In a 1999 rampage, white supremacist Buford Furrow poured 70 rounds of gunfire into the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, wounding five. But he didn’t shut down the bullet-riddled North Valley JCC. That unproud task fell to pillars of the Jewish community itself, which allowed North Valley and other JCCs to be mismanaged, underfunded, shut down and sold off over the last three years.
The same fate now looms over the JCCs in Sherman Oaks, Silver Lake and Conejo Valley. But a rescue plan for two of these JCCs is tantalizingly within reach, the Weekly has learned. An anonymous benefactor has come forward with an offer to buy and save the Valley Cities center in Sherman Oaks. And community leaders in Silver Lake are close to pulling off a similar scenario, though without a deep-pockets philanthropist.
Undone by Debt and Negligence:
Bills, not bullets, killed the community center that survived a racist attack. Other centers are trying to hang on. By Howard Blume
One way or another, both centers will be sold — either to community members who want to keep them going or to developers who will tear them down. Deliverance hinges on whether the mismanaged nonprofit that oversaw the community centers can and will accept less than full-market value for the two properties. Either way, the nonprofit parent is poised to go out of business, which is the most applauded move it’s made in years.
For L.A.’s Jews, especially less religious ones, the JCCs’ role has been to make the margins of Judaism comfortable and welcoming. They’re a place where it’s assumed that you don’t keep kosher, and that you may not know exactly when and how Purim and Passover are supposed to be celebrated. And their programs, facilities and jobs are open to everyone.
“In our center, you see black children, Hispanic children, Asian children,” said Michael Brezner, a lay leader of the Valley Cities JCC. “We also cater to children with special needs. We have autistic children here. We’re a non-religious organization. Our charter is to enrich people’s lives and promote Jewish culture. Children in our programs learn that everyone’s alike. They learn tolerance. And they learn how to get along with people in the world. The place is magic.”
And difficult to replace. There’s something obscene about closing child-care programs that have waiting lists — in a city desperately short of quality child care. The same goes for the threatened razing of Silver Lake’s full-sized gym, which could be serving neighborhood children and adults.
L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents much of Silver Lake, has brokered meetings involving the two key parties to the denouement: the JCCs’ own parent organization, and the Jewish Federation, its major creditor.
“The time to close this deal is now,” said Garcetti. “The Silver Lake JCC shouldn’t be held hostage for any larger concerns now that they have an offer on the table.”