Wednesday 13 August 2014

West Island Jewish Community Centre to shut its doors October 31

News that  the Board of Directors of the YM-YWHA Jewish Community Centres of Montreal (the Y) has voted to close the West Island Jewish Community Centre (WIJCC) as of October 31 has been met with great dismay and some opposition.

A shot of some people exercising at the WIJCC this week.
 “Facing a demographic shift of the West Island Jewish Community, declining membership of our intended target market, numerous competing fitness facilities and competitive early childhood education programs, the Y considered a number of scenarios vis-à-vis the long-term viability of our WIJCC,”  YM-YWHA president Joel Shalit wrote in a message. “Together with Federation CJA, we carefully weighed our options and in the end, the Board arrived at this difficult conclusion.”

Scenes like this will soon be a thing of the past at the WIJCC.

Some members are not accepting the decision. Pat Libling and some friends have launched a petition that members are signing. “We are also hoping many in the community will do so as well,” she says. “The support has been strong  we hope to reverse the closing. The decision was made without consulting the Y members and we are requesting a meeting with the executive.  The last thing we want is a Jewish institute closing on the West Island.

Shalit said he, too, has heard from some disgruntled Y members.  “The closure is, indeed, unfortunate,” he said. “It is a decision I wish the Y did not have to make.   Membership at the WIJCC has dropped from approximately 550 to 450 members over the past couple of years.

Joel Shalit

The WIJCC opened in 1986, moved to its current location in the Montreal borough of Pierrefonds in 1997, and expanded in 1999, with support from the Y Board, the Montreal Jewish Community and Federation CJA.  Even with the closure, the   West Island CPE du Y daycare will continue to operate.

 Steve Rothstein, a member of the WIJCC and a former board member,   expressed his deep regret over the news. “I am very upset, “ he said. “I have enjoyed the community environment of the Y and have built friendships with many members. The major problem is the location and hours of operations. It should be near Sources Boulevard, Marché de la Ouest, the Civic Center or near one of the synagogues  or at the CJA. The current location adds extra travel time and is out of the way. It also should be  every day,  with the exception of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What is nice is that everyone who works out at the facility knows everyone. It is a much more friendly atmosphere than almost any other gym in the West Island.”

Rabbi Zeitz (right) and his wife Charlotte.,
  Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz, the pioneer of the West Island Jewish community and rabbi emeritus at Congregation Beth Tikvah, Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz, is concerned as well. “I am truly saddened that a long time partner of ours in the West Island Jewish Community is closing its doors,” he  remarked. “Having started in our building, they went on independently to provide significant service to the broader Jewish Community. I think this gives cause to all Institutions to re-evaluate and consider how they are relating to the changing needs of the Jewish Community and how better to meet those needs. We are ready to reach out to assist those disenfranchised  by this closing in any way possible.”

Steven Slimovitch, national legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada and a long time West Island resident, calls the decision “most unfortunate,  whether justified or not. It is essential that the Jewish community living in the West Island have a "Jewish home" and not simply be left to fend for itself.”   


  1. As an employee of the West Island JCC, I have to say that we have always been considered second-class citizens and nothing but an annoyance by the main Snowdon branch. I have been working here for 15 years and the attitude from the almighty powers-that-be has been anything but helpful in every way, not only financially. We always got nothing but their hand-me-down, second hand, out of date equipment while they spent top dollar on all the latest equipment for themselves. If we had computer problems (for example), getting someone here to solve it was like pulling teeth and done with an attitude of "You better be grateful that we're even giving you the time of the day". I can go on and on about how disgustingly arrogant the attitude of anyone from the "Main" branch has been towards us here in the West Island. Meanwhile, we developed into the best little gym in Montreal, with extremely competent trainers who helped turn a "gym" into a community and a family. We have young and elderly members here who consider this their second home and who have been made to feel like they are at home here.

