November 18, 2018

What will happen when the JCC at Milken closes?

Jacques Hay knows that the end isn’t always the end.

When he learned that the JCC at Milken in West Hills will close on June 30 to become the home of New Community Jewish High School, he could have despaired. After all, Camp Chesed, the summer camp for Jewish children with special needs that he founded, had operated out of the location for 16 years.

“I’m not one for change,” he said. “I was heartbroken, but we have an excellent relationship with the people at New Jew, and I’m looking forward to building a relationship over there.”

For now, though, like many of the programs and organizations based at the site, Hay and Camp Chesed are moving on. The two-week camp has found a new home in Chatsworth at Egremont School, where there is a swimming pool and plenty of room to play sports.

The decision to close the JCC, which has more than 1,000 members but has struggled to stay out of the red, was precipitated by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ decision to sell the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, where the facility is located. In explaining the closure in February, JCC leaders said they could find no appropriate, affordable venue for it to use while the high school takes a year to renovate the property.

Its demise will leave the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), which has no building of its own but provides programming at various locations, as the only JCC in the San Fernando Valley.

While JCC at Milken officials had hoped to continue its 80-student Early Childhood Center by moving to another location permanently, that never materialized, and it closed its doors earlier this month. To help families, the JCC hosted an open house with area preschools.

“The parents all attended, and everybody came and decided where they would go,” said Verna Fish, assistant executive director of the JCC. “I’m sure our children all found somewhere to go.”

The facility’s vibrant community for seniors will remain more intact. Most of those programs are moving to The Village at Northridge, a retirement community run by Senior Resource Group.

“They have welcomed us free of charge for all of our programs,” said Zita Kass, a Woodland Hills resident who has participated in senior groups related to books, current events and more.

She said the programs serve 200 people and cover a variety of topics, including Yiddish, finance and reading plays. Another popular offering, “Senior Shalom,” which includes food and entertainment, is moving to Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills.

Accepting the loss of the JCC won’t be easy for Kass, but at least her extended family of seniors won’t be dissolved.

“If you ask me if I’m still angry, I am,” she said. “But I’m delighted that we have an alternative. … People are very excited about the change. They’re so pleased that we were able to negotiate this.”

Jerry Wayne, executive director of the much smaller, 60-family NVJCC, said that group will do what it can to reach out to those affected. It offers numerous classes and activities and will send letters to members of the JCC at Milken after July 1 inviting them to participate.

Not everyone using the community center will have to relocate. The Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy, for example, will continue to offer lessons to hundreds of children on-site.

“We’ve been … negotiating with the high school to operate the academy there and remain on the campus,” said Krayzelburg, the academy’s founder and a four-time Olympic gold medalist. “We’re finalizing our terms … to continue to stay there and operate as we have been.”

Numerous community organizations, however, have had to search for new digs.

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is redirecting clients of its four-person career-services office to other area locations. The job club, in particular, will move to Sherman Oaks, just down the hall from an existing JVS office that serves refugee and immigrant clients and offers an at-risk youth program, said Katherine Moore, JVS vice president of communications.

With the location’s proximity to the 405 Freeway and numerous bus lines, she added that it should be very accessible to residents. The office is scheduled to open July 16.

“JVS’ commitment to our clients and jobseekers in the Valley remains constant,” she said. “The Valley remains a priority for us.”

Team Los Angeles, an award-winning team that competes in the JCC Maccabi Games, has been adopted by the Westside Jewish Community Center on Olympic Boulevard.

“Westside JCC just stepped up and said [they are] willing to make sure that there’s no loss of opportunity for teams in the Greater Los Angeles area to go to the Maccabi Games,” said Brian Greene, Westside JCC’s executive director.

Up to 140 youths have taken part in soccer, baseball, basketball, track and other sports for Team Los Angeles, according to Ari Cohen, JCC Maccabi Games delegation coordinator. It will be business as usual this year for Valley competitors —  teams already have formed and most practices can take place at local high schools, he said.

Next year’s structure — whether it involves a consolidation of teams or not — has yet to be determined, Greene said.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) had offices on site and used classroom space as well. Staff now are located at the JFS Valley Storefront office on Victory Boulevard in North Hollywood; classes have been moved to Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Temple Judea in Tarzana and Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, and other temples have been welcoming as well, said Debbie Fox, senior director of children and family services for JFS.

The Jewish Free Loan Association’s office there already has relocated to Temple Judea. As for the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, it is moving to Ventura Boulevard, where in September it will occupy 10,000 square feet of space that officials say is closer to high-usage populations in Tarzana and Encino.

“When a door closes, another one opens,” Federation President Jay Sanderson said. “This is a brand-new opening for the West Valley and for The Federation to move into a new building.”

He stressed that the sale of the campus property was meant to make the best use of a community asset and that there remained hope the JCC would continue and even thrive.

Although that didn’t happen, Carol Koransky, Federation executive vice president, said there remains much to celebrate about the upcoming changing of the guard.

“How exciting to have 400 teenagers in the building making it a center of Jewish life that will continue to make it grow into the future,” she said. “As much as I was thinking I was saying goodbye to things, it made me feel very positive. It’s not like we’re shutting down the doors in this building and saying goodbye to Jewish life.”

Scott Zimmerman, incoming president of the board of trustees at New Community Jewish High School, said excitement about the transition is high among staff, faculty and students, even though they won’t be moving from their current location at Shomrei Torah to their new home until next year. Construction should begin this fall to reconfigure the main building for classrooms, he said.

“We have a menu of things that we’d like to accomplish, and we’ll accomplish them as we raise enough money,” Zimmerman explained. “Our first priority is to build state-of-the-art classrooms. That means that you have to have a campus that has sophisticated connectivity and all sorts of modern media.”

So far, the school of 368 students has raised about $13 million, and the campaign’s goal is to raise “significantly more,” he said. When the work is complete, Zimmerman is hopeful that the site will once again be home to community activities.

“I think, with the passage of time, the community will come to see this as a very positive change for the Jewish community in the Valley,” he said. “The school aspires to be a jewel to the community, and I hope that within the bounds of what we’ve committed to our neighbors that we will be able to have certain programming at the facility that will make people happy and make people proud that we’re there.”

In some ways, though, the end is definitely the end. The JCC’s Fish may know this better than anyone. She has seen how it has become a second home to so many people, including local seniors and Israelis, whose Mati Center activities will move to Temple Aliyah in September. After 16 years working at the JCC at Milken — and even more time enjoying it as a parent — she is crushed by the fact that it will soon close forever.

“This has been very, very difficult. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this day would ever come,” she said. “My children were fortunate to grow up here. It breaks my heart
that my grandchildren won’t have the same opportunity.”