I attended the “70th Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and the Inaugural Meeting of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix.” I am 48 years old and I would say that I was on the younger side of those attending. Well dressed Jews, listening to speech after speech from well meaning volunteers and donors, either discussing how important the Federation has been in their life, or how important the Campus is to the sustenance of the Jewish Community. I could not help think that the scene was probably akin to the atmosphere in the lounge of the Titanic as that vessel cleared the English Channel. Well heeled people, listening to their friends being congratulated, smug in their place and position as leaders, people of substance. Lot’s of inside jokes about this or that board member, introducing one another as neighbors, and not a person under 30 in the room to appreciate this wonderful evening.
There is an old joke about the two greatest lies ever told. The first lie is: “the check is in the mail”, and the second lie should be, “the Levine Campus is the Center of Jewish Universe of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area.” Joel Kramer’s discussion of the JCA’s new $12,000,000 Endowment scheme, of which he is the Chairman, euphemistically entitled “Fulfilling the Promise”, was as riveting as watching a three card monty game, and mercifully, just as short. But Joel, like all people in charge of perpetrating a confidence game, came through with just a few morsels of information so that those in attendance and beyond could contemplate their next opportunity to stoke the Titanic’s boilers, basking in the glow of admiration from their fellow lemmings.
Joel asserted with confidence that the Campus was the greatest achievement of the Jewish Federation of Phoenix, and that the new “Fulfilling the Promise” Ponzi Scheme/Endowment would be the greatest achievement of the Jewish Community Association. And then he dropped the bomb: 25,000 people visit the Campus every month. There are about 83,000 Jews in Phoenix, and at first blush that seems like a pretty huge number, and would appear, if you had a very solid third grade education, that more than 30% of the Jewish population is visiting the Campus. But, since I am a very proud graduate of high school, which were the best eight years of my life, I think that we are really not talking about unique visitors, and I am going to say that with membership hovering in the neighborhood of 3,000 members, that this number represents about 833 people per day. Since health club members, day school attendees, and others who use the Campus are pretty habitual users, I am going to basically give the JCA the benefit of the doubt and agree that there are 1,600 people who use that facility each month, and that accounts for the total number of visitors to the facility. I am probably being very generous here. However, given my generosity, even if we doubled that to 3,200 unique habitual visitors to the facility each month, and that they come to the facility month after month, we are still only talking about 3,200/83,0000 people. I would be surprised if more than 3.8% of the Jewish population makes use of the Campus.
So, if 25,000 aggregate visits from 3,200 different people make that facility the center of the Phoenix Jewish Universe, then I am going to guess that Chompie’s delicatessen plays an even more important role in Phoenix’s Jewish community. This is because between their three locations, they must be getting more than 700 Jews a day through their doors. I also believe there is a higher possibility that they are unique visitors, because if you ate deli every day, you’d be dead.
When I began attending boarding school, I was 11 years old and someone at the school had the bright idea of housing the middle school boarders in the dorm that housed the Seniors, thinking the seniors would be more mature, more compassionate, and would haze us less. There was actually a Senior named Adolph who lived in my dorm, and no shock there, he was a pretty big Jew hater. He took a special delight in kicking my ass every day of the week, and he hazed me like crazy. But the thing about Adolf was that I could always see him coming. I mean, for the love of Christ, if you name your kid Adolf and he is American, you are most likely going to have an affinity for snappy brown uniforms, red armbands, shattering the windows of store fronts, and passing these passions on to your kids. But in those lonely moments of getting my ass kicked, I never once shied away or was ashamed of identifying myself with being Jewish. Now that I live in Phoenix, and knowing how we are behaving towards the most vulnerable amongst us, taking money from their support to support the Campus, I think I am more comfortable hiding my Jewish identity here, because I could not bear being considered as a member of this group.
At least the Jewish News had the strength to highlight this in their latest issue. When you give money to the JCA to support the Campus, ask yourself if this this the ditch you are prepared to die in? Are you the type of person who thinks that a building that is used by less than 4% of the population, designed to glorify the contributions of the few, is the greatest achievement of the Jewish Federation? Is it a great achievement to reduce funding to the needy and skip out on our financial commitment to Israel to support a building that few of us actually use? Can being a good Jew or even a great Jew be defined by building and owning a cool athletic facility? If that is the case, I am guessing that the list of the greatest Jews the world has ever known could be amended and might look like this: Abraham, Moses, Maimonides, Jones (Jerry), and Hofheinz (Roy).