Camp Adjusts to Life Away From Parent

This will be Camp JCA Shalom’s first summer away from home. For the first time in its 54-year history, the Malibu camp is independent, having broken away from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) in January.

Life after the centers crisis hasn’t been easy for The Shalom Institute: Camp and Conference Center, and now officials are learning how to raise the bulk of the camp’s $2.3 million budget.

“Everything is great but we need support,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which runs Camp JCA Shalom.

JCCGLA’s financial problems involved The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles as well as JCA Shalom, and the Jewish agency is doing its part to help the start-up nonprofit camp. By providing transitional money, The Federation hopes the camp’s leadership can develop an administrative culture.

Prior to its move for independence, the Camp JCA Shalom received 8 percent of its annual funding from JCCGLA. Now an independent Jewish nonprofit and designated Federation beneficiary agency, the camp and institute are getting 17 percent of its budget this year, or $350,000, directly from The Federation. About 80 percent of the camp and institute’s budget will be covered by service fees, with another 3 percent from individual donors and grants. The number of campers on scholarship has not changed from last year.

The first round of campers arrives at Camp JCA Shalom on June 28.

“We were happy to provide the transition funding that any new organization getting started would need,” said Andrew Cushnir, The Federation’s vice president of planning.

Cushnir said that after transitional support is withdrawn, the camp should continue to thrive.

While Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Camp Hess Kramer hugs the Ventura County line near Malibu’s northernmost beaches, nearby Camp JCA Shalom requires a nerve-testing drive through mountainous stretches of the Mulholland Highway. Once there, Camp JCA’s large Hebrew script front gate opens to a camp far removed from the urban world.

But the mellowness does not affect the newly independent camp’s aggressive new outreach. The Shalom Institute ran a February Elderhostel, which Kaplan said had a waiting list. The camp’s expanded Reform religious school retreats for Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, Westwood’s University Synagogue, Valley Village’s Temple Beth Hillel, Santa Monica’s Beth Shir Shalom and Sha’arei Am and Culver City’s Temple Akiba. In March there was a successful mother’s retreat with a similar event slated for this October.

“We are using the term ‘virtual JCC’ to describe who we are,” Kaplan told The Journal, explaining how the camp and institute have shed only the funding mechanism of Jewish community center life but not the half-century of JCC culture.

“The reality is that we’ve been growing despite the JCCGLA crisis,” he said.

Other organizations that the Shalom Institute has been reaching out to this year include the Santa Barbara and Palm Springs federations, Agoura’s Heschel West Day School and another day school in Albuquerque, plus Jewish community centers on the Westside and in Long Beach, Tucson and Albuquerque. The Modern Orthodox Shalhevet High School near the Fairfax District used Camp JCA Shalom for a Shabbaton in mid-March, and its students learned about Israeli flora at the camp’s Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Center.

“In December we’re slated to use them again,” said Eddie Friedman, Shalhevet student affairs director. “They’re trying to teach vegetation, trying to teach something about biblical gardening, kind of all inclusive. That’s quite different for kids who live in Beverly Hills or the Valley, to get out there into nature.”

Friedman’s sole complaint about the nondenominational Jewish camp is that it lacked a permanent eruv.

“We have to put it up,” he said. “I wish they would find a way so they can leave it for others to use it.”

A capital campaign seeks to match an initial $333,000 challenge grant to refurbish the Camp JCA dining hall by 2007.

The institute has hired a couple more staffers to handle administrative support and has spent part of this spring educating its board members on their duties. Fundraising has become a top priority, since The Federation’s funding level will not last indefinitely.

“There’s no parent agency supporting us,” Kaplan said. “It’s wonderful to be independent. At the same time we have to begin a culture of fundraising. You equate it with the child who goes off to college.”


Episcopal Church Saves Silver Lake JCC


Just two months before its probable closure, the Silver Lake Independent Jewish Community Center has gained a new lease on life thanks to the efforts of a benevolent high-ranking member of the Episcopal Church.

