Thriving Silverlake Faces Closure Peril

As the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center slips into a coma and the health of other JCCs declines, the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center not only has survived but thrived. That makes it all the more strange the center is in danger of shutting down.

Nearly two years after breaking away from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) and being given up for dead by many, Silverlake has a waiting list for its nursery school and has added ballet, flamenco dancing and other popular new classes.

Unlike other area JCCs, Silverlake turns a slight profit, despite receiving no subsidies from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. By contrast, The Federation allocated $1.3 million last year to the West Valley JCC, which is located on the Milken campus it owns.

Sparked by a combination of innovative programming, a committed board and an influx of young Jewish entertainment industry professionals into the area, Silverlake’s success would seem to make it a prime candidate for Federation dollars and JCCGLA support. However, JCCGLA, the property’s owner, wants to sell the center to pay off a portion of its outstanding $2.2 million debt to The Federation.

The association recently rejected a $1.8 million bid from Silverlake supporters and last month put the JCC up for sale. The agency, which showed the property to a prospective buyer Tuesday, said it has already received an offer, although JCCGLA officials did not disclose the amount.

"How [JCCGLA] could have a stated mission to foster centers, Jewish life and Jewish culture in greater Los Angeles and take the actions they’re taking is incomprehensible to me," said Jackie Sloan, a Silverlake member whose parents made the $1.8 million offer on the facility in December.

In an interview Tuesday, JCCGLA board member Richard Rosett said he is a strong proponent of the centers and wants all of them, including Silverlake, to survive. He said he was prepared to recommend to the JCCGLA board that it sell to the Sloans and other Silverlake supporters the JCC for $2.1 million, well below the property’s $2.6 million market value.

JCCGLA President Randy Myer said she hoped to work with Silverlake supporters to come to a satisfactory resolution without hostility. She added that JCCGLA offered The Federation title to the Silverlake property last April in exchange for wiping out all debts. Myer said the Jewish philanthropy group rejected the offer.

Silverlake executives’ frustration toward JCCGLA is matched only by their exasperation with The Federation, Silverlake President Janie Schulman said. The Federation, if so inclined, could forgive JCCGLA’s debt so Silverlake could continue operating; it could purchase the property from JCCGLA and deed it over to center supporters, or The Federation could loan or give Silverlake supporters the money to buy the JCC outright, she added.

Federation President John Fishel said he is willing to sit down with Silverlake and JCCGLA officials to discuss center-related issues. He said he thought Silverlake supporters, although dedicated and well-meaning, might want to look at the bigger picture.

"They believe the issue is the building, which I think is a good venue for them now," Fishel said. "But I think the question is what options exist for them for early childhood education and other programs if that building were no longer available."

Schulman said The Federation might want to reconsider its priorities. "If it has the resources to support Jewish programs in Cuba, Argentina and other far-flung corners of the world, ought it not find the resources to support our local program?" she asked. "Charity, after all, begins at home."