As usual, I'll state my bias up front. The small town I grew up in had a nearly useless JCC. They had a poorly stocked gym complete with pictures of Jewish sports teams that had competed in city tournaments (and won a couple) in the 1950's. The meeting room had 1960's shag carpet and a smell from the fake wood walls. We knew there was a staff working there but we never actually saw them. In my teens, they built a new JCC. At first the plans they posted called for a health club with a pool (!), along lots of meeting and activity rooms. Unfortunately cost containment changed all that. We got the meeting rooms and a social hall but the rest of the building turned into old age apartments that were almost all rented to non-Jews so we had the pleasure of the tenants having X-mas parties in the JCC every December.
The JCC where I live now isn't much better. For some odd reason, it's tucked off on a side road nowhere near anywhere that Jewish, religious or non-religious live. It's essentially a giant fitness club with meeting rooms that host the occasional "cultural" event but not much else.
So if you ask me if I ascribe any importance to the concept of a JCC, I don't because I've never been around one that actually plays any meaningful role for its community.
Apparently in some bigger Jewish centres, this is the case. The JCC serves a role for both the religious and non-religious population which, as one might expect, gives rise to complications that don't often happen on a shul level. After all, all the frum people go to the Orthodox shul. The non-frum folks go elsewhere. No conflict there, but not so at the JCC.
And conflict is what appears to be happening in Baltimore, a larger Jewish centre in the United States (or so I'm told). Non-religious forces in the community there wish to have the place open on Shabbos. The observant community opposes this for obvious reasons and recently held a rally not so much to protest the JCC's decision but rather to positively promote the idea of Shabbos.
For the non-religious, it seems the protests of their observant brethren is a mystery. Years of living radically different lifestyles in different parts of town have taken a toll on the community's sense of unity:
“We’re two separate communities,” Rabbi Steven M. Fink, spiritual leader of Temple Oheb Shalom, said on Monday. “We talk about Jewish unity, but the only thing that unites us is anti-Semitism.
“We both read from the Torah, we both love Shabbat, we just do so in radically different ways,” Rabbi Fink added. “They would never invite us to a rally like this one because it would validate us as rabbis.”
So let me ask some questions. First, why would the JCC want to open on Saturday afternoons? Clearly not for Jewish reasons. After all, the main Jewish worship, especially amongst the heterdox, is in the morning. Furthermore, JCC's generally don't serve as centres of worship to avoid conflicting with the community's synagogues. Although I don't live in Baltimore, I'll willing to bet that the JCC is opening to allow members to access its - wait for it - health club.
But if that's the case, doesn't that make the JCC even more irrelevant, and not just to the Orthodox population of Baltimore?
Again, despite not knowing Baltimore I'm willing to bet there are lots of health and fitness clubs there. I'm also willing to be that a good number are probably as nice as the one at the JCC and might even offer reasonable prices. Many might be closer to the homes of JCC members and therefore more convenient to attend. If that's the case, why would someone choose the JCC to work out in? Because it makes him feel more Jewish? But what does it say about someone's Jewish identity that he chooses to be mechalel Shabbos of all places at the JCC?!
In the end, a Jewish institution that chooses to minimize its Jewishness, whether by being open on Shabbos or choosing to not be kosher decreases its relevance to the community it serves. The Orthodox Jews will choose to minimize their support and the non-religious will eventually drift away to similar non-Jewish venues after seeing that there is no difference between "them" and "us".
In the end, any Jew who feels so strongly about working out on Shabbos probably doesn't have a problem with driving to a private club he's paid membership at. Leave the JCC out of this.