In a bid to save the center, Bishop Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has joined forces with the Silver Lake group and jointly purchased the property from its owner, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA). The $2.1-million deal closed April 20 and gives the Episcopalians a 49 percent ownership stake and the Silver Lake supporters a 51 percent share. They will share the facility, with the Diocese planning to hold Sunday services and night programming.

"I’m thrilled. I’m in heaven. It’s still hard to believe we did it," said Silver Lake president Janie Schulman, who spearheaded efforts to save the center, which has more than 100 children enrolled in its preschool and kindergarten and offers many social, education and cultural programs.

Bruno grew up in the area and played basketball at the center in his youth. He dipped into a church discretionary fund to help with the purchase.

If Silver Lake proponents had failed to purchase the property, JCCGLA planned to put it on the market and shutter the center June 30, Schulman said.

For Silver Lake supporters, the sale represents a happy ending to their four-year struggle to keep alive what they consider an important piece of Jewish Los Angeles that has helped create a sense of community among Jews in Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz.

Even though Silver Lake has constantly made a profit in recent years, its fate was tied to the JCCGLA, the property’s owner and, until recently, the overseer of the cities Jewish community centers. Plagued by financial mismanagement and debt, the JCCGLA shuttered the Conejo Valley JCC and the Bay Cities JCC threatened repeatedly to sell Silver Lake — much to the chagrin of its supporters. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, one of the Southland’s largest philanthropic groups, held a $550,000 lien on the Silver Lake property.

The Federation, long criticized for failing to forgive the debt that Silver Lake inherited from JCCGLA, contributed no money to the recent purchase. Instead, Bruno, individual contributions from center supporters and a loan from Far East National Bank made the deal possible, Schulman said. The Federation, which in recent years has allocated more than more than $2 million in total subsidies and free services to Valley Cities JCC in Sherman Oaks, the Westside JCC and West Valley JCC, has offered Silver Lake no financial support.

"My focus is on the terrific new partnership and looking forward," said Jenny Isaacson, a Silver Lake board member. "That [relations with the Federation] is water under the bridge."


Redefining Its Role

For the past 60 years, the Jewish Community Centers of
Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) has been the glue which, until recently, has kept
area Jewish community centers largely flourishing. As the organization
struggles to reinvent itself as a consulting business, some in the Jewish community
said they have little intention of tapping the group for its services and
wonder whether it should even continue to exist.

If the JCCGLA were to disband, supporters worry JCCs would
lose their biggest support system and could eventually close their doors.

Critics of JCCGLA, which nearly sunk little more than a year
ago during a financial crisis, question whether it has the expertise and
credibility to provide the accounting, fundraising, human resources and other
assistance it plans to make available. Organizers at Westside JCC in Los
Angeles, Valley Cities JCC in Van Nuys and West Valley JCC in West Hills, the
three centers slated later this year to sever formal links with JCCGLA, said
they would be better served by going it alone.

JCCGLA executives said they have brought financial
discipline to their organization by balancing the budget, replacing key
personnel and beginning the process of healing the wounds brought on by its
recent financial crisis. With a new emphasis on fundraising, a more active
board and decades of experience, JCCGLA has positioned itself to be an advocate
for and partner of the trio of centers.

“We have a knowledge base that allows us to help JCCs grow
and to provide the best possible services to their constituencies,” said Nina
Lieberman Giladi, executive vice president of JCCGLA. “In addition, we will
provide services at a reduced cost, a substantial benefit to the JCCs.”

JCCGLA President Marty Jannol said the group is “finally
getting to take a moment to look ahead rather than take a broom and clean up
the mess from the past.”

However, the past still haunts JCCGLA, and, to some
observers, disqualifies it from playing a meaningful role at the Jewish centers
going forward.

JCCGLA is saddled with about $5 million in debt, Lieberman
Giladi said, and might have to sell centers or other holdings if a cash crunch

That figure includes $2.8 million owed to The Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles, an $800,000 bank loan — secured by the North
Valley JCC property — and $1.2 million to $1.4 million in “special funds”
JCCGLA spent on operations during its crisis but must return to its coffers,
she said.

