Jewish Journal

Milken JCC bustling despite pool uncertainty

by Jane Ulman

Posted on Sep. 13, 2007 at 8:00 pm

(From left) Adin Gitlin and Daniel Strauss, both 2, take a break on the preschool play yard. Photos by Jane Ulman

(From left) Adin Gitlin and Daniel Strauss, both 2, take a break on the preschool play yard. Photos by Jane Ulman

Saul H. Jacobs, 73, works up a sweat on one of the fitness center's treadmills (photo below) at the New JCC at Milken. It's something he does three days a week.

Across the hall, instructor Flo Schulman teaches tap dancing routines to members of Tapmania, a group of 10 women, ages 59 to 81, who practice five hours a week and perform at convalescent homes and senior centers.

On the other side of the building, 70-something Evelyn Malarowitz concentrates on her cards. She is sitting around a table with seven other women, engaged in one of her regular Pan games, which run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In the preschool, Adin Gitlin and Daniel Strauss, both 2, take a break from pushing their truck and playing in the sand, while 4-year-old Mai Goldman sits at a table with her friends, unpacking her lunch box and preparing to say Motzi.

It's a typical bustling weekday at this Jewish center in West Hills, and it's a sharp contrast to the situation only a few months ago when the center was facing a deficit of $250,000, an uncertain future and a loss of nearly one-third of its members, following the abrupt closure of the pool on April 25 by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Saul H. Jacobs works out at milken jcc But on June 10, members solidly voted down a bailout plan offered by The Federation which, in return for a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000, would have forced the JCC to sign a quitclaim deed giving up its historic right to be the major tenant on the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, a move many feared would have resulted in the JCC's relocating or closing.

"We're open for business," said acting executive director Verna Fish, hoping to dispel any rumors to the contrary.

In fact, far from shutting down, the JCC is moving forward.

The center just reopened the men's and women's locker rooms, which had been closed since April 25. The preschool is operating at almost full capacity with 120 students, ages 2 to 5. And the JCC's board of directors submitted to The Federation a 100 percent balanced budget that, beginning Jan. 1, 2008, will put the JCC solidly in the black, according to Steve Rheuban, JCC board chair.

"With the budget we have, we can go on forever. We have things running smoothly," Rheuban said.

He explains that the budget, which he describes as bare bones, reflects major staff cuts as well as pledges and plans for fundraising. He also expects membership to increase during the current enrollment period.

Additionally, even more programs are on the horizon.

In October, men's basketball leagues and new soccer teams will gear up. A karate class for all ages will begin, as will after-school enrichment classes, including cooking, science and a weekly Shabbat class for students in second grade through middle school. Also, the JCC is continuing its after-school program that picks up children from local elementary and middle schools and provides them with activities, study time and snacks until 6 p.m.

The public and rancorous battle between the Milken JCC and The Federation that began in April, when The Federation closed the pool and adjoining areas, has subsided, and the two sides are talking amicably.

Still, the continued closure of the pool, showers, sauna and Jacuzzi remain problematic.

"We're suffering mightily because of lack of a pool," Rheuban said.

He is hopeful however, adding that while Federation officials believe the pool "might be put to some other better use," they appear ready to consider proposals from the JCC about reopening it.

Andrew Cushnir, vice president of planning at Federation, concurs that the lines of communication are open: "We are continuing to talk about everything."

Currently, however, The Federation is holding off on making any decisions either way.

Meanwhile, Federation officials plan to meet with JCC board members to discuss the recently submitted budget. The Milken JCC will then undergo the same annual allocation process as other Federation agencies and programs, with decisions to be announced near the end of the calendar year, according to Cushnir.

In terms of future plans, Rheuban says the JCC board is hiring a consultant to develop a professional business plan that will provide the JCC with a roadmap to the future, ensuring the much needed growth that Rheuban believes reflects the JCC's capabilities.

Nationwide, despite some obstacles, Jewish community centers are thriving, with close to $700 million in new construction completed or underway. Some of the most successful JCCs are in California -- in San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County.

For many Jews, especially in cities with high rates of intermarriage and low rates of synagogue affiliation, JCCs serve as crucial gateways into Jewish life. For single parents and for families with two working parents, JCCs provide supervised daycare with extended hours for preschoolers and after school programs for older children. And for seniors, JCCs offer a safe and affordable place to socialize, exercise and take part in educational and cultural programs.

"If we weren't here, many of these people would be stuck home all day in little one-bedroom apartments," Fish said.

But Milken JCC members believe the reopening of the pool is crucial to the center's long-term success.

Phyllis Stark, 72, who's been a member for more than 10 years, doesn't want to join a health club, which could entail paying higher fees and losing her JCC friends. Still, she needs to swim since being injured in a serious car accident about five years ago.

"Swimming brought me back. It's very important for my health," she said.

Member Louise Elias, 60, joined two years ago because of the pool and misses the low-impact water aerobic classes.

"I hope we get back to what we had. We like being here. This is our neighborhood center," she said.

Recent stories on The New JCC at Milken:

Federation files for permit to demolish pool at New JCC at Milken
Federation Asks Milken JCC to Relinquish Property Rights
Milken JCC board rejects Federation offer
Does New JCC at Milken mean more trouble for other JCCs?
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