Doing the Right Thing

The Klein JCC has enjoyed an unusual burst of national publicity as the facility that did permit a group of predominantly African-American and Hispanic campers into its pool.

This is in contrast to the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley, which has garnered national headlines for canceling its contract with the Creative Steps Inc. summer program.

The widely publicized case of campers reportedly being insulted by some club members has devolved into a media frenzy, with Creative Steps rejecting an albeit late offer from the club to return to its facilities. It is also threatening a federal discrimination suit.

There's no need to pat Klein JCC on the back for doing the right thing. We would expect no less from a Jewish institution, given our own history of exclusion from clubs and whole neighborhoods.

But the incident illustrates the less publicized reality that minority populations are an integral part of — and have access to –a wide range of services and activities at the local JCCs.

The Northeast-based Klein is increasingly opening its doors to individuals and neighborhood programs that can't afford to have their own pools or basketball courts, according to Andre Krug, executive director of the Klein and Stiffel JCCs.

Creative Steps pays about $1,500 a month to swim twice a week. It's one of three outside programs that contracts with the center during the summer.

For Krug, this trend is a reflection of the changing demographics of the area over the past 10 years. While his center's clientele is still primarily Jewish — an estimated 70 percent to 80 percent are involved with their seniors program, preschool and summer camp — he points to an increasing number of immigrant groups, including Jewish and non-Jewish Russians and Indians, who are taking advantage of their services.

"We don't say no to anybody," said Krug. "That makes us more of a neighborhood center, rather than a typical Jewish center."

Across town, non-Jews are also a part of the Kaiserman JCC.

Some 15 different languages are spoken among its members, according to Marty Berk, director of membership and marketing. Minority members include Asians and African-Americans. For years, its popular winter basketball league has integrated Jewish and non-Jewish kids, to the benefit of all.

As for the incident that sparked the brouhaha and its aftermath, we'll leave it to others to make a final judgment. As Krug put it: "It's not for me to judge whether it was discrimination or not. There are real safety concerns when you have 65 children in a pool," he said, alluding to the Valley Club official who, after the fact, said that safety issues prompted the canceled contract.

"On the other hand, the club should have known what it was getting into," said Krug. "When you offer something to somebody, you have to be able to deliver. They came out not looking very good."



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