Synagogue Files for Bankruptcy Protection
Temple Beth Haverim, an Agoura Hills-based Conservative congregation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week in an effort to restructure its debts.
“[We filed] as a result of our inability to work out any kind of a resolution with the bond holders,” said James Felton, the synagogue’s executive vice president.
Temple Beth Haverim says it is upside down on its debt, with the property worth less than the bonds it’s repaying. In papers filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Woodland Hills on July 22, the synagogue estimates its property’s current value at about $4.5 million, while its outstanding bonds are roughly $6.8 million.
Unlike residential or commercial real estate, Felton says it’s difficult to gauge the current value of the synagogue.
“This is a rather unique piece of property, and there’s not a lot of sales of temples or churches you can use as comparables,” he said.
Beth Haverim wants the court to either remove the bondholders through a refinancing of the property at the market value or arrange for the congregation to pay its debts at a lower percentage rate. Felton says that bridge loans from member families, which amount to $150,000, will also be repaid as part of a bankruptcy plan.
Founded in 1984 as the Agoura Jewish Center, the congregation moved to its current location at Ladyface Mountain in February 2003 after meeting in homes, an elementary school, a Presbyterian church and an industrial park. Congregants were able to raise $6 million in more prosperous times, which was used to purchase the property and build a preschool and a main building that houses the religious school, administrative offices, a chapel and a social hall.
Organizers had planned to raise an additional $6 million to build a sanctuary after growing the congregation beyond its 440 families, but membership and giving remained mostly static or slightly smaller over the years. As the economy faltered, Felton says fewer people joined or made capital contributions, which hurt the synagogue’s ability to meet its financial obligations.
The synagogue is still waiting for a court date, but Felton says salaries will be paid and services will continue. “We’re not closing our doors, we’re not folding. We’re reorganizing our debt, and we’re hoping that everyone is going to hang with us,” he said.
— Adam Wills, Senior Editor
ADL Condemns Rise in Anti-Semitic Incidents
The number of hate crimes reported in Los Angeles County was 28 percent higher last year than in 2006, according to a report released last week by the county’s Commission on Human Relations. The overwhelming majority of religious-based incidents targeted Jews.
Race accounted for 68 percent of acts of harassment and vandalism and was followed by sexual orientation. Hate crimes targeting religious groups, the third most common category, saw a 17 percent increase to 105 reported incidents, with 74 percent directed at Jews.
This contrasts both the drop in general crime throughout the county and the continuing decrease in anti-Semitism in California and the United States. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported in March that anti-Semitic incidents fell nearly 13 percent nationally from 2006 to 2007 and had dropped 25 percent from the 1,821 incidents reported in 2004. The decline was similar in California, where hate crimes fell last year to 186 from 204 the year before.
The ADL’s report, however, included two high-profile attacks in Los Angeles, including the pellet-gun assault of two yeshiva students in the Fairfax district and the defacing with swastikas and an anti-Semitic screed of Councilman Jack Weiss’ Sherman Oaks office.
Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s regional director, said the hate crimes report was particularly troubling because total incidents increased significantly while general crime was falling and because anti-Jewish attacks accounted for 10 percent of all reported incidents. She attributed the uptick, in part, to the social acceptability of previously unacceptable rhetoric.
“There is a campaign to make hate hip,” Susskind said.
The Commission on Human Relations report only cites two of the anti-Semitic complaints it learned of: a Jewish home in Beverly Hills was tagged with a swastika and a Jewish home in San Dimas was egged and toilet papered and then harassed with phones calls, including one in which the caller said, “You Jew! It’s going to be the Holocaust all over again.”
Since the beginning of 2008, there have already been several notable anti-Semitic attacks, all in the San Fernando Valley. In January, “F—k” Jews” and “Burn Jews” was spray-painted on the walls outside of four Encino and Tarzana homes. Molotov cocktails were thrown the following month at The New JCC at Milken in West Hills and the nearby home of a Jewish family, where a mezuzah was also torn from its doorpost. And, in April, a 59-year-old Orthodox man, who had just finished observing the Sabbath, was attacked while walking in North Hollywood.
— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer
Federation Looks to Fund Nonprofit Real Estate Projects
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is now accepting applications from Jewish nonprofits seeking funding for real estate development. Grants, which can be used for any brick-and-mortar projects, will total $300,000, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 for each approved organization.
The recipient’s last year, the first time the grants were awarded by the Real Estate Principals Organization (RPO) of the Federation’s Real Estate and Construction Division, were CSUN Hillel, Gateways Hosptial and Mental Health Center, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Kadima Heschel West Middle School and the Shalom Institute.
“Maintaining functional and appealing Jewish community buildings and spaces is an important part of ensuring the vitality of Jewish life,” the grant application states. “Historically, buildings have been seen as one measure of a Jewish community’s permanence: when buildings are erected, it establishes Jewish community presence.”
The division, the most successful of the Federation’s business divisions, exists to provide financial, technical and strategic resources to Jewish organizations. The RPO is made up of leaders in local real estate whose expertise is at least as valuable as the funds they donate, said Jodi Berman, who as vice president of leadership development oversees the real estate funding program.
“Synagogues are in buildings, agencies are in buildings,” Berman said. “They all have to deal with real estate issues.”
Shalhevet Director Attends Leadership Seminar in Israel
Cecile Wizenfeld, director of admissions and early elementary education at Shalhevet School, recently attended the Principal’s Program, a 10-day seminar organized by Bar Ilan University’s Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora. Wizenfeld, who has worked for more than 30 years in Jewish day schools, was one of 18 North American educational leaders chosen to participate. Over the course of the program the participants engaged in workshops to discover how they engage with students and how their institutions could improve.
“What makes this seminar particularly unique and exciting is the hands-on involvement of each participant,” said Deborah Court, director of the Principals’ Program. “As a result, the principals go home with new ideas and real tools with which to initiate school improvement within the context of their unique school culture.”
The educators will reconvene in February to discuss how the projects and improvements they initiated at their schools are progressing.
“It wasn’t just about us as principals, it was about us, how we could bring these tools to people that we work with. It was beautiful, it was amazing, it was inspiring, I’m still reeling from it,” Wizenfeld said.
— Jina Davidovich, Contributing Writer