JCCGLA has assets worth more than $16 million, Lieberman
Giladi said. However, at the behest of The Federation, JCCGLA has put a lien on
two properties worth an estimated $1.1 million, including the site of the
Silver Lake Independent JCC. That means The Federation would receive the
proceeds from any sale.

Detractors said JCCGLA’s top two executives are overpaid in
light of its recent troubles. Both Lieberman Giladi and Associate Executive
Vice President Rafe Pery will earn $100,000 or more this year, excluding
benefits. The organization has laid off 150 employees since October 2001 and
now employs 220.

Lieberman Giladi said those salaries are in line with
leaders at other JCCs across the country. She added that she personally
contributed $10,000 last year to JCCGLA’s renewal campaign and works tirelessly
on behalf of the centers.

“I’m proud to say we’ve budgeted increases for all our staff
this year, but I’ve declined mine,” she said.

Not all JCCGLA workers appear to have received the same
generous offer.

In an attempt to slash costs to remain in business, JCCGLA
has unilaterally frozen salaries, cut sick days and eliminated the health
benefits of some unionized teachers at local JCCs under its control, according
to union officials.

Jon Lepie, a consultant to the American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees, Local 800, said JCCGLA’s move could force
teachers, who earn an average of $22,000 annually, to abandon Jewish centers
for higher-paying jobs. Union officials also challenge the legality of JCCGLA
imposing a settlement on employees while they say negotiations are taking

Another issue of concern to JCCGLA’s critics is the future
role it will play at the local centers.

“I believe, and I think many of the other board members at
Valley Cities would agree, that at this point we could probably handle the functions
[JCCGLA is proposing to offer] on our own,” said Art Verity, a former Valley
Cities JCC president and current advisory board member. “We feel we have the
leadership, staff and resources to do it ourselves.”

Bill Kabaker, a former advisory board member at Valley
Cities JCC who resigned in August, said he has little faith in JCCGLA because
of its inability to raise enough money, increase its membership and
significantly expand programs over the past year.

“I think the incompetence that has gone on is jeopardizing
the centers,” he said.

Lieberman Giladi countered that JCCGLA raised $900,000 in
operating and capital funds from donors last year, including a record $250,000
from JCCGLA’s 22-member board. JCCGLA plans soon to hire a full-time
development director to keep the money flowing and is sponsoring a fundraising
seminar for directors in early February, she said.

The state of Los Angeles’ Jewish centers also irks critics,
who blame JCCGLA for JCC’s problems.

For instance, Bay Cities JCC was the only Jewish Community
Center in the United States to have closed in the past two years, the JCC
Association of North America said.

Meanwhile, the JCC in Long Beach moved four years ago into a
new $14.5 million center that includes an indoor basketball court and 25-yard
outdoor pool. In Orange County, construction is slated to begin within three
months on a $20 million JCC complex in Irvine that will include an on-site
library, a 50,000-square-foot health and fitness facility, a state-of-the-art
theater and an indoor cafe.

Elsewhere, a new JCC has just opened in Scottsdale, Ariz.,
and a center in Salt Lake City was renovated and expanded.

“L.A.’s Jewish community centers are a joke compared to the
rest of the country,” said a former JCC program director in Los Angeles. “We
have the second largest Jewish community in the United States, and this is what
we’ve got to show for it?”

By contrast, metropolitan New York, the country’s biggest
Jewish community, has 27 JCCs, according to the JCC Association.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA has taken important steps
toward rebuilding trust and positioning the organization for the future.

At least one center that has already gained independence
appears healthier now than before it severed cut ties with JCCGLA.

When North Valley JCC in Granada Hills reopened its doors in
July 2002 after JCCGLA briefly shut it down for budgetary reasons, the center
had 84 paying members and only a small early childhood education summer camp
program, said Elaine Fox, president of North Valley JCC Inc. Now, it has 122
members and offers senior activities, early childhood education and
after-school childcare and enrichment, among other programs.

