In the end, it wasn’t a Jewish organization that saved a valuable Jewish community center, but a forward-thinking Christian cleric.
Bishop J. Jon Bruno, head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese, has stepped in with the money needed to rescue the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, which had faced an imminent shutdown and the sale of its property.
Bruno has joined with the Jewish community group operating the Silver Lake center to purchase the property for $2.1 million in a deal that closed April 20. Bruno used church discretionary funds for the purchase.
“They came to us to help save their school, and ... we’re glad it all worked out,” said Bruno, who grew up in the area playing basketball at the center’s full-sized gym in his youth.
The partnership gives a 49 percent ownership stake to the local Episcopalian Diocese, which has 85,000 members in 147 congregations, while the Silver Lake group gets 51 percent. The facility will be shared — with the 110-year-old Diocese planning to hold Sunday services and schedule programming at night. The JCC offers childcare services during the week and programming of its own that serves many Jewish families who are unaffiliated with a synagogue.
“I’m thrilled,” said Silverlake Independent JCC President Janie Schulman, who spearheaded efforts to save the Silver Lake center. “I’m in heaven. It’s still hard to believe we did it.”
The center has more than 100 children enrolled in its preschool and kindergarten and offers social, education and cultural programs.
The center has been operating in the black for some time, but had been endangered by the finances of its former parent organization, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). The former parent organization had used the Silver Lake property as collateral against liabilities that were not the direct responsibility of the Silver Lake center. The parent organization wanted to sell the Silver Lake property at a price that would help retire its debt.
If the Silver Lake group had failed to purchase the property, the parent organization would have put it on the market and shuttered the 54-year-old center as early as June 30, Schulman said.
To commemorate the new partnership, 100 Silver Lake families welcomed Bruno on Sunday at a traditional Passover seder.
L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti, a center supporter who worked to broker this solution to the financial crisis, said the outcome heartened him. “I’m very proud to have joined with the committed families and community members to save this neighborhood treasure,” he said in a statement.
For Silver Lake supporters, the sale ends a more-than-three-year struggle to save the center, which has created a sense of community among Jews in Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz, while also providing services to the wider community.
While the Silver Lake center hadn’t lost money since assuming local control, its fate was tied to the parent organization, which controlled the property. Plagued by financial mismanagement and debt, the parent organization shuttered the Conejo Valley JCC and the Bay Cities JCC in Santa Monica, as well as severing ties with other centers. Valley Cities JCC in Sherman Oaks nearly closed, but remains open with direct support from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The Federation, one of the Southland’s largest philanthropic organizations, held a $550,000 lien on the Silver Lake property.
The Federation was criticized in some quarters for failing to forgive the debt incurred by the former parent organization. The Federation contributed no money to this month’s purchase. Instead, Bruno, individual contributions from center supporters and a loan from Far East National Bank made the deal possible, Silverlake’s Schulman said.
The Federation has continued to subsidize the Valley Cities JCC, the Westside JCC in mid-city and the West Valley JCC in West Hills — contributing more than $1.5 million in recent years in direct and indirect subsidies.
A Federation spokeswoman said Silverlake’s board of directors never officially applied for money. Officials from the former parent organization, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, did not return calls seeking comment.
Jenny Isaacson, a Silverlake board member, said she preferred not to dwell on past discord with other Jewish organizations.
“My focus is on the terrific new partnership and looking forward,” she said.