|The new and imposing front of the building Jeff Karg|
Shortly before his death in March, the philanthropist Henry Taub lay down a challenge to the Jewish communities served by the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. If they would put up $3 million by April 1, 2012, to help complete the JCC’s capital campaign, he would put up the additional $1.5 million.
Taub’s commitment to enhancing Jewish life was legendary. The Kaplen JCC, however, had a special place in his heart. While his son Steven Taub calls it “a little bit of a stretch,” he says that his family’s association with, and support for, the Tenafly facility extends to some four generations.
“My father was one of its founders and the first president in the Tenafly location,” said Taub. “Together with my mother, he was always dedicated to the community and encouraged others to participate.”
The next generation followed suit, with Steven’s sister, Judy Gold, his brother, Ira, and his wife, Benay, serving as JCC board members. Their children, in turn, have participated in numerous JCC activities, from preschool to the teen philanthropy program.
Factoring in the Yiddish concert series sponsored by Henry and Marilyn Taub for seniors in memory of Marilyn’s parents, “that’s four generations,” said Taub.
Henry Taub supported the JCC even in his final days, said his son. According to Avi Lewinson, JCC executive director, Taub asked him what he could do to help his beloved community center and was told that while the fundraising effort had already collected $27 million for endowments and the capital campaign, $4.5 million was still needed to finish the job. As a result, Taub lay down his challenge. He stipulated, however, that every board member must make a contribution.
“Henry Taub supported the center from the beginning,” said Lewinson. “While he had the wherewithal to be able to donate whatever he wanted, he felt people shouldn’t rely on him and assume he’d take care of it. He wanted them to do their fair share. The Community Challenge is an incredible example of that.”
“Everyone believes it will happen,” said Steven Taub, despite the fact that the current economic climate has made fundraising more challenging, “Campaigns are conceived for the long term, and the leadership has responded.”
Lewinson echoed Taub’s optimism.
“It’s easier to do fundraising when you have matching dollars,” he said. “I feel blessed and amazed that in this climate, where so many not-for-profits are really struggling, this is resonating. People are stepping up. We’re getting gifts from people who already gave, as well as new gifts. It’s very heartening.”
“I feel truly honored that Henry felt as strongly as he did about the JCC,” said Lewinson. “This campaign is a real tribute to him.”
So far, the challenge has brought in pledges of about $1.2 million.
Lewinson said he doesn’t want to get down “to the last second” to collect the necessary funds.
He added, “I truly believe [the funding] won’t be an issue. People will step up to make sure we get it.”
Steven Taub said he believes the JCC is stronger than ever, citing the “parking lot factor” as evidence of its popularity.
“It’s tough to get a parking spot,” he said. “They have extensive programming covering the gamut from education to sports, arts, and music, as well as a health club. They cover the full age range, from the very young to seniors, and they have programs for people with special needs. In every sense, it’s a real community center for Jews regardless of their denomination.”
Steven Taub described the renovation of the community center as “just outstanding,” both aesthetically and in its ability to accommodate even more programming.
Lewinson said the facility is “always evaluating and adding programs. We look to see who isn’t being served. Finishing the campaign will enable us to be at the forefront of new and exciting programming for the Jewish community and the community at large.”
The executive director pointed out that programming for seniors was very important to Henry and Marilyn Taub, as was “getting Yiddishkeit out to the community.” He said that one area of expanded programming is “our relationship with Israel – helping people look at Israel in terms of what it does for humankind.”
According to Lewinson, the JCC’s current membership embraces approximately 3,500 units, or between 12,000 and 13,000 people who come in on a regular basis. This includes both members and nonmembers, whether they participate in special needs programs, concerts, lectures, or Judaic classes.
“Seven hundred different individuals participate in at least one program a week,” he said, adding that in recent years the number of Israeli and Russian families has increased. While the center attracts non-Jews as well, “it’s an overwhelmingly Jewish population,” he said.
Lewinson said the JCC is having a gala in November to celebrate “the completion of the renovation, 60 years as an organization, and 30 years in Tenafly.” The event will honor “special people,” he said, noting that Charles and Lynne Klatskin will receive a lifetime achievement award. Also honored will be JoJo Rubach, building chair; Pearl Seiden, campaign chair; and past presidents Nancy I. Brown, Daniel Rubin, and Robin Miller.
Lewinson attributes the success of his institution to “the mix of an incredibly committed community in terms of leadership and an incredible staff, all on same track, [with a] belief in and commitment to our core mission as a Jewish organization.
“Some Jewish organizations trying to be a success start to do things that the general community does, thinking it will help them,” he said. “Our strong commitment to our Jewish mission is what helps us succeed.”