North Valley JCC has raised more than $90,000 in the past
year and is negotiating with JCCGLA to take ownership of the center, a purchase
that would be funded by private donations, government grants and investors, Fox
said. North Valley JCC has no plans to tap JCCGLA for future services, she

JCCGLA has allowed North Valley JCC to use its facility
rent-free since September and has given center executives extra time to come up
with a plan for purchasing the property, Lieberman Giladi said.

JCCGLA will continue to operate the Zimmer Children’s
Museum, the Shalom Institute in Malibu and the Conejo Valley JCC after the
Westside, Valley Cities and West Valley JCCs become independent.

Criticisms notwithstanding, JCCGLA has some strong

Michael Brezner, chairman of the Valley Cities JCC advisory
board, said JCCGLA has been a valued partner as the center readies itself for
independence. A JCCGLA executive, for instance, helped the advisory board put
together a proposal asking The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for a
$237,000 grant.

Brezner, unlike fellow Valley Cities board member Verity,
said that most of the board wouldn’t hesitate turning to JCCGLA for accounting
and other services, especially if the price is right.

“I have no ax to grind with JCCGLA. The agency in the past
year has done everything in its power to keep us open,” Brezner said.
“Everybody wants to keep digging up the dirt from the past, and it gets very
annoying. It’s not productive.”

However, he said several issues remained to be hammered out
with JCCGLA, including whether Valley Cities and other centers would be saddled
with the agency’s debt.

Federation President John Fishel said he sees JCCGLA playing
a role at the centers once they become independent.

“I think like any other organization, [JCCGLA] needs
stability, credibility and the support of the groups that it is proposing to
work with,” he said. “Then, I think anything is possible.”

Over the past 10 months, JCCGLA and Federation, its biggest
benefactor, have negotiated on debt repayment and a host of other issues.
Fishel said recent talks between the two groups have been constructive.

In 2002, The Federation earmarked $2.9 million for JCCGLA.
That figure excludes $600,000 The Federation spends on 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.

As JCCGLA fights for relevance, it finds itself on the
defensive in increasingly acrimonious negotiations with its unionized JCC

Under JCCGLA’s proposal, which it believes is binding,
teachers working less than 271¼2 hours a week will lose medical and dental
benefits and all vacation and sick leave. Veteran teachers with more than two
years JCC experience will see their sick days shrink from 18 to six, which
JCCGLA said is the norm in the nonprofit world. The number of paid holidays
will remain unchanged.

Lieberman Giladi said JCCGLA has taken the action to keep
its budget balanced and avoid layoffs.

About 12 out of the centers’ 70 teachers and other employees
stand to lose their benefits, the union said.

Lepie said JCCGLA’s actions have devastated teacher morale
and could lead to an exodus of staff. If that happens, parents might pull their
children from classrooms, taking membership fees with them.

The union has filed a claim with the National Labor
Relations Board, charging unfair labor practices. JCCGLA attorney Frederic
Richman said his organization has the legal right to pursue the course it has
chosen. Negotiations are still ongoing.

Richard Rosett, a JCCGLA board member who also sits on the
Valley Cities advisory board, said he is confident JCCGLA can lead the area’s
centers to long-term success and stability.

“JCCGLA has developed a strategy and approach to its
existence that will permit both it and individual centers to function
effectively and efficiently,” he said.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Rosett added.  

A Museum’s Fate

The rent is paid through December. After that, no one knows where — or if — the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust will have a home.

Competition seems to be squeezing out the venerable museum. Not competition from the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, but competing visions for the future between the museum’s directors and its parent, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The museum’s struggles with The Federation in many ways mirror the ongoing, sometimes contentious discussions between The Federation and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), another beneficiary agency of The Federation. Issues of falling membership and control seem to be at the heart of both debates.

Currently, the museum shares space at 6006 Wilshire Blvd. with office and storage space for the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA). But JCLLA will be moving those functions into Federation headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., leaving the Museum of the Holocaust to pay the full rent with reduced funding.

