Five of the seven Jewish community centers in the Los Angeles area are slated to close next year because of a $3 million deficit.
Compounding the bad news, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, long the JCCs’ major financial supporter, is falling short of its annual fund-raising goal and has fired about 40 of its 150 employees.
Recent world and national events have aggravated the community’s financial problems, but their roots lie in the sprawling size and the lack of cohesiveness and tradition in Los Angeles’ 500,000-plus Jewish community, the second largest and second wealthiest in the Diaspora.
In a series of stormy meetings with outraged parents last week, the executive vice president of the JCCs, Nina Lieberman Giladi, and federation President John Fishel detailed the bleak situation.
Except for early childhood education and after-school care programs, all other services at the five JCCs, including programs for seniors, immigrants and teenagers, will be discontinued by the end of December.
Children’s services will continue through June 30, 2002, at which time they, and the five community centers housing them, will close down.
In the first of a series of “advisory” meetings at targeted JCCs, held at the Silverlake-Los Feliz center, Giladi and Fishel faced a barrage of criticism from angry parents.
John Carogozian, holding an infant baby, accused the administrators of abandoning the goal of Jewish continuity, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal reports in its Dec. 7 issue.
“For many secular Jews, this is the only opportunity they have to be exposed to Jewish life,” Carogozian said. “We may not see it in one year or five years, but 10 or 15 years from now, that’s when you’ll see the mistake of what I’ve been hearing all evening.”
Some participants arrived with copies of Internal Revenue Service documents showing the six-figure salaries of top JCC officials. In response, Giladi offered to take a salary cut.
At the opposite end of Los Angeles, many parents at the North Valley JCC broke into tears when told of the shutdown. The center was the site of a shooting spree by a white supremacist two years ago, which wounded five children and adults.
“This center is a symbol of survival,” said David Berlin, whose 5-year old son was on the premises during the attack.
Robyn Glassman sobbed while charging, “You’re coming to us at the 11th hour and you’re telling us there’s nothing you can do.”
The two centers to remain open are in the outlying areas of the western San Fernando Valley and Conejo Valley, areas that have seen an influx of young Jewish families.
Giladi and Fishel blamed the bleak financial picture on the downturn in the economy and the after-effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
For instance, the Jewish federation, which has been supporting the JCCs with an annual $3.2 million allocation, has only raised $39.2 million of its $44 million goal for 2001, although officials hope to close the gap in a last-minute spurt.
However, there is a widespread belief that the JCC’s fiscal problems are of much longer standing. Giladi, who took up her post only in July, alluded to years of “mismanagement.”
Apparently the full extent of the JCC’s debt came to light only after the organization’s veteran chief fiscal officer was fired last month.
Some private efforts have been launched to rescue the centers. A Web site — www.savethejcc.org — has been flooded with e-mails.
While Jewish philanthropists support much of the cultural and academic infrastructure of Los Angeles, only a minority of Jewish residents identify with their communal and religious institutions.
This lack of communal identification, built over generations in older American cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest, is reflected in the fund-raising figures of organized Jewish communities in major metropolitan areas.
According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Los Angeles lags in the annual amount of money raised behind much smaller Jewish communities in Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston and Baltimore.
The Los Angeles community also may have skewed priorities, editor in chief Rob Eshman writes in the Jewish Journal.
Urging an all-out effort to save the JCCs, Eshman asks, “Do we really want our children and grandchildren to grow up in an L.A. Jewish community that has more Holocaust museums and memorials than Jewish Community Centers?”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.