Rescuing the VCJCC

At the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center, the metaphors were dire. "This is like a horrible accident, and we’re the paramedics," Mike Brezner told an advisory committee meeting on Monday night. "All we can do is save the patient’s life. We can’t worry about scars or what caused the accident. We have to save this life so we can ask those questions tomorrow."

Brezner wants the Valley Cities advisory committee to focus on the short- term goal of raising enough funds to keep the center open past Dec. 31. Brezner, the vice president of sales and marketing for a small computer firm, "played hooky at work," organizing the meeting agenda and subcommittee sign-up sheets. With organizing partner Batya Oren, he steered the meeting toward organizing subcommittees to take charge of tasks, like emergency appeals, and media and legal relations.

"I’m just trying to save my children’s future," said Oren, a school teacher and mother of two children in after-school programs.

Part of the problem with setting up an advisory committee, according to those at the meeting, is that no one knows exactly what needs to be done. While some thought the center might be saved temporarily with $200,000, estimates for fundraising ranged as high as $5 million.

"I hear a lot of figures thrown around," said one parent, "Right now, what I want to know is, if this particular JCC were to band together, have some kind of special event, would that help?" Others dispaired over raising any money without access to the JCC’s and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ accounting books to prove the exact figures needed.

Les Paley, a Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) board member who attended the meeting, later told The Journal, "They aren’t going to open the books. They’re still auditing. The board only found out about this in October."

Not all of the concerned members gathered for the meeting agreed with the focus on fundraising. "If we only try to raise money, we don’t find out what other options there are," said Marc Lizer, whose 2-year-old son attends JCC classes.

Among his suggestions for saving Valley Cities: affiliate with another Jewish organization like a synagogue, do more to attract the local Israeli community and sell Camp JCA Shalom instead of the community centers. Lizer also insisted that the Valley Cities group not work alone. "We have to make sure that we don’t let the Fed[eration] work the JCCs against each other," he said.

Paley’s history with the Valley Cities goes back to the beginning. A past president of the Valley Cities board that was disbanded last year, he helped found the center 42 years ago and sent his three children to JCC programs. His son Aaron Paley co-founded the popular Yiddishkayt L.A. festival. His daughter, Cindy Paley, has recorded eight albums of Jewish music and performs regularly. "What I think would be criminal," Aaron Paley told the Journal, "would be to look at these centers as real estate, not taking into account the investments people have made, the time people have spent and the effort."

Norm Berke, chair of the senior adult committee, expressed the near-helplessness felt by many at the meeting: "This precipitous disaster has caused a lot of heartache. They sold us down the river."

Others noted that some of the senior programs are run by Los Angeles Unified School District. These programs will continue, though maintenance services, such as moving and setting up chairs for meetings, will have to be taken up by volunteers.

"It’s such a sad time. We’re sitting here taking inventory," said Fran Brumlik, director of the Valley Cities, who is unsure about the future of Valley Cities after Dec. 31. "People at this center act with passion, which is good and which is bad. I can’t say it’s always peaceful, but the people here care about the community."

Paula Hoffman, early childhood education director at the North Valley JCC, told The Journal that a group of member parents met Dec. 6 to discuss saving that center. Hoffman declined further comment on the meeting, saying, "There isn’t anything officially going on right now."

Les Paley will be sorry to see any center closed, but holds Valley Cities closest to his heart. "I was at Valley Cities when the building was opened in November 1959," he says. "I said at the last board meeting, I hope I’m not around to say ‘Kaddish.’"