Two years ago, The Federation provided more than $180,000 for the museum. This year, the allocation was $60,000, according to Dr. Gary Schiller, the museum’s board chairman. Federation President John Fishel says that Federation support for the museum is actually higher than allocated funds would suggest, as The Federation underwrites budgeted expenditures not covered by the museum’s fundraising. Schiller estimates the operating costs, including rent, programming and salary and benefits, to be $200,000 a year. "We run lean," he says.

"The issue for them is how does one offer Holocaust education and Holocaust memorialization in a place that’s as vast as L.A.?" Fishel says. "Regrettably, the number of people visiting the museum on Wilshire Boulevard is not dramatic. The cost of maintaining this museum requires a real decision on where the money is spent. It’s very important that Holocaust education continue to be a priority."

The Federation has suggested a plan that would allow the museum to spend more of its limited budget on programming rather than rent. It would like to see the museum move from its pricey rented Wilshire location to space in The Federation-owned Milken JCC in West Hills.

"They’ve done their own fundraising in a very minimal way, which to date has not been sufficient," Fishel says. "If [the museum] can even raise the money, is it best used to pay rent? I look at [moving] as an opportunity."

Museum officials, however, believe their outreach programs — both for survivors and schoolchildren from throughout the city — are best served at their current location. Though Federation officials suggest that competition with the nearby Museum of Tolerance hurts the Museum of the Holocaust, the comparison rankles museum officials.

Schiller says, "We are not constrained by some political objective, ours is merely a historical museum. We’re not in a position to teach about Armenia or Rwanda. We have a discrete niche, while [the Museum of Tolerance’s] mandate from the state is to teach tolerance."

The museum’s supporters are not anxious to move from the Museum Row location, says Schiller. "We can’t imagine a more accessible place" and will not have the same outreach ability housed in a "hallway in the Milken Center."

Michael Hirschfeld of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, the liaison between the museum and The Federation, was asked by The Federation not to speak to The Journal about this matter.

Rather than squabble about the location, museum officials are focused on increasing their fundraising efforts. Regardless of where the museum sits, major community support will be necessary to maintain the museum for the more than 6,000 student visitors a year, as well as such successful projects as the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration and the Shalmoni Holocaust Arts and Writing Competition.

To keep it all going, the museum’s board is applying to foundations and funding agencies. Museum Director Rachel Jagoda says, "I’d love to see us raise a million dollars. We need it," and adds that donors have come up with approximately $10,000 in the last three weeks.

Jagoda just wants to see the museum stay alive. "This isn’t a story about two Jewish organizations fighting with each other," she says. "This is about getting what this museum needs. We have this precious museum that’s going to rot if the community doesn’t support it."

A Tough Transition

As intense mediation continues over the Jewish Community Centers (JCC) crisis, the first effects of the centers’ collapse are becoming apparent. One of first will be felt when the Westside JCC closes its pool and fitness center May 31.

The closure comes at a time when Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) is struggling to right Los Angeles’ damaged JCC system by going independent and divorcing itself from its prime benefactor, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

JCCGLA is struggling to reinvent itself as a Federation-free entity. A stripped-down JCCGLA — comprised of Valley Cities JCC, Westside JCC, Conejo Valley JCC, the Zimmer Children’s Museum and The Shalom Institute/Camp Shalom — plans to turn to community support in the coming months.

At the same time that JCCGLA is separating itself from The Federation, several JCCs want to sever their ties with JCCGLA. The centers say they plan to achieve their autonomy by obtaining a commitment of support from The Federation, which will not commit to these centers until matters with JCCGLA are completely resolved.

JCCGLA and The Federation are currently deep in a mediation process to resolve issues pertaining to JCCGLA’s financial debt and related interest payments and the sale of certain JCC centers to pay off the loan JCCGLA borrowed with Federation assistance to redress major financial mismanagement. Both organizations say they want to resolve their issues in a fashion that has the best interests of the community in mind.

