January 10, 2002
Fittingly, the ailing Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) ended 2001 by adopting a set of resolutions that its leaders hope will brighten prospects for 2002.
That was Step One toward resolving a crisis that could have spelled disaster for this community. Now, with short-term plans falling into place, it's time to start thinking 2003 and beyond.
Incoming JCC President Marty Jannol and relatively new Executive Director Nina Lieberman Giladi have a chance to chart a course for the JCCs that will once again make them the gateway to Jewish communal involvement. The trial by fire they just experienced demonstrates the depth of communal support for the JCCs.
For instance, at the Westside JCC (WJCC), which was slated to close on Dec. 31, 2001, supporters rallied to raise more than $119,000 in just three weeks. The WJCC should be able to keep services going through June, by which time longer-term funding could be in place.
At the Silverlake/Los Feliz, Bay Cities, Valley Cities and North Valley centers, supporters have been slower to raise sufficient funds, and these locations still face closure and potential sale.
But the JCCs must be cautious of making hasty decisions in order to satisfy lenders. Yes, as Jannol said, JCCs must make good on loans as soon as possible. And yes, the JCCs owe a debt to a community that will help bail out years of mismanagement.
But the community also owes a debt to the JCCs. In the crisis atmosphere that developed -- or was allowed to develop -- over the JCCs, it is too easy to reverse the equation. Lest we forget: The fundraising apparatus of the Jewish community exists to serve agencies like the JCCs; agencies don't exist to serve the fundraising apparatus.
Given that fact, one option on the table strikes me as too much, too soon. Selling JCC buildings and providing JCC services through leased or shared space will create a kind of center-less JCC system. It sounds innovative, but it could be disastrous: much of the strength of JCCs derives from their combination of real estate and real service. Selling property severs this link, perhaps irrevocably.
The primary goal here must not be loan repayment, but rebuilding the JCC system in Los Angeles as a way of strengthening all of Jewish Los Angeles. For that to happen, it seems Step Two is to develop a long-term plan that will enable the JCCs to serve Jews from Silverlake to Simi Valley, from Pico-Roberston to Ocean Park.
Detroit Jewry did it, raising $32 million from 1995-2000 as part of a strategic plan, the Bloom Report, to revitalize the JCCs there. The Detroit Federation was instrumental in the fundraising.
One person who eagerly awaits an L.A. version of the Bloom Report is Marvin Schotland.
Schotland is the executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation, the planned giving agency of the L.A. Jewish community. The Foundation -- the 10th-largest charitable foundation in this city, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal -- has $325 million in assets.
The Foundation has played a pivotal role at critical moments in the JCC's history. It provided $2 million in capital for the building of the West Valley JCC. It provided crucial start-up capital, some $900,000, for the Conejo Valley JCC. It was instrumental in funding the initial stages of what is now the Zimmer Children's Museum, and has given $500,000 to Camp Shalom, another JCC entity.
A relatively small amount of the Foundation's yearly giving is unrestricted, between $1.5 million and $3 million. The vast majority of its funds are directed to specific causes by donors, and many of those donors depend on Foundation leadership to guide their decisions.
From his office with an appropriately expansive view of Los Angeles, Schotland told me that when he moved to Tucson, Ariz., to start a law practice, his first visit was to the local JCC. It was a way for a young, outsider attorney to connect with the new Jewish community.
When Schotland came to Los Angeles, he enrolled one of his daughters in the Valley Cities JCC for child care. As do most Jewish leaders here, Schotland understands the service the JCCs provide. (Even now, according to Giladi, some 200 children go through the doors of Valley Cities JCC each day.) He told me he is confident that when the JCC has a well-thought-out plan for the centers' rehabilitation, the Foundation and its donors will be available to help it along.
The Foundation's entry into the JCC crisis will not replace the need for other contributions and for a continuing Jewish Federation role. That role should include a hard look on whether it could forgive all or part of the JCCGLA's debt, which by June 2002 could reach $6 million.
Such consideration will be one more crucial step in a long-term process. And that's a process in which we all should resolve to play a part.