Jewish Journal

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Posted on Dec. 6, 2001 at 7:00 pm

JCC Closures

As a longtime Jewish Community Center (JCC) devotee and one-time Hollywood-Los Feliz director, I find our community's possible loss of any part of the JCC system as tragic and appalling ("Flourish, Not Fail" and "JCCs in Jeopardy," Nov. 30). Yes, the handwriting has been on the wall for some time. Wherever the blame is to be lodged matters less now than saving the distinctive contribution the system has, can and must continue to make to Los Angeles' diverse Jewish community.

All of our institutions have their role and vital purpose, but JCCs are and will always be the only Jewish door that many Jews will go through. How many Jews will be less Jewishly involved without JCCs?

Jerry Freedman Habush, Van Nuys

Last Friday at lunchtime, I heard the first rumor that the Westside JCC was to close down as of Jan. 1. When I went to the center later that afternoon to help coach my daughter's basketball team, and then play a quick game myself before Shabbat, the rumor was confirmed. I was incredulous. My entire existence in Los Angeles is inextricably bound up with the Westside JCC, where I have played basketball three times a week for 12 years.

I can find another basketball game. What about my daughters, who played, went to camp and swam there? What about the hundreds of preschoolers for whom the JCC was a wonderful learning environment, and a most inviting gateway to Judaism? And what about the seniors, many of them immigrants with little support structure, for whom the Westside JCC was the center of their world, the site of a friendly smile, a nutritious meal, and daily physical or cultural stimulation? Are these people, young and old, simply to be forgotten?

If so, then we have moved tragically away from any meaningful sense of communal responsibility. Throughout Jewish history, crisis has always been met with creativity. The case before us is surely not the first financial crisis to hit a Jewish institution. Why then has the crisis been met not with creativity, but surrender? Why is the immediate response to shut down the centers? To the best of my knowledge, there was no public debate about the "restructuring" (i.e., closing) of the JCCs. Nor was there any opportunity to undertake a communitywide campaign to save them.

One wonders if the leaders of the organized Jewish community have much appreciation for the history of the JCC movement. Do they know that the JCC has been the paradigmatic Jewish communal institution in America, open to Jews of all persuasions and denominations? Do they recognize that in a vast city like Los Angeles, the JCC literally constitutes community for thousands of Jews otherwise without a Jewish home?

We hear much about the new and improved Federation, with its aspiration to represent and reach out to the entire Jewish community. We hear much about the spanking new facility at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., which required millions of dollars of renovations. But what we do not yet hear are expressions of concern and compassion for the thousands who will be put out of their Jewish home if the JCCs close. What we do not yet hear is a plan of action to offer the essential services and fulfill the vital social and communal function of the centers. It may well be the case that years of mismanagement brought the JCCs to the brink of closure. And it seems clear that we are in a serious economic downturn.

But it is precisely at such moments of crisis that true leaders step to the fore. John Fishel, Todd Morgan and their colleagues at The Jewish Federation must now demonstrate their mettle. This is the measure of Jewish communal responsibility. We should expect no less from our leaders.

David N. Myers, Los Angeles

The plight of the Jewish Community Centers in Los Angeles saddens me deeply. My 41 years in Jewish communal service was motivated by a dual desire to strengthen the overall Jewish community, and to provide assistance to those least able to afford alternative services. My tenure as director of the Westside Jewish Community Center from 1977 until my retirement in 1995 was guided by those principles.

It is always regrettable when cutbacks in human services are required. I urge that as buildings are closed and staff fired, the most central issue in the minds of decision-makers be: Which of the services that will be lost are available elsewhere in the community, and which will cause genuine hardship for those directly affected?

There are other swimming pools and health facilities in the community, but there is only one Senior Adult Day Care Center for the frail elderly at Westside JCC. There are other places with drama groups and Israeli dancing, but services to the Russian immigrants in Hollywood must be maintained. The single-parent families, poor elderly and other Jews in need must be assured that services they value and deserve will continue. They must not be left behind because they cannot pay their way.

A Jewish community should not be judged by the magnificence of its buildings or by how it serves the upper middle class, but rather by the dignity, respect and genuine services it provides to those least able to pay. May our communal leadership rise to the occasion.

Mort Schrag, Los Angeles

The Valley Cities JCC is a precious resource for parents like me. If it closes, many will be left without options. Many parents who put their children in the JCC after-school programs can't afford a private Jewish school. [A JCC] is Judaism in action -- a place where children have a safe and enriching place to go after school and elderly people can drop in for classes and companionship to fend off boredom an depression. The center also runs an excellent and affordable nursery school.

In a city with one of the largest and wealthiest Jewish populations, how can we let this happen to the JCC? My son has been going to the Valley Cities JCC after-school program for three years. From the JCC, my son has gotten a connection with his heritage and religion that he will carry throughout his life; he has been part of a family of people who care about each other; and he has had the opportunity to explore all kinds of new interests and hobbies. How can our children and our elderly not be more of a funding priority?

Leila Lavizadeh, Van Nuys

I have always equated the JCCs with Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree." I grew up with an active Jewish community in Cleveland, and played basketball at the JCC during high school. After college, the JCC gave me the gift of a wife. Finally, after retirement, the JCC gave the gift of exercise and meeting Jews from different countries and economic brackets. Where else on any given day could one have the opportunity to practice up on their Hebrew, Russian and Farsi?

I only hope that future generation of Jews and non-Jews have the wonderful experiences from our "Giving Tree."

Richard Bernstein, Los Angeles

We, the undersigned, are members of the Westside Jewish Community Center and parents of children in the center's preschool who have committed ourselves to working within the Los Angeles Jewish Community. We are deeply troubled by the lack of dissemination of information to the public and feel disappointed and shocked by the nonexistent public discussion regarding the closing of the Westside JCC.

We have become aware that all non-preschool employees have received letters of termination. This indicates a far graver situation than the "restructuring" that was discussed in Nov. 30 article.

It is shortsighted to believe that because some of the services that the Westside JCC provides are duplicated by other institutions, both inside and outside the Jewish community, that the Westside JCC does not play an integral role in the Jewish life of Los Angeles. We are acutely aware that the Westside JCC is the sole gateway into the Jewish community for many Jewish constituencies.

In place of carefully crafted public statements, we urge a process of communication, which includes all concerned parties, namely the Westside JCC and Federation administrations, their boards, The Jewish Journal, and the constituencies who directly benefit from the services and programs of the citywide JCC structure.

Jason Ablin, Director of General and Integrated Studies, Milken Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple; Lisa Bellows, Ablin Care Coordinator Jewish Family Service; Dina Bernat-Kunin, Unit Director, Vista Del Mar; Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin, Rabbinic Director, Milken Commnity High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple; Aryeh Cohen, Jewish Studies Chair, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies; Andrea Hodos, Jewish Studies Faculty, Milken Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple.

Los Angeles Hebrew High

In Tom Tugend's article ("The New Face of the UJ," Nov. 30) Los Angeles Hebrew High School (LAHH) is spoken of in terms which are inconsistent and not representative of the views of the board of trustees or the administration. We have been supported by the University of Judaism (UJ) for many years. Together, we have continued to find a way to provide excellent Hebrew and Judaic education at the UJ facility each Sunday morning for more than 400 Jewish teens. The UJ's leadership have been consistently forthright and flexible with LAHHS, and we are grateful that our two institutions have continued to focus on quality Jewish learning.

Carol Askuvich, President Board of Trustees
William Cohen, Principal

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