"The issues are complex, and everybody is working very hard to find a common ground," Federation President John Fishel said, adding that both nonprofits are working as fast as they can. "We’re meeting on a weekly basis at this point."

The JCCs seeking autonomy from JCCGLA — West Valley and Silver Lake-Los Feliz — are waiting for the outcome of these discussions, which will affect the future of their buildings and the shape of allocation requests from The Federation. Other JCCs — North Valley and Bay Cities — will close for good on June 30 so that JCCGLA can sell the properties to help repay its debts.

The individual JCCs are in various stages of health, with Westside, Valley Cities and West Valley JCCs appearing to be in the best shape.

Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA’s executive vice president, said that Westside needed $43,000 a month to keep its pool and fitness center open, "and that condition was not fulfilled."

However, the senior day care, via support from The Federation’s Jewish Family Service, will remain in operation. Westside will determine in June whether the gymnasium will be rented out to Jewish schools and organizations. The center met its Early Childhood Education (ECE) benchmark and is actively enrolling for 2002-2003, with 83 nursery school children already aboard, up from 55 this time last year.

"We’re here to stay," said Paula Pearlman, president of the Westside JCC Advisory Board.

Westside continues to fundraise for its ECE program and its renovation campaign. More than $4 million in donations and pledges have been raised for the center’s long-planned overhaul, and a financial end goal for the capital campaign is currently being worked out. Meanwhile, Jewish organizations, such as New Israel Fund, will continue to rent office space at Westside.

Pearlman wants The Federation to do more to protect essential community services at her center.

"What the centers do in a nonreligious manner, keeps Jews Jewish," she said.

Valley Cities, now the site of JCCGLA’s central offices, has met enrollment and fundraising benchmarks necessary for its survival and is readying its fall ECE program.

At West Valley, Tsilah Burman, board president, confirmed that her West Hills site is working toward its independence from JCCGLA.

"From our perspective, we’ve been paying a lot in our overhead, and we feel that we’ve gotten nothing for that," Burman said.

West Valley staved off the closure of key programs earlier this year by turning to an outside donor to fund them on an interim basis.

"JCCGLA said they were closing our health and P.E. and senior programming, and it didn’t happen, because we worked out the situation," Burman said. "What we’ve done so far is to try to do this without any interruption of services."

Burman wants to reach a resolution "before July 1, when we have to send out membership renewal notices and apply for a new Federation allocation. We told JCCGLA that this had to be done now."

At Silver Lake, board Chairman Janie Schulman reported, "JCCGLA said that they’re not going to operate us next year, and they have offered to let us use our building till 2003."

The Federation has offered Silver Lake-Los Feliz financial assistance through June 30, 2003 — a commitment to be finalized pending the outcome of the JCCGLA-Federation mediation.

"Both the JCCGLA and The Federation have seemed to put aside their differences to help us," said a pleased Schulman.

This week, Silver Lake members will form committees to organize running the center themselves. This will include a real estate committee to scout for a potential new site in place of the current building, which JCCGLA may list for sale next summer.

North Valley and Bay Cities are still slated to close by the end of June.

"They are trying to get support and funding in the community to form their own center," Giladi said of North Valley.

In a letter sent last week to, James Barner, who with fellow Santa Monica parent Daniel Grossman tried to save Bay Cities, wrote of his disillusionment with The Federation, which he claims is not doing enough to save Bay Cities.

Fishel refused to comment on specifics regarding individual centers or matters currently in discussion. However, since the year began, The Federation has stated firmly that the JCC system of 2001 was not feasible or fiscally responsible and was in need of a radical reorganization.

JCCGLA told The Journal that, despite rumors to the contrary, no such angel investor had approached them regarding Bay Cities.

"We had hoped to work out something with Beth Shir Shalom," said Giladi of the shul that was slated to assume control of Santa Monica’s JCC, "but the cost turned out to be something that Beth Shir Shalom couldn’t take over."

Barner reports that Bay Cities teachers and parents have already moved on in their search for new work and schooling, respectively.

