Jewish center will not open on Saturdays Associated votes to keep Owings Mills site closed

December 19, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Bowing to protests that came primarily from the Orthodox community, which argued that the sanctity of the Sabbath be maintained, the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has voted not to open the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center on Saturdays.

The vote reverses a decision by the board of the Jewish Community Center to open its Owings Mills recreational facilities after 1 p.m. Saturdays. The staff intended to include Jewish-oriented programming and, in deference to the Sabbath, would have prohibited official competitions or league games.

The Associated board voted 43 to 30 during a two-hour meeting Tuesday to keep the Owings Mills center closed on Saturdays. Saturday hours were not considered for the center on Park Heights Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, in the heart of Baltimore's Orthodox Jewish community.

Orthodox Jews strictly observe the Sabbath prohibition against work, and refrain from activities such as driving or turning on a stove to cook.

"The debate was impassioned on both sides," said Ricki Baker, director of marketing for The Associated, which is an umbrella organization for numerous Jewish programs that has authority over the JCC. "This is an issue about which people feel strongly."

"You heard the word respect used a lot, individual conscience," she said. "People who spoke in favor of opening the JCC `D described themselves as wanting to reach out to people where they are, not where we are." Somebody said, 'If we want to build community, we have to go where the community is.' "

Among those who wanted the center to remain closed, "Somebody said for four hours a week, it isn't worth dividing the community," Baker said.

"It absolutely wasn't an Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox issue," she said. "People from all points along the spectrum of being observant Jews spoke on both sides of the issue."

The Jewish Community Center board made its decision in response to requests from its members, many of whom are not religiously observant or do not observe the Sabbath as strictly as do Orthodox Jews. Buddy Sapolsky, executive director of the Jewish Community Center, said it "is going to find other kinds of ways to meet the needs of our members."

"I think the decision really reflects the long process that the community went through. We support the decision, even though our board voted differently," he said.

On Sunday, about 3,500 Orthodox Jews attended a rally at Northwestern High School, billed as "A Plea for Shabbos," in which speakers criticized the proposed Sabbath opening of the community center. Rabbi Chaim Landau of the Ner Tamid Congregation, who helped organize the rally, said the vote showed that The Associated board heard the voice of the Orthodox Jewish community.

"On another level, I'm happy because the whole point of the rally was to maintain the sacredness of the Jewish Sabbath to its highest level," he said. "And we set an example of how conscious we are of the Sabbath to other nontraditional Jewish members, to whom we can now reach out and influence them as to what Shabbat is all about."

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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