By Doron Krakow
I majored in economics at Rutgers University and got another healthy dose several years later on the road to my MBA. I’d like to say that I remember a great deal about my chosen “profession,” but in truth, there are only a handful of concepts that come quickly to mind when I reflect on those countless hours of study. The simplest among them is the idea that business gets done at the intersection of supply and demand. A company or entity with something to sell needs a market of ready buyers. If the product’s supply exceeds the market demand or consumers’ willingness to pay the price being asked, the company will be stuck with excess or unwanted inventory. If, on the other hand, demand exceeds supply, the company has the opportunity to make, build, or create more—or to raise the price and increase its profits.
Of course, it’s rarely a matter of “if you build it, they will come.” Efforts to stimulate interest or demand are undertaken through a commitment to marketing, branding, PR, etc. Even the most impressive and compelling campaigns are not always sufficient, bringing us back to that critical point at which supply and demand meet.
What might Professor McAdams say about this recap of what he tried to teach me all those years ago? I’m certain he’d be curious about why I chose this medium for sharing it. Here’s why I did.
Matters of supply and demand are a principal preoccupation of the organized Jewish community. Whether we think in such terms or not, those of us who labor in this field have spent much of our careers attempting to stimulate demand, enhance and expand supply, or a combination of the two. Program recruitment, scholarship efforts, facility development, cutting-edge innovations and initiatives, and campaigns of every kind. Each one is, at its core, a matter of supply and demand, opportunity and access. It’s what we do.
And it’s what I’ve been thinking about increasingly of late. I’ll depart in a few days, ahead of the start of the 2023 JCC Maccabi Games® in Israel. A thousand teens recruited largely through Jewish Community Centers across North America will take part in eight days of competitive sports, complemented by opportunities to perform community service while strengthening ties with Israel and Israelis, as well as with fellow athletes representing a total of 10 countries around the world. Not long thereafter, another 2,000 teens will gather for this year’s North American Games in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Three thousand teens. That’s a lot. But it could be a lot more. The supply of housing and our capacity to host has resulted in our rationing access to the Games again this year, which is a longstanding reality for our movement. As a result, far too many kids were turned away, and too many JCCs limit their efforts to generate interest because they know they will have to disappoint those for whom a space cannot be found.
Our data indicates that roughly 68% of first-time JCC Maccabi participants are otherwise uninvolved in Jewish communal life, and the Games have become an extraordinary gateway for Jewish engagement—a gateway to the richness of Jewish community and to relationships that can last a lifetime. It seems inconceivable that at a time of declining participation levels in so many facets of Jewish life, we would choose to limit access to this one. Yet that’s precisely what we’ve been doing.
JCC Maccabi isn’t the only program in which we are rationing access to meaningful Jewish engagement in the face of excess demand. It is also happening in early childhood Jewish education. Although only 12% of Jewish families enroll their children in early childhood education programs provided by the Jewish community, demand for such programs far outstrips the supply. The JCCs of North America are home to the largest network of early childhood Jewish education programs on this continent, together serving roughly 36,000 children. Meanwhile, as many as 10,000 more families—banging on the glass, checkbook in hand—are being turned away; no room at the inn. Jewish Community Centers aren’t alone; congregations and day schools providing early childhood education find themselves in a similar position. There are too few teachers, a major bottleneck to be sure, but there also is insufficient impetus for a commitment to increasing supply to meet—much less grow—demand. Like JCC Maccabi, most have long-since stopped marketing and promoting the programs actively, knowing that more demand will only result in more disappointment on the part of families inevitably turned away. And these are but two significant examples.
Recent studies affirm that participation levels continue to drop across far too many sectors of Jewish communal life. Many of the Jewish community’s brightest minds are working to reverse these declines in Jewish day and supplemental schools. To grow interest in programs in Israel and renew enthusiasm for congregational Judaism. To widen the circle of participation in community campaigns and service opportunities. To recruit and engage those straddling the margins of Jewish life. To stimulate demand so we might capitalize on our ready supply. Extraordinary initiatives, including Birthright Israel, RootOne, PJ Library, Foundation for Jewish Camp, Hillel, and countless others have been created in pursuit of precisely these goals.
Meanwhile, we are missing out on what could be far easier wins: committing the necessary time, energy, planning, and resources to accommodate excess demand for programs we already know to be powerful amplifiers of Jewish commitment and engagement. These are exactly the questions and opportunities that must and will focus my energy and attention and those of a growing number of colleagues, peers, and partners across and beyond the JCC Movement in the months and years to come. We must be determined to rise to the occasion, to bring supply in line with excess and growing demand for access to Jewish life and Jewish community wherever possible—and to do so before it dissipates.
Professor McAdams. If you’re watching, I’m still trying to make you proud.
Shabbat shalom | שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
Though the British Mandate had formally concluded at 11:50 p.m. on May 14, 1948, Britain continued to maintain control of the port of Haifa for several additional weeks. On July 1, 1948, the Union Jack was lowered at the port for the last time, and Haifa became the principal port of the state of Israel. The last 5,000 British soldiers sailed away on the LST Striker after the senior officer, General Macmillan, handed the folded flag to the British Consul, Cyril Marryat. The port of Haifa would immediately become the heartbeat of Israel’s international trade and travel with Europe and the West.
And that’s the way it was…
P.S. As we celebrate Canada Day tomorrow and American Independence Day on Tuesday, and as we continue our year-long celebration of Israel at 75, we are ever-mindful of the extraordinary significance of freedom and self-determination. Wishing us all a happy Canada Day, and a happy 4th of July.