JCC’s capital campaign launched with $5 million gift
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JCC’s capital campaign launched with $5 million gift

The Jewish Standard’s cover story this week is all about people who’ve found happiness in second careers. (See page ‘0). You could say Bill Kaplen’s first career was making money; his second, which makes him happier, is giving it away.

The money was made in the construction business, and in a way, he’s still in that business, spearheading the planned renovation, with his wife, Maggie, of the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.

Their family’s Kaplen Foundation, created 40 years ago to help support a variety of educational and Jewish causes, has given an unprecedented $5 million to enhance the well-used facility, which was state-of-the-art when it was built ‘5 years ago. This is the single largest gift given to a Jewish institution in the community, according to Daniel Rubin, JCC president.


Key presenters at the JCC capital and endowment campaign launch are, from left, JCC Executive Director Avi A. Lewinson, Bill & Maggie Kaplen, JCC President Daniel Rubin, campaign chair Pearl Seiden and JoJo Rubach, chair of the JCC building committee. Photo by ITAI Monnickendam

The renewed center will bear the Kaplens’ name.

"Nothing I have done in my long life has brought me the kind of happiness that giving away my money has," said Bill Kaplen at a gathering at the JCC on Sunday announcing the gift. "[It is] a physical sensation — joy. Pure, sweet, unmistakable joy that something can’t exist without you. If you have the resources to give but don’t, no matter how young you are, you are denying yourself something wonderful."

"At these moments," he added, "when you see what you’ve been able to accomplish and you understand its full effect on the people it was intended to affect, you’re not really engaging in philanthropy anymore. You realize that you haven’t really given anything away. You’ve multiplied what you had a hundred times over and kept it for yourself."

The money will go toward the JCC’s capital campaign, which seeks to raise $’6 million to pay for the renovations.

To date, the campaign has raised more than $14.7 million. In addition to the Kaplens’ gift, the JCC received three gifts of $1 million or more from founding members Norman and Barbara Seiden, Bill Guttenberg, and Herb and Linda Gallen.

"The vision of our founders echo the words of Theodore Herzl: ‘If you will it, it is no dream,’" said JCC executive director Avi Lewinson at Sunday’s gathering.

While a rededication ceremony will take place after the renovation is complete, the JCC unveiled a sign with its future name and presented the donors with the first seven membership cards to the Kaplen JCC.

"Every community tells me it’s unique and the best," said Allan Finkelstein, president and CEO of the JCC Association, which oversees hundreds of JCCs across the country. "This JCC has truly been an example, a light unto the movement."

Plans include ”,000 square feet of new construction, said JoJo Rubach, chair of the building committee. The preschool and nursery school, now spread throughout the building will be consolidated in one area. A two-story atrium will be built and enhancements will be made to the youth and teen center. In addition, the health and recreation center will receive a new entrance and lobby.

"A totally new concept of exercise space will be introduced," said Rubach, noting that the heating and air systems, floors, and power systems will all be updated.

Rubach also announced that the entire building will be enabled with wireless Internet, and cybercaf?s will be set up throughout. Other upgrades will be made to the building’s computer systems, including new hardware and software programs to increase efficiency in registration. At present, the center cannot process registrations online.

"For many of us, the JCC is the heart of our community," said Pearl Seiden, chair of the Capital and Endowment Campaign and daughter of Norman and Barbara Seiden. "Friendships are forged and Jewish journeys are shaped."

Construction will begin toward the end of the summer, Lewinson told the Standard. It will continue in phased stages so as to disrupt as few JCC programs as possible. He expects the renovation to take no longer than two years.

In October, the JCC hired Elliot Karp, a Cincinnati-based consultant, to advise the campaign committee. He told the Standard on Tuesday that the planning process has been underway for two years.

There is no set timeline for collecting the final millions, but Karp said the committee hopes the bulk of the campaign will be complete by Rosh HaShanah. S&S Associates of Montvale is spearheading the design plans, and bids for contractors will go out in the near future, Karp added.
"The center right now is in the process of evaluating what will hopefully be final plans from the architect," he said.

The campaign committee, which includes a few dozen volunteers, Karp said, will continue seeking gifts large and small. He said he expects the campaign to receive other gifts similar to those announced Sunday.

Fund-raisers will turn to the community at large, Lewinson told the Standard. "It’s a community center. No gift is too small. We hope all will make an investment."

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