.”
He said it is important for the JCC to remain inclusive to all Jews.
“There are very few institutions that could house an Orthodox Jewish high school and employ a Reform Jewish educator at the same time,” Schreiber said referring to Hillel Academy Boys High School, which is based in the Squirrel Hill center, and Rabbi Donni Aaron, who recently became the JCC educator.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)