"A lot of the parents have sent their kids to non-Jewish preschools," he said.

JCCGLA is also moving on, completing a multiyear business plan after taking a respite from its fundraising — which Giladi said has already accrued "several hundred thousand dollars" — because of the situation in Israel and Argentina.

"We did not want to take away from [The Federation’s] Jews in Crisis campaign," Giladi said.

In explaining their exodus from The Federation system on their Web site, JCCGLA freighted their new direction with optimism:

"It is a recognition that community priorities have changed, and that JCCs cannot thrive as a deficit-funded Federation beneficiary agency. We must move forward, responsible for our fate. Not only is it doable, it is already underway."

JCCs in Jeopardy

In what appears to be a critical juncture for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), the organization is devising a structural overhaul to prevent severe cutbacks in services and the potential closure of several centers.

For decades JCCGLA has offered Jewish Los Angeles a broad spectrum of community services that include Jewish enrichment, day care, summer camp and athletic facilities, and the reduction or cancellation of these services would affect thousands in the community.

JCCGLA has entered into negotiations this week with their primary benefactor, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Officials of both organizations expressed hope that a resolution can be reached to rescue the ailing Centers

"Right now, the agency is in a very critical situation," JCCGLA’s Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman-Giladi told The Journal between meetings with Federation executives on Nov. 28. "We are experiencing very tough economic times. There are changing needs in the community."

When asked to define the "critical situation" and "changing needs," Giladi said: "At this time we are operating in a manner where our expenses exceed our revenue and we need to identify a responsible plan where we can continue to provide our services to the community."

Giladi did not directly address the November resignation of Chief Financial Officer Gail Floyd, a reflection, according to some sources, of a long history of mismanagement that has beleaguered JCCGLA in the years preceding Giladi’s installation this past July. The sources were quick to note that Giladi, who has worked in the JCCGLA system for five years, is doing a formidable job in her new position and has her work cut out for her.

"It is fair to say that the goal of our agency, moving forward, is to create a [financial] model that is different than the one that existed," Giladi said. "There is more competition with services — Jewish preschools, health and fitness services. Charitable donations have dropped because of the climate we’re in right now. Our job right now is to look to all of those factors and cooperate in a fiscally responsible manner. Of course it’s my greatest hope that the JCC system will grow and serve this community in the future."

"We’ve had very intensive discussions with concerning the future of their programming," said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. "Everyone is taking this very seriously. Our primary interest remains to the clientele. The situation is complex; it takes a lot of ingenuity, flexibility and creativity to find solutions. The fact that we are a service system helps us to explore issues in a thoughtful manner. The good news is that other affiliated bodies have stepped up to help find solutions."

These Federation affiliates include Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Family Service and Jewish Vocational Service.

Todd Morgan, who will complete his two-year term as the Federation’s chairman of the board next month, has been among the Federation brass involved in JCCGLA-Federation board discussions.

"Corporate America has changed," Morgan said. "It’s the first severe recession we’ve had in a decade. There’s a lot of restructuring going on around across the country, all over the world. It is no different for The Federation and the JCCs than other institutions being affected by the recession and Sept. 11."

Morgan emphasized that while The Federation, which allocates more than $3 million a year to JCCGLA, is "playing a financial role, but we’re not involved in running it."

But most likely, new Federation moneys toward the JCC system will come earmarked with more restrictions. When asked whether The Federation will have a stronger hand in shaping the JCC’s direction and programming, Fishel responded, "We want to be a very active collaborator" with JCCGLA, which he said has always been "a large and important constituent."

"That was the good news," Fishel continued, "in terms of sitting with colleagues and talking about the economy, and how do we collaborate rather than duplicate. I felt good coming out of that discussion this morning."

On the potential of an expanded Federation role in JCCGLA governorship, Giladi said, "The Federation has always had the responsibility to identify how to provide allocation to agencies to meet the needs of the community. We fall in this criteria."

