Delivery for Your Brain

Need an amazing challah recipe? Want a book on Jewish history for your child’s report? How about a film for the next holiday? Well, now you can order in.

The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA) created @ Your Door, a service to send some of its 25,000 books and resource materials directly to your home. From cookbooks to history books to Judaica to kids books, JCLLA will send you materials free of charge.

“At Your Door was conceived as a way to make it convenient for people to use the resources from this library — many of them are resources people aren’t able to find elsewhere,” said Abigail Yasgur, the creator of the program. She hopes that the convenience of home delivery will encourage the community to utilize the library — the only one of its kind completely devoted to books, CDs and DVDs on Jewish history, literature, arts and culture.

You don’t even need a membership card. Browse the online card catalog and have your driver’s license ready when you call in for checkout. If you live in Los Angeles, @ Your Door will then send off your package with a return label. One catch: You have to cover the cost of return postage. There is also a drop box at the library.

The program — now one year old — is popular at schools, where teachers send for materials they can use in the classroom. With a generous grant from the West Coast office of the KARMA Foundation, the library purchased audiobooks and will cater to the visually impaired.

Despite the extra cost of actually sending out the materials, Yasgur feels confident that it’s money well spent.

“I love people discovering their Judaism, and if they do it through reading … or resources like this, it’s the greatest thing we can bring the community,” she said.

For more information, contact Jewish Community Library
of Los Angeles at (323) 761-8644 or

Three JCCs to Gain Their Independence

The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), which last year nearly drowned amid a sea of red ink and allegations of mismanagement, wants to get out of the business of running major community centers after 60 years.

With pressures mounting to give the centers under its control greater autonomy, JCCGLA has gone a step further. Sometime next year, the Westside JCC in Los Angeles, Valley Cities JCC in Van Nuys and West Valley JCC in West Hills are scheduled to become fully independent entities with their own boards of directors, employees and budgets, said Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA executive vice president.

The trio of centers and the JCCGLA will retain strong links, Lieberman Giladi said. The JCCGLA, for yet-to-be-determined fees, will provide them with accounting, human resources, fundraising and other services, she said.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA will continue to operate the Zimmer Children’s Discovery Museum, the Shalom Institute in Malibu and the Conejo Valley JCC,

It is unclear whether the independent centers would have to pay off debts incurred by JCCGLA. If they do, some observers question whether they could survive.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA has balanced its budget and has made real progress in righting its finances. However, in recent negotiations with the centers’ unionized employees, JCCGLA officials allegedly asked for major concessions, including wage freezes, the elimination of several paid Jewish holidays and the curtailment of health benefits for many teachers and employees, said Jon Lepie of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 800.

"What they’ve said is that their financial situation is dire; that they have debt all over town, including credit card debt," he said. "It’s incredibly serious."

Robert Sax, JCCGLA spokesman, said the organization had no credit card debt. He declined to comment on Lepie’s allegation, saying JCCGLA doesn’t discuss ongoing negotiations.

The JCCGLA has taken steps to cut costs and better marshal its resources. For instance, it saw a one-time savings of $200,000 and will also save $150,000 annually from hiring a new accountant. It has also replaced its chief financial officer and made changes to prevent future financial crises.

"From all evidence I’ve seen in the last year, I’m confident of their abilities and that corrective actions have been taken," said Michael Kaminsky, president of Westside JCC Advisory Board and a JCCGLA board member.

However, JCCGLA remains saddled with a large debt. The organization owes The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles $2.8 million, The Federation said. Over the past eight months, the two groups have negotiated on repayment and a host of other issues. It is unclear how much debt The Federation would forgive, if any.

As part of its repayment, JCCGLA has, at the behest of The Federation, put a lien on two properties worth an estimated $1.1 million, including the site of the Silver Lake Independent JCC. That arrangement means The Federation would receive the proceeds from any sale.

The Federation said it would not take any action that would result in the closure of Silver Lake, at least until June 30, 2003. It is also in discussions with JCCGLA and the Silver Lake group to explore options after that date.

Silver Lake Independent JCC has improved its finances since breaking away from JCCGLA and now operates with a slight surplus, Silver Lake Chairman Janie Schulman said. In early December, a silent auction and dinner dance raised $20,000, she added.

Lieberman Giladi said the worst is behind JCCGLA, adding that the impending split with the Westside, Valley Cities and West Valley JCCs would help the centers.

"I believe this gives them the best possible chance [to survive]," she said. "Each of the JCCs will be able to broaden their base of support by developing their own governing bodies and programs."

Critics of JCCGLA had long complained that money raised by individual centers went into the JCCGLA general fund. They also groused that JCCGLA was sometimes unresponsive to local concerns.

"This will give us more control over our individual destinies," said Judy Boasberg, a Westside JCC board member. "Before, we didn’t have much input on what was going on."

Despite the optimism, the centers’ futures are by no means assured.

The Federation, by far JCCGLA’s biggest benefactor, has itself come under increasing financial pressure from the many agencies it supports. With cash-strapped federal, state and local governments slashing funding across the board, several nonprofit groups will likely turn to The Federation to make up any shortfalls. That could stretch The Federation thin, making it more difficult for JCCGLA or independent centers to tap its resources.

"We do not have unlimited funds," Federation President John Fishel said. "We have many responsibilities and will continue to meet as many of them as possible. It’s a balancing act."

