It may have been a bittersweet Flag Day for Bay Cities Jewish Community Center, but spirits were not flagging at its June 14 pre-kindergarten graduation -- the center's last.
A Westside institution since 1937, the JCC site on Santa Monica Boulevard and 26th Street will close on June 30 due to financial difficulties.
Until recently, Bay Cities offered early childhood education and after-school care programs, had partnered with the Israel Levin Senior Center and had devoted space to SOVA Food Pantry. The center also enjoyed a robust nursery school enrollment till its demise.
However, Bay Cities' blues were long in the making. In the summer of 2001, parent organization Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) stripped Bay Cities of its after-school care as part of a system-wide cut, leaving vacationing parents unprepared before the September 2001 school year. Only after citywide public pressure did JCCGLA reinstate an after-school care program. However, it was based at the Westside JCC, and many Santa Monica parents were loathe to bus their children across town for after-school care.
In the wake of a mismanagement scandal that came to light in the fall of 2001, JCCGLA listed Bay Cities among five L.A. centers originally planned for closure in order to repay a $3 million bail-out loan that it had acquired with the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, its primary financial supporter.
Earlier this year, a major rift formed between JCCGLA and The Federation as The Federation lost confidence in JCCGLA's ability to draw members and run in a cost-effective manner. While JCCGLA tried to iron out its differences with the Federation, Bay Cities parents scrambled to find outside institutions to save their center from closure and keep its programs running. There was talk that Beth Shir Shalom of Santa Monica might absorb Bay Cities' operating costs. However, the scenario proved too expensive and overwhelming, and the partnership never materialized.
Despite Bay Cities' impending closure, the day didn't read like an epitaph.
"It's a really joyous day," said Jim Barner, who, with fellow Bay Cities dad Daniel Grossman, attempted to stave the building from closure.
This month's graduation marked the last ceremony at the center. Educators offered congratulations to Class of 2002: Sasha Bakhshayandeh, Jack Barner, Miriam Bern, Jordan Breuer, Thomas Chin, Joshua Ganezer, Samantha Gillespie, Asaf Grossman, Alex Kahan, Gaby Kamkar, Hannah Leve, Max Levenson, Noam Namir, Hannah Raoufpour, Katie Reeves, Daniel Roth, Karina Schneider, Jake Shulman, Jules Stahler, Mason Wolf and Micaela Zepeda.