    What's even more disgusting is that, rather than let us know that they are planning on closing it months in advance, and giving us a chance to try to save it through brain-storming with fund-raising ideas and other things that can turn things around, they waited until almost the last minute and then told us the decision has already been made. If this is the way the people in their cushy offices want to do things, they need to take the word "Community" off of every sign and piece of paper associated with the organization, because the last thing they are demonstrating is any sense of "community".

    This doesn't only affect a few jobs, or where some people might end up working out. This is the equivalent of ripping apart a family without their consent (which is rather ironic if anyone knows their history).


  2. we the members have supported the gym and the community center for many year , our children and grandchildren have also enjoy the extra activities, offered by this wonderful west island jewish community centre ,please keep it open for the future generations hilary peter ziegler.

  3. A large part of the membership is appears to be made up of seniors, who are rarely treated with respect by the commercial gyms in the area. This is a direct assault on them by the Y and Federation CJA.

  4. Michael LiblingAugust 14, 2014

    Letter from Michael Libling to Joel Shalit

    Dear Mr. Shalit,

    Your board’s decision to close the West Island Jewish Community Centre is a boneheaded decision, no matter what you claim your so called demographics tell you. The Y is not solely about demographics, it’s about people and community, and it’s quite clear these essential elements were absent when the board opted for this drastic measure. It is a case of overkill in every sense of the word. Were this a sincere and fully considered decision as you claim, you would have consulted with the West Island membership at some time during the process. Instead, you chose to blindside us. By leaving the membership out of the equation, it is evident you did not “carefully weigh your options”.

    In a time when Jewish representation and presence on the West Island is more important than ever, you take the cowardly and unconscionable decision to retreat. When the news breaks wide, there will undoubtedly be a cheering section among many out here——a victory for an entirely different set of demographics. If you were truly committed to the West Island Jewish community, this decision would be retracted without delay. For now, you find it easier to abandon us than to step up and find a truly viable solution.

    What can be done to reverse this odious decision? I am quite prepared to contribute my share.

    Michael Libling

  5. Our Own Backyard

    As a member of the West Island community, I find it extraordinarily unfortunate that the WIJCC will be closing its doors in October. When I first moved here, a short 6 1/2 years ago, my heart led me to the WIJCC and it did not dissappoint. I chose the WIJCC and then gave it an enormous responsibility. To quote the traditional African proverb "It takes a villiage to raise a child" - Both my children took part in the Mom & Tot programs, the ECE, extracurricular activities, and then continued on to the CPE du YM-YWHA where they formed their childhood friendships, learnt important values, traditions and prepared them for elementary school...and right now, our village just lost its Jewish Community Center.

    All this to say, I am saddened for our community, our children and future generations, especially in light of the ongoing rise of anti-semetism throughout the world. Now is the time, more than ever before, to be committed to helping one another.

    I recognize that the WIJCC has a number of obstacles and roadblocks in its way that it cannot tackle on its own...change is necessary and lots of it. (From its location to its agenda).

    So, as Campaign season approaches, and everyone gets in the " giving mood ", I can only ask that when you give - you give what you can - but not to forget what's happening in Our Own Backyard. And I know this is asking alot, but maybe you can set aside a few dollars to go directly to the WIJCC to help and then witness first hand what a community can accomplish when it comes together.

    D'vorah Bowen-Miller
    DDO Resident

  6. Bravo Michael Libling! Well-said!

    1. To all who have replied: I could not have expressed my feelings any better. With respect to advising the members, I have yet to hear of any plans to save the "Y" or planned meeting with the executive to help or even listen. I am positive the current members could arrive at a decision which would absolutely keep this location open. How long does it take to be heard? Kayla Greenberg DDO

  7. This is a decision that is representative of the current presidency and interim executive director. Slash now, discuss later. There have been many changes made during the last few months without any discussion with the staff and members. From staffing changes - firings - to complete closure of the WIJCC. Decisions are not made in consultation with any Executive Staff - they are told what the decisions are and are expected to carry them out without question. Sophie has worked VERY HARD to make sure the WIJCC remains noticed and at the forefront. Sadly, nobody cares. Least of all Ethel Smith and Joel Shalit.