In 2001, Federation grants, loans and advances to JCCGLA totaled $6.1 million, or nearly 44 percent of its $14 million budget, according to The Federation (that figure includes a $2.8 million emergency advance). Nationally, federation giving accounts for just 12 percent of the budgets at typical Jewish community centers, the JCC Association said.

This year, The Federation has earmarked $2.9 million for JCCGLA. The Federation also is contributing another $600,000 to run programs shed by JCCGLA during its financial crisis and taken over by Jewish Family Service, including SOVA, the Israel Levin Senior Center and Westside Adult Day Care.

It appears that JCCGLA has struggled more than many of its peer organizations nationwide. The Bay Cities JCC was the only Jewish community center in the United States to have closed in the past two years, the JCC Association said. As JCCGLA contracts, the overall number of affiliated Jewish community centers in the United States has grown in recent years, according the JCC Association.

Lieberman Giladi remains upbeat.

"I think the fact that the centers are here today is proof that they’ll be here tomorrow," she said. "We’ve already beaten the odds."

Services Offered by Community Centers

Conejo Valley JCC: Early childhood education (ECE); and intergenerational programming and community programs, such as lectures on parenting.

West Valley JCC: ECE; family programs; seniors programs; health and fitness; summer day camp; after-school child care; and cultural and fine-arts programs.

Valley Cities JCC: ECE; summer day camp; after-school child care; family programs; and some cultural programs, including staged-play reading series. Weekly seniors group and monthly senior dinner-dances.

Westside JCC: ECE; kindergarten; family programs; and some cultural programs. Budget cutbacks forced the suspension of seniors and health and fitness programs. Jewish Family Service runs a senior adult day care program.

North Valley JCC (Independent): ECE, after-school child care; after-school karate and gymnastics; winter, spring and holiday minicamps; swimming classes; senior bridge club; and adult social clubs. Beginning in January: adult evening programs, including Israeli dancing, beginning Hebrew and Jewish history.

Silverlake Independent JCC (Independent): ECE; kindergarten; after-school child care; ballet and other children’s classes; and fitness class for seniors

Resource Round-up

To foster a sense of community among Jewish youth in the far corners of Orange County is a difficult task, given that most resources are available exclusively at the county’s Jewish Community Center in Costa Mesa.

For parents able to shlep their youngsters, the center offers an array of youth-oriented programs such as Sunday sports leagues and after-school enrichment classes. But, in practice, participation thins beyond the borders of Huntington Beach or Irvine. "Anything further north or south takes a pretty high-level commitment," said Jay Lewis, assistant director of the Bureau of Jewish Education.

After-school classes, offered either at the JCC or Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine, include piano, voice, crafts, painting, chess, kung fu and cheerleading. Sunday soccer and basketball leagues are offered for grade-school children.

Since 1977, in an effort to create critical mass among youth, the bureau has operated Adat Noar, which literally means youth community. Currently, about 175 ninth-graders participate in the program, which runs during the academic year and meets Sundays at different synagogues throughout the county and for weekend retreats at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.

TALIT, an acronym for "Teens Are Leaders in Training," is a bureau-led group for high-school age youth. About 240 TALIT members meet 12 Sunday nights a year in Costa Mesa. Besides schmoozing and kosher pizza, the teens learn how to serve as camp counselors, song leaders and teacher aides in religious schools. They also help organize social action projects. TALIT is intended to prepare teens to become future community leaders.

Orange County Teen Shabbat, organized by an inter-agency Jewish task force, meets in Costa Mesa on intermittent Friday nights for youth-led Shabbat services, dinner and a teen-oriented speaker. Scheduled dates are Dec. 14, Feb. 22, April 5 and May 10.

Jewish tradition, history and Hebrew are taught at the Pacific Community Jewish Culture School, which meets for a three-hour session two Sundays per month at the JCC. The school is allied with secular, humanistic Judaism, which celebrates Jewish traditions and culture, except for those involving a belief in God. About 30 students are currently enrolled, according to Terry Bayer, a volunteer spokeswoman. Tuition is $375 for 20 sessions. For information contact (949) 640-4246.

The B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, a community-based youth group, serves as the unofficial youth group for the Reform Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley and the Reform Temple Beth Tikvah. The largest local chapter is in Irvine, where two-thirds of its members are unaffiliated with any synagogue, said Rob Petroff, BBYO’s regional director. Members participate in group retreats, regional dances, basketball tournaments and social activism. In all, about 500 teens participate in the southwestern region, which includes Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and San Diego counties.

United Synagogue Youth has active programs at the Conservative congregations of B’nai Israel in Tustin and Eilat in Mission Viejo. Besides a Shabbat club for its youth, B’nai Israel also holds Saturday night youth parties, such as a recent jungle-themed event that featured African fire dancers. "Our kids choose USY over anything else," said Barbara Sherman, the congregation youth director.

The National Federation of Temple Youth has active groups at the Reform temples Bat Yahm in Newport Beach, Beth El in Aliso Viejo and Beth Shalom in Santa Ana.

Camp Haverim, which operates during summer and school holidays, is located at the Tarbut V’Torah campus at 5200 Bonita Canyon Drive in Irvine. Winter camp dates are Dec. 24 through Jan. 4. A camp brochure can be obtained by calling (714) 755-0340 ext. 126.

The Young Single Parent Group holds monthly get-togethers for members and their children. For information on upcoming events contact (949) 595-9079.

The Jewish Education Bureau has received $3,500 to create a county teen resource guide and Web site. The guide is expected in late spring of 2002.