It's been a while since I was last the Wilmington Jewish Community Center. Each year they hold a pre-Hanukkah exhibit with a popular Kosher cafe and commercial and organizational exhibits. I usually purchase something like a kippah. While I've not been there in about four years, I lost three staple kippot this past year so replacement provided an incentive to return, if only briefly.
While parking seemed at a premium, a childhood center building now occupied a previous parking area so the actual attendance probably lagged behind. The sales floor, held on the basketball floor, seemed a mere shell of what I remembered. None of the synagogue gift shops purchased sales tables as in years past. Mr. Yosef from whom I purchased most of my stuff was gone. The only table that had kippot for sale was from the day school, where the experience was so wretched that I've done my best to blot out their memory, sometimes regarding the people I encountered there as Amalekites from within. While I arrived early, there were no crowds. Chabad had a table, a camp had a table, the day school two, but most else were minor small craftsmen who made baubles with Jewish themes and probably traveled from exhibit to exhibit much like the Greek artisans attend Greek Festivals around the country to sell their creations. I met a couple of people I know, engaged in a significant conversation with the Chabad representative about their Hebrew School but not with anyone else, and departed empty-handed on to my next destination for the morning. I said hello to only two acquaintances, one a friend from shul, the other a local physician whose name I could not remember until later in the afternoon. I did not venture toward the picture window overlooking the pool to see if the cars in the parking lot belonged to swimmers or into the gym to see if the parking crowd went there. But for a signature event, there did not seem to be a lot of people present, especially on the basketball court which was once a bustling exhibit area.
For decades I maintained a membership, exercised in the gym on their rather good equipment, attended classes periodically, sent my children to their camp and to their after school care. I never really looked upon membership as a consumer purchase, more as dues to keep the community viable. Utilization of the facilities would wax and wane from year to year, but I always had some personal or family driven attachment. A few years ago, as my children were heading off to college, AKSE decided to raise a million dollar endowment for which we pledged $3000 to be paid over five years. To come up with $600 painlessly, we judged the $750 JCC fee expendable as I rarely used the gym, went to the summer campus just a few times a year and the annual educational program petered out with the passing of its principal organizer. Out of sight, of mind. I never missed it. In the meantime, they must have focused on serious fundraising as there is a new building for the childhood center, the main facility is named after a donor as is the health club and basketball court. It's just the people that seem to be fewer, or at least that was my perception of a brief then and now, one that may not be accurate. But then there is the Pew Research study whose results show more of the Jewish public remaining loyal to the core social tenets of religion but less committed to its institutional structure. That is what I felt wandering around a large basketball court, once far more vibrant than I experienced it, yet not really impacted emotionally by its apparent depletion.