For years, Valley Jewish Community Center (VJCC) — the modern incarnation of North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) — functioned as a hub “without walls.” There was no official building for educational or social activities, no central location where locals could gather for leisure.
There were people, but no walls to hold them.
That all changed two months ago, when VJCC moved into a small facility in Woodland Hills, making it the only physical Jewish community center remaining in the Valley after a series of facility closures over the years.
“It’s great to see all the interest in VJCC at our monthly meetings. The San Fernando Valley needs a Jewish community center,” said Steve Levine, VJCC vice president. “It is vital for our existence. With the help of former members … the center will flourish and grow.”
The rented space, at 20350 Ventura Blvd. — dubbed VJCC’s Woodland Hills location, in the hope that more will be added in the future — is modest, but includes a work room for executive director Jerry Wayne and a larger activity room. An official opening will be held on Aug. 24.
“[People] feel there is a home, there is a place,” Wayne said. “I feel like we have a base — a really good base from which to develop. We have people who are committed.”
It couldn’t have come soon enough for Valley residents. The JCC at Milken in West Hills closed in 2012 after The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles sold the campus to New Community Jewish High School.
Previously, disclosures of financial troubles and fiscal mismanagement within the former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) in 2001 led to the closure of various other centers, including Santa Monica’s Bay Cities JCC in 2002 and the Conejo Valley JCC in 2004. Valley Cities JCC shut down in 2009, less than a year after moving from its longtime Sherman Oaks site, which had been sold by JCCGLA, re-formed as the JCC Development Corp.
And while that still left NVJCC, which seceded from parent organization JCCGLA in 2002, as the only JCC in the San Fernando Valley, it lost use of its Granada Hills campus after a developer purchased the property in the early 2000s.
“I was crushed when they closed our center, and eventually we were kicked out on the street,” Levine said.
The community center became a name without a place. It sustained some members with programs such as a book club and camera club, but it was not the same for people who had been going to the center for decades or had sent their kids to the nursery school there. Meetings were held anywhere that offered free space and programs took place at local synagogues and community facilities.
Today, membership is at about 100 family units, at $125 per family and $85 for seniors.
In the pursuit of a new home in the Valley, approximately 50 people met at local restaurants and fire stations monthly for the past year planning programs and fundraising tactics.
“I feel we are really getting back on track,” Levine said.
These efforts were aided by a three-year grant from the JCC Development Corp. Wayne declined to reveal the amount of the grant.
People involved in this process are relieved and excited to witness the next phase of VJCC and to move forward.
“Perseverance, determination, fundraising efforts, and [a] matching grant brought us to where we are today,” said Elaine Fox, past president and current secretary of VJCC. “It has always been my deep belief that my commitment to and love for the Jewish community has come from the deep friendships my husband and I made so many years ago from our involvement in JCCs.
“My wish is for future generations to have similar JCC experiences. We need to provide that opportunity and continue to build VJCC.”
The goal is to eventually move to a bigger, more permanent facility that is equipped with a gym, pool, auditorium, nursery school classrooms and more. An extended list of programming, including Yiddish, conversational Hebrew, yoga and spinning classes, is in the works, too.
The current Woodland Hills space is meant to be temporary. Wayne said the idea is to have multiple hubs throughout the Valley and a main headquarters.
“Once we continue the movement, as long as there’s momentum, we’ll gather strength. That’s what’s going to happen — that’s what’s happening now,” Wayne said. “We have a lot of people helping, and it’s a good feeling.”