The Jewish Community Center, which 10 years ago sold its inner city headquarters on 16th Street to set up shop in Rockville, will reestablish a "center without walls" program in the District next fall.
Plans for a once-a-week facility to provide Jewish social and cultural services have been under study for six months. Last Sunday the enthusiastic response of nearly 2,000 persons to a modestly publicized trial run of such a program at Lafayette School, just off Rock Creek Park, affirmed the need for such activities in the city.
"Our constituency is delighted to see this," said Rabbi A. Nathan Abramowitz of Tifereth Israel Congregation, one of six synagogues in the city.
"We had applied for use of the [Lafayette public elementary] school" to house the Center's program next fall, said Aviva Kaufman-Penn, director of community services for the Center.
"Now I know I'll be going down to sign the papers," she said after the enthusiastic community response.
There are no statistics available to pinpoint precisely where in the Washington area Jews live at the present time, although the United Jewish Appeal Federation is working on such a study.
"We know there was an outflow" from the District to Montgomery County a decade ago, said Chaim Lauer of the Federation. "We get the impression now that many singles and couples with young children are moving back into the District," he continued.
There are also sizable numbers who never left the District and over the years have been critical of the Rockville Center, which derives some of its financing from funds contributed by the total Jewish Community.
"There is no way a parent in D.C. can drive half or three quarters of an hour out to Rockville to take her child for an enrichment program once or twice a week," complained one mother attending the Sunday program. "Then when you get there [Rockville], the programs are so oversubscribed that they can't get in," she added.
Another District mother said, "We need a place where our kids can get on the bus, or ride their bikes to get there, where they can take classes or just be with their friends."
The Jewish Community Center cuts across all branches of Judaism to provide social and cultural programs for persons who want to come together on the basis of Jewish heritage and interest.
Robert H. Weiner, executive director of the Center, said only about half the Jews affiliated with the Rockville facility are members of synagogues. "It takes greater commitment to belong to a synagogue," he explained.
At Lafayette School on Sunday, the Center brought a living sampler of its Rockville program: a Yiddish drama about the immigrant experience-performed in English, a gymnastics demonstration; Israeli folk-dancing; a senior citizens' band, crafts demonstrations, a class of child virtuosos demonstrating on pint-size violins what they had learned by the Suzuki method of instruction, sports and games.
But mostly, as children romped over the playing field, adults just clustered in the bright sunlight in animated conversation. Weiner sees the facilitating of such conversations as one of the chief roles of the Center. "Jews are a minority," he pointed out. "It's important to have a place where Jews can come together and just talk to each other; a place to feel comfortable."
According to Kaufman-Penn, the Center will definitely conduct a weekly Sunday afternoon program at Lafayette School, beginning in the fall. In addition there will be other programs, in other locations for "singles" living in the District.
Plans also call for a more formal study program one night a week at one of the District synagogues, a program which was also tested, with considerable success, this past winter.
"At the moment," she added, "we are talking about a 'center without walls.' But it may be that within three or four years there would be some kind of (permanent) facility" for the Jewish Community Center once again in the District.