Making a difference in the lives of real people
By Jenn Director Knudsen
article created on:
Mittleman Jewish Community Center
Jan Berne, 41, grew up in San Diego, whose "J" was her connection to the Jewish community, she said. There, she attended preschool, was a camp counselor and participated in Hebrew High.
"It was my social foundation," she said.
So when she and her husband, Craig Berne, a native of Portland and whom she met more than a decade ago in the San Francisco Bay Area, decided to settle their family here, of course they joined the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.
Jan said Craig, 43, a partner at the law firm Harris Berne Christiansen, LLP, benefited from Portland's MJCC as much as she had from San Diego's Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center. And the couple hoped their children would enjoy a Jewish community center as they had.
"We wanted that for our kids. A place where they can feel comfortable, safe," Jan, a homemaker, said in a phone interview from the family's Southwest Portland home.
A place where their children, Eli, 9, and Rachel, 7, wouldn't have to explain why their dad doesn't attend meetings on Yom Kippur and where they could develop a Jewish identity of their own.
But a couple years ago, disenchanted with weakening programming and facilities, the Bernes let their MJCC membership lapse and sought elsewhere for the classes and amenities they desired for the money they were paying—more than $800 a year plus extra for classes, Jan said.
They weren't alone; many families followed suit. By mid-2004 the MJCC, still with 1100 individual and family members, suspended membership, according to Lisa Horowitz, director of development and marketing.
The MJCC did maintain certain programs, including its pools, day camp and B'nai B'rith camp, Horowitz said.
But also like a slow trickle of folks, the Bernes didn't feel right completely abandoning the community center.
Jan Bernes said she and her husband were "shocked" when when the center had to scale back its services. "We just thought, 'How could we let it happen as part of the Jewish community?' she said. "The J is more than its individual parts."
She added: "So, by not supporting it, we're responsible, in part, for what happened."
So when the MJCC this fall began wooing people—new and old—into the membership fold, the Bernes led the tide to rejoin.
The family was the first to (re)join the MJCC, which now has several dozen members, Horowitz said.
"We are in full membership mode," said Barbara Barde, the MJCC's new membership associate.
"Best of all," Horowitz said, "is the sense that the MJCC is really a place where everyone in our community belongs. It's long been the living room of the community, and membership can help support that."
Federation also is doing its part to shore up the community center. It has taken on the MJCC's bank debt and has committed $200,000 annually for five years, said Julie Smith, the center's interim executive director.
The Bernes are fairly involved in the Jewish community; the family belongs to Congregation Shaarie Torah; Eli, a fourth-grader, and Rachel, a second-grader, attend PJA; Jan and Craig donate to local Jewish organizations; and the Bernes take advantage each month of the MJCC's family Shabbat services.
"This is a way to connect to the greater Jewish community," Jan says of the latter activity.
She's not effusive yet about the MJCC in its current state. The kids, who take baseball, swimming and drama classes at the center, often get private lessons for lack of enrollment.
"We would like to have more people there. It would be better for the kids, too," she said, but noted how much especially the young teens "love hanging out" at Ron's Center Deli and the Teen Center.
"I hope it (suspended membership) was like a wake-up call. I don't know that it was," Jan said.
"All of us are guilty of thinking, 'Oh, some big macher is going to save it." But reality is the community has to step up and save the MJCC and someone from it has to be first, Jan said.
"We feel like we're doing the right thing," she said. "It's still in its infancy."