Jewish Journal


February 7, 2002

Grace Period Under Pressure


All is not lost for the Jewish Community Centers.

After months of a crisis that threatened to close several centers, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles announced that it will extend the repayment period of its $3 million loan to the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) through July 1, 2003.

The loan extension will alleviate pressure for JCCGLA, which had been planning to sell off five JCCs -- Bay Cities, Valley Cities, North Valley, Westside and Silver Lake-Los Feliz -- to repay The Federation.

The decision to extend the repayment period for a year and a half resulted from a Federation Executive Committee phone meeting on Feb. 1.

"We got unanimous support," Federation President John Fishel said of the extension, which provides "a major space of time to work through plans with these community groups."

In that extra time period, Fishel told The Journal that he hopes the JCCs will develop an overall budget and plan, grow their membership and increase fundraising in order to stay open.

JCC leaders greeted the loan extension news favorably.

"What I think is key in all of this is that we had to struggle with the lack of time and with the urgency of the situation," JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi told The Journal. "With The Federation putting a moratorium on the loan, it gives the agency the opportunity to restructure ourselves in a way that allows us to be fiscally responsible and serve the community."

The Federation's extension came four days before JCCGLA's Executive Board convened to hear the presentation of final business plans submitted by the five centers to keep their respective locations in operation.

JCCGLA also announced it would continue children's programs for the school year ending in June 2003. North Valley, Silverlake-Los Feliz, Valley Cities, and Westside Jewish Community Centers "can immediately begin promoting and enrolling children for nursery school, and some centers will also enroll for kindergarten and after school childcare," the press release said.

Early community reaction to the loan extension was positive.

"In terms of Westside JCC, I'm very optimistic," said member Pini Herman, whose savethejcc.org Web site has been central to consolidating community pressure to keep the JCCs open. (A recent Tu B'Shevat festival and concert, which attracted several hundred people,raised $16,000 for the Westside JCC .)

Herman said he wants to see the JCCGLA undertake major fundraising and expects the Jewish Community Foundation to come forward with significant help.

"The Jewish Community Foundation, which uses our smiling faces in their advertising, should be freeing up these funds in the JCCs' name," Herman said.

Fishel said that in order to make this loan extension possible and continue to allocate monies toward other agencies and programs, The Federation will have to accrue carrying charges in the 5 to 6 percent range. Fishel told The Journal that such a fiscal challenge was something that The Federation is willing to undertake, for the sake of keeping Los Angeles' JCCs afloat.

As JCCGLA's primary benefactor, The Federation has long occupied a central role in the funding of JCCGLA. Last year, The Federation provided $6 million of JCCGLA's $16 million operating budget. This year, in addition to The Federation's $3 million loan, The Federation's allocation to the JCCGLA will reach about $2.9 million.

"I don't think there's a JCC in the world that operates on that kind of support from a Federation," Fishel asserted.

Since mid-November, The Federation says it has played a central role in working with JCCGLA to come up a way to salvage the ailing JCCGLA system. Fishel says he feels that the perception held by many in the community that The Federation was eager to sell off the JCC properties in order to pay back the loan, has been erroneous.

"We never saw it that way," Fishel said. "We saw it as a way to buy time."

"Over the last six weeks we've worked pretty hard with the centers to try to move the ball forward, and they're now trying to move through development plans with the centers slated for closure," Fishel added.

JCCGLA will enter negotiations with Beth Shir Shalom of Santa Monica to either purchase or lease the Bay Cities facility, in order to keep services at Santa Monica's JCC uninterrupted.

"I was very impressed with the philosophical approach that the Bay Cities supporters took with Beth Shir Shalom," Giladi said. "We recognize the limitations of providing services at that site."

Marvin Gelfand, JCCGLA Transition Committee leader noted,"there is still a deficit that the organization will need to pay in order to fund these programs."

He said that JCCGLA will turn to the community to help defray this amount, which will be discerned next week after a financial assessment is completed.

"We do believe that the amount will be reasonable to the community," Gelfand said.

Ahead lies "a gargantuan task," Fishel said, to revitalize Los Angeles' JCCs. Both the JCCGLA and Fishel would like to see the current JCC membership of 2,200 families swell to the 10,000 figure of its halcyon days.

"I want us to be serving a much larger span of the community than we do now," Giladi said.

"We feel that the centers have to develop an overall budget and plan," Fishel said. "How can they continue with the significant community support which we give them in the form of the grant, but try to figure out how to increase membership and create a better propensity to supplement membership fees with fundraising efforts?"

Among the fundraising efforts already in progress is this month's United Jewish Fund mailing campaign urging financial support for JCCGLA during primacy, The Federation's peak fundraising season.

"We're very appreciative of that leeway," said Giladi of the Federation's gesture.

For the Federation, JCCGLA is just one of many important responsibilities to the Jewish community.

"We recognize the severity of what's going on," Fishel said. "Our biggest concern is that whatever we do with the centers, we continue to fulfill our other obligations," which include overseas causes, such as Israel and Argentina's Jews.

Said Fishel of meeting all these needs, "This is a juggling act."

JCC organizers are optimistic that the centers can overcome their respective financial hurdles and keep the centers operating in a fiscally responsible manner.

"I'm very excited," Giladi said. "I think about what's happened with our community since October. I don't know when was the last time I saw this kind of rallying in the community."

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