JCC MetroWest has agreed to replace its Jewish education program for grades K-2 after the end of the school year in June, heeding concerns by local synagogues that it represented an encroachment on their traditional turf.
In a joint statement issued Feb. 28 after a series of discussions, the JCC and the synagogues, led by Rabbi Donald Rossoff, chair of the rabbinic cabinet of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, said they reached an agreement that “recognizes the centrality of synagogue-based Jewish education and the vital role that JCC MetroWest plays in serving as a gateway to Jewish learning and communal involvement.”
The Jewish identity program called GAN — an acronym for Growing and Nurturing Jewish Cultural Connections — began at the JCC in West Orange last fall with Tuesday afternoon classes for 27 kindergarten, first-, and second-grade students.
Details about what will replace the program are as yet undecided.
“What was agreed is that we will conduct the program in a different manner than we have been conducting it to this point,” JCC executive director Alan Feldman told NJ Jewish News. “I can’t be more specific because we are still working out exactly what the difference is, but we have agreed that it will be run differently under a different name so that there is no confusion between the existing program and any new version that occurs next year.”
Rossoff, of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, also declined to share details of the replacement program.
In the joint statement, he praised the collaborative effort that enabled a resolution of the months-long dispute.
“I know that the new spirit of partnership and mutual support between the synagogues and the JCC will enable us to build on each other’s strengths and resources, our ‘unique added value,’ and together to create innovative ways to make the MetroWest Jewish community stronger and even more engaging for singles, couples, and families alike,” he said. “I am very excited about the possibilities.”
JCC board chair Stephen Seiden was quoted praising what the joint statement called “a series of meaningful and productive dialogues.”
“We are both fortunate and challenged to live in a time of vibrant change in our North American Jewish communities,” he said. “The commitment expressed in this agreement marks an important step in collaborating to address these and other challenges confronting our community.”
At its founding, GAN supporters said the program offered unaffiliated youngsters — including many whose parents may not have been comfortable in a synagogue setting — exposure to Jewish learning and experiences.
But some local rabbis and congregational leaders were concerned that by offering such classes, the JCC was discouraging enrollment in synagogues, where early childhood programs often serve as gateways for new members.
Speaking to a reporter, Feldman emphasized that next year’s changes will not affect this year’s GAN program.
“The program continues as it is right now until the end of this semester,” he said. “Then, whatever changes will happen will happen after the semester ends. It does not affect this class. It has nothing to do with this class.”
Feldman explained that the future program has not yet been formulated because “we really were concentrating on forging a collaborative understanding with the rabbinic cabinet and the synagogue community. We couldn’t work simultaneously on what would happen after that.”
Feldman said he has not yet named the new program, “and I have not even thought about it.” He said it was unclear whether it would have an educational component.
“The words ‘Jewish education’ is such a broad term that I can’t answer the question,” he said.