The Jewish Community Centre at 41st Avenue and Oak Street, November 1962. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC L.11512)
It’s hard to believe that, in the 1950s, the Oakridge area was considered a ways out of town. In going through the minutes of the Jewish Community Council of Vancouver from 1954, one can see the initial attempts by the council to find a new Jewish community centre building – which at the time was on Oak Street at 11th Avenue – that would be as conveniently located. They considered exchanging space with the Peretz School, which was on Broadway, and buying the land on which Vancouver Talmud Torah stood, on Oak at 26th. However, they soon started examining the prospect of buying land from Canadian Pacific Railway, south of 41st. The following snippets of meeting minutes from 1954-1962 allow readers to fast forward through the development process and the establishment of the JCC where it is currently located.
Children singing, Camp Miriam, Gabriola Island, B.C., 1979. (photo from JWB fonds; JMABC L.09623)
If you know someone in these photos, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
The fitness centre at the Rosen JCC in Orlando, Fla. (photo by Cyndy Phillips)
For Daphna Krupp, her workouts at the Jewish Community Centre (JCC or J) of Greater Baltimore have become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page.
“It’s the gym and the environment,” said Krupp. “It’s a great social network.”
Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated one million American Jewish members of more than 300 Js around the country. Each J – in line with the bylaws of their umbrella organization, the JCC Association of North America (JCCA) – has a fitness centre that serves as one of its core businesses. Often, the fitness centre can be perceived as a for-profit enterprise of the J, with thousands of dollars invested annually in facility maintenance and gym advertising. But Steve Becker, vice-president of health and wellness at JCCA, says that is a myth. “JCCs are not fitness centres, we are engagement centres,” he said. “All fitness-related programs are structured to be relationship-building activities.”
The institution of the J was founded in 1854 as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), to provide help for Jewish immigrants. A Young Women’s Hebrew Association was established as an annex to the YMHA in New York in 1888. The first independent YWHA was set up in 1902. In 1917, these organizations were combined into a Jewish Welfare Board, and later renamed Jewish community centres. “After World War One, the Jewish Welfare Board morphed into an organization to meet the cultural, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs of the Jewish community,” said JCCA communications manager Marla Cohen, noting that physical needs were always part of the equation.
The much-debated 2013 Pew Research Centre study of the American Jewish community found that 62 percent of Jews say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, rather than religion. The study showed a decline in non-Orthodox individuals involved with the organized Jewish community. As such, communal leaders – from award-winning author and lecturer Dr. Erica Brown to Jewish Agency for Israel president and chief executive officer of international development Misha Galperin – have been calling for increased “low-barrier, high-content” programming to meet Jews where they are. This, says Cohen, is a niche the J can fill. “For some people, aside from High Holiday attendance, working out at the J is probably the only flavor of Judaism they have. The J could be a very big part of these people’s Jewish identity,” Krupp said.
In the last two decades, many Js have opened their doors on Shabbat, in consultation with rabbis and community leaders. “These individuals are not choosing between the JCC and synagogue. They are choosing between everything else – the mall, soccer, snowboarding, you name it – and the J,” said Cohen. “The JCC just gives Jews another option. And many JCCs have stepped in offering meaningful programs for Jews seeking something other than a traditional service.”
“I was in the right place at the right time with the right preparation,” said Linda Lando about her new position: director of the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery.
Lando has unique qualifications for the job, having been an art dealer, with her own gallery, for 30 years. Now, she wants to share her knowledge of the arts with the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and its gallery.
Lando didn’t dream of becoming a gallery owner when she was young. “It just happened,” she told the Independent. “After getting my degree in art history from UBC, I did some work for the UBC art gallery and worked for a local auction house. When Alex Fraser Gallery had an opening, I applied and got the job. I liked gallery work so much that I ended up buying the gallery. It was unintentional. It was never a goal of mine to run a gallery, but I loved it.”
Although her gallery has changed its name twice since – it is now Granville Fine Art on the corner of Granville and Broadway – Lando remains the owner. She intends to retain her client and artist lists, both of which she’s established over the years, but she is eager to explore the new venue, to dedicate half of her time to the Zack.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else but running a gallery, but I’m ready for something new, for community-minded work, away from the commercial art world…. Sometimes we have to rise above the monetary values and do something for the community.”
She had been searching for a new direction for awhile when she received a phone call from Reisa Smiley Schneider, the gallery’s recently retired gallery director. Schneider told the Independent: “We started talking about the recent changes in our lives, and she said she wasn’t sure what she was going to be doing in the next while and had to make some decisions about her gallery. We chatted for awhile, and then she said someone had suggested she apply for my position. I asked her how she responded to them, and she sounded like it was something she might consider. I proceeded to tell her how much I had loved my job over the 15 years I had worked there. I included some of the things that frustrated me as well, just to be realistic, but basically I encouraged her to apply and to do so soon, as the deadline for applications was in two days. I was delighted to hear that she was interested in the position, as it seemed a ‘win-win-win’ for everyone and every organization involved. What a gift to me to have Linda, a gallery owner for 30 years, take over as gallery director! I am excited to see how the gallery will soar under her direction.”
Lando elaborated, “I’ve known Reisa for some time, and she was always happy here at the Zack. She had a connection with people. When I learned about her retirement, I decided to apply for this job. Sitting all day at my commercial gallery could get lonely. Nobody comes there just to chat. But here, interacting is easy. Children come to the gallery. Someone offered me a chocolate. Nobody’s offered me chocolate at my gallery. Here, Reisa had created a warm, friendly place, and I’ll try to keep it [that way].”
She is already keeping that promise, maintaining a link between the past and the future of the gallery. Whoever comes through the door – an art lover to look at the current exhibition, a toddler to play hide and seek or a senior on the way from a class – Lando engages everyone with a smile and a friendly word.
“Running a gallery requires huge people skills,” she noted about her approach. “I have to keep my artists happy. The best part of the job is phoning the artists and saying that their painting is sold. I love it. It could be very disheartening, when you put up a beautiful show, and it doesn’t sell. But it’s not only about selling.” Her job is also about educating people, she said. She considers the educational aspect essential, both for a commercial gallery and for the Zack.
Keeping her clients happy is also paramount. “Anybody walking into the gallery with the intention to buy is in a good space with me. I have to build on that. Sometimes, people start by liking art and then they become collectors, passionate and knowledgeable about the art they collect. I have to keep up my research to be worthy of their trust. It’s all about trust. For the clients to trust my taste and my artists, I have to know what’s going on in the marketplace, what is a good investment, especially in regards to historical works. Before [the] internet, I often went to auctions and shows in Toronto. Now it’s easier – everything is online.”
Unlike sales of historical masterpieces, where the dealer’s personal taste counts for much less than marketplace demands and cultural traditions, in the modern arts, the dealer’s taste is utterly important.
“That’s why I like the Zack,” Lando added. “It’s not exactly a commercial gallery, no pressure to sell. But, of course, if paintings sell, it’s good for everyone, for the artists and for the JCC. I see it as my biggest challenge: finding good, quality art and making sure a certain calibre of artists wants to exhibit here. Plus, attracting serious buyers. Now, when collectors want to buy a painting, the Zack is not on their usual route. I’d like to change that, so they would consider the Zack when they are ready to make a purchase.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].