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Federation to Open BAR Center at the Beach

The $10 million renovated BAR Center, located on the Venice Beach boardwalk, will open in January 2022.
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November 18, 2021
Photo courtesy of Art Gary

“While everybody was closing down during Covid, we were building,” Jay Sanderson, outgoing president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said as he stood on the patio atop the new BAR Center at the Beach, formerly known as the Israel Levin Senior Center. “When we started this project three years ago, the plan was to not only redesign and rebuild the Center, but reimagine it as a destination for rich cultural and spiritual engagement across generations.”

Named for lead donors Allison and Bennett Rosenthal, and designed by Hagy Belzberg of Belzberg Architects, the $10 million renovated BAR Center, located on the Venice Beach boardwalk, will open in January 2022 and once again serve hundreds of seniors with programs and services, in partnership with Jewish Family Service of LA. In addition, the Center has plans to expand its program offerings to provide young adults and families with young children intergenerational activities and community events.  

“We love the important work The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles does for the Jewish community,” the Rosenthals said in a joint statement. “We are so excited to partner with the Federation to create a state-of-the-art space for Jewish expression, action, learning and connections which will shape the future of Jewish Los Angeles. We hope the BAR Center will be a dynamic home for all communities of Jews in Los Angeles, now and in the future.”

“The project symbolizes our Federation’s strong commitment to both our treasured seniors and our young people, who represent the future of our Jewish community.” – Jay Sanderson

Marisa Kaplan, senior VP of the Federation’s Caring for Jews in Need, explained that while the location has been serving seniors since 1975, the new BAR Center will now have added capacity to expand those services. “It will be an anchor for social, recreational, nutritional, mental health services and much more,” Kaplan said. “There are thousands of seniors in the surrounding communities that have come to rely on the Center. Now we’ll be able to serve more seniors daily, monthly and annually.”

“Imagine Friday evening services on the beach and then dinner on the rooftop overlooking the ocean,” Jason Leivenberg, senior VP of the Federation’s Young Adults NuRoots initiative said. “The opportunities for full-community engagement and inclusion are endless.”

Photo courtesy of Art Gary

A preview tour of the Center showcased a building that was transformed from the original one-room building to a three-level Center that can accommodate multiple activities and events simultaneously.  “It was the genius of Hagy Belzberg, who designed two additional levels without adding one square foot to the building’s footprint,” Sanderson said. “We didn’t want to increase the Center’s height, which would block the ocean views of our neighbors. Luckily, there was space that was going unused, so we took advantage of it.”

During planning and construction, the Federation continued to provide services to seniors at various locations. Seniors were also kept updated on the progress of the BAR Center construction in anticipation of its re-opening.

“When we moved to Venice Beach 43 years ago, we could not appreciate the daily importance of the Center to seniors, staff and volunteers,” Fran and Jeffrey Solomon, ages 72 and 78 respectively, said.  “All of that changed as we ourselves aged and began to actively participate in daily Center activities, lunchtime banter, special holiday programs and organized local outings. We have missed the human connection most of all. We are all so excited about being back together again.”

“I am looking forward to the celebrations for the holidays and the Friday Shabbat.” — Eve Berman, 91

“I am looking forward to the celebrations for the holidays and the Friday Shabbat,” Eve Berman, 91, who has attended Center activities for nine years, said. “This is one of the few places where seniors can come for Jewish celebrations. I am really looking forward to coming together again and seeing everyone.”

The anticipated schedule of programs is ambitious and designed to meet the needs of the Jewish community at all age levels. Seniors will be afforded memory and sensory exercises, fitness classes, current events discussions, lectures and Yiddish cultural appreciation as well as a daily hot lunch, provided in partnership with Jewish Family Service of LA.

Through the Federation’s NuRoots initiative, young adults will be offered enhancements for spirituality and Jewish identity with rooftop sunset pre-Shabbat meditation and mindfulness, Havdalah services and opportunities for entrepreneurs and volunteers. 

The Federation’s PJ Library program will be expanded to offer young adult families new ways to connect. On tap are outdoor programs such as bike rides, stroller walks, sandcastles and canal walks, as well as arts and cultural programs. 

On June 30, 2021, the Federation announced that Sanderson would be stepping down as president and CEO at the end of the year.  On January 1, 2022, Rabbi Noah Farkas will take the helm of the Federation and lead it into the future.

“It was very important for me to complete the construction of the BAR Center before my departure,” Sanderson said. “The project symbolizes our Federation’s strong commitment to both our treasured seniors and our young people, who represent the future of our Jewish community.”

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