The tradition of a Federation bailing out its city’s JCCs is not exclusive to Los Angeles. JCCs in cities such as Cincinnati, St. Louis and Toronto have enjoyed a robust rebirth after their respective Federations came to the rescue. However, a JCCGLA insider observed that "The Federation is a champion of the JCC. But why should it be responsible? In a perfect world, the JCC should be autonomous."

Several sources echoed the sentiment that other institutions — synagogues with day schools and after-school care; educational facilities, such as University of Judaism and the Skirball Cultural Center; and 24-hour health clubs — have all encroached on the key services offered by JCCGLA. The sources also believed that L.A. Jews, unlike closer-knit communities in Detroit or Cleveland, suffer from a lack of cohesion due to geographical and demographic situations unique to our city.

Morgan does not want to lay the JCC’s problems at the feet of the community that it services.

"It’s one of several factors, but I don’t blame the community because they need a tune up," Morgan said. "But for the next generation, we need to do more which means more funding to bring up the current standards that other cities have."

Years ago, the JCC system’s purpose and function in the community was sharply defined. In the 1880s, the national JCC system was created to facilitate the acculturation of Russian Jewry. In the 1930s, JCCs kept juvenile delinquents off of the streets and put them into boxing clubs, which became an incubator for many of the great Jewish boxers. By the 1950s and 1960s, suburbia crept in and the JCCs occupied prime spiritual real estate in the Jewish community. Since then, the gradual blurring of the line between community centers and synagogues, which have come to offer day schools and other educational and child-care services.

Resurrection of the JCC and its raison d’etre seems to be a common chorus from those in the know.

"They’re going to have to restructure it," Morgan said, "It’s going through this painful period so that they can come back in the next few years."

One person close to the JCCs suggested that if the JCCGLA is intent on surviving, it must revise its game plan drastically. The source believed that the organization should perhaps even go so far as to eliminate membership, in order to cultivate attendance.

"Institutions like Hillel and Hadassah," observed this source, "they recognized that they were becoming stale and they’ve changed with the times. They’ve repackaged themselves. The problem is, nobody wants to look at the hard facts, that maybe the concept is just passé."

Morgan is saddened by the current state of L.A.’s JCC system, but he emphasizes that he has not lost faith in the enterprise as a viable community outlet. In fact, he has been a main proponent of a $40 million capital campaign for a brand new JCC headquarters on the Westside.

"It got board approval, but we put it on the back burner because of the economy and Sept. 11," Morgan told The Journal, adding that the Federation went so far as to enter talks with prominent Jewish families who would help endow the project.

"One of our biggest contributions that we make is to the JCCs," Morgan said of The Federation. "I want this to be a world-class JCC where we can ensure continuity in our community. We get young families to use the athletic facilities, to go there for coffee, to attend events. That’s my dream. It’s been postponed."

Giladi was reluctant to comment on this project.

"When we have dealt with the current situation to the best of our ability in the most humane and responsible manner than we’ll think of building bigger and greater toward the future," she said.

For now, discussions over the direction of the JCCGLA system will continue. Fishel predicted that "a formal plan of action" will be finalized and announced within 1-2 weeks.

"A lot of it will become apparent when we move forward," Fishel said. "We have an immediate situation and then we look forward to long term solutions."

Giladi’s primary focus right now is to maintain the key services for the "several thousand members" of L.A.’s JCC system.

"There are many people in the community who entered the JCC doors, and that was the beginning of their engagement with Jewish life," Giladi said. "The JCCs do play a significant role in Jewish life. Fishel was optimistic that The Federation and JCCGLA will construct a practical solution to improve the long-ailing system and better serve its constituents.

"There are a lot of examples where creative solutions have helped revive institutional life and Jewish life in the community," Fishel said. "What’s becoming more apparent to everyone is that we are all one system. We need to think collaboratively. We’re a community that’s changed dramatically, but together, working as a system, we will find a solution."

"Right now the biggest challenge is how to address the need of our membership," Giladi said. "It’s a very difficult process, it’s a sad process, and there is no greater goal than to work to meet the needs of our families."