October 19, 2019

Show You the Money

I get hit up, boy do I get hit up. I don’t always say “yes,” of course, but that’s not the point of this story. The point is who is asking me for money.

Over the past year, the fund seekers have included at least 20 yeshivas in Israel; four settlements in the West Bank; two school systems in Israel; four Jewish organizations in Montreal, six in New York; 15 Chabads around the world; a soup kitchen in Jerusalem; Sephardic organizations in Canada, Israel and South America; and, oh yeah, a few organizations in Los Angeles.

Do you see a pattern here?

Remarkably, it seems as if the most aggressive Jewish fundraising in Los Angeles is coming from out-of-towners. So why am I bringing this up? Three words: Jewish Community Centers (JCC). We’ve all heard about the recent JCC gloom and doom: out of funds, out of date, out of vision and, presumably, out of business.

It’s the “out of funds” that really gets me. Sure, the facilities can be vastly improved and brought into the new century with some grand, coherent vision. But growing up in Montreal, I spent 10 wonderful years enjoying the worn-out facilities at the local Jewish Y. We didn’t give a hoot that the lockers and bathrooms were run-down, the paint on the walls was chipped, or that the cashier at the cafeteria was older than my great-great grandmother. We were too young to let those things interfere with our freewheeling frolicking among good friends. While the grown-ups were in meetings debating mission statements, we were in the gym playing gaga ball.

Which brings me back to the “out of funds.” Let me try to yell this as loud as I can: Where art thou, ye JCC fundraisers? Why have I never heard from you? It’s not as if I’m not connected to you: First, you’re right in my backyard, and second, three of my kids have been frolicking in your pools and gymnasiums for the past three years, just like their father did in Montreal. And, as if that wasn’t enough, isn’t there a halacha that says Jews must first donate locally before they think globally?

In business, we often use the term “disconnect.” It describes something that makes no sense, and it’s usually a source of outrage. Well, the JCC running out of funds in arguably the wealthiest Jewish city in the world is one big, fat disconnect. I won’t pile on here with another litany of reasons for the downfall, but I will give the JCC one word that might have prevented the downfall in the first place: hustle.

Why not hustle with the same passion and creativity as the out-of-towners who camp outside my house or office lobby with their colorful binders, and who never worry that their yeshivas are “rundown”? Are their causes any more virtuous?

It’s time the JCC loses its inferiority complex and stops apologizing for its facilities. You provide enough “fun-raising” to justify a whole bunch of honest fundraising. Put on a brave face, realize how much you’re worth, and for heaven’s sake, open your local phone book.

David Suissa is founder and editor of OLAM Magazine, and founder of Jews for Truth Now. Marlene Adler Marks is on vacation and will return next week.