Perhaps most apt, when discussing the resurgence of the YJCC in Washington Township, is the quote by Mark Twain, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
“Many folks said we were dead, out of business,” Jeffrey Tucker of Woodcliff Lake, chair of the YJCC’s board of directors, said. And yes, he added, “The building we knew is gone.”
But, he said, reeling off the programs that are still in operation, “we always continued, and very shortly we will have a phenomenal Jewish community center up and running.”
Last summer, the YJCC announced that it would be ceasing its operations at 605 Pascack Road. “We downsized and began to regroup,” Mr. Tucker said, pointing out that the 30-member board of directors has continued to function and to oversee the projected changes.
“We’ve continued to exist as a JCC,” he said, noting for example, that the program for senior citizens has continued to function — drawing the same number of attendees as before — but it is now at Temple Beth Or in Washington Township.
In addition, the Open Hearts/Open Homes program, which brings to the community a group of Israeli teens affected by terrorism, ran as usual in the summer of 2015 and is gearing up for its 2016 season.
A recent publicity email announcing a mix of upcoming “old and new” programs urged readers to “Join our journey as we redefine and realign with the community.” One of those programs, JCafe, is targeted to families with young children. Its first event, scheduled for January 27, was to be held at the Park Ridge Marriott. Another, Tween Scene — for students in grades five to seven — was set for January 30 at Club LED in Nanuet.
In addition to the ongoing senior lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Temple Beth Or, a multiweek program, the Art of Watercolor and Watercolor Pencil Workshop, was announced as well, together with a Kabbalat Shabbat program featuring Rabbi Debra Orenstein. A knitting circle, co-sponsored with Jewish Home Assisted Living, Temple Emanuel Community of Caring, JFNNJ Women’s Philanthropy, and Pascack Valley Hadassah, set to take place at Jewish Home Assisted Living in River Vale, was publicized as well.
“We’re gradually restoring a limited set of programs and services to the community over time,” Mr. Tucker said. “We’re funding it through the generosity of a small group of donors. The Pascack Road building is up for sale, and the board is working with potential buyers. In the short term, we’re in discussions with local Jewish organizations about temporary office space.”
A 10-member task force, led by board vice chair Tara Merson of Woodcliff Lake, has undertaken this task. The group includes not only board members but “a diverse set of community members, so we can get a range of views,” Mr. Tucker said. Working with outside advisers, the task force is charged with “setting our strategy for the next set of years.” The goal? “To return this community to a place where Jews of all ages choose to live and raise their children.”
It is also important to serve all the members in the catchment area, he continued. That means not only the towns the YJCC traditionally reached but also “communities within Bergen County that are north and west of us — such as Ridgewood, Franklin Lakes, Mahwah, and Upper Saddle River — which are historically underserved.”
Was closing the building the right move?
“Absolutely,” Mr. Tucker said. “It has become clear to our board that the model of the JCC — predicated on the traditional model — needs to be revisited. We’re undergoing that process, trying to understand the needs of wealthy suburban Jewish communities and what services they would value. For our community, the traditional JCC model was not working. The cost of operating a nearly 90,000-square-foot aging facility was too much of a burden. Rather than continue to incur operating deficits, we’re now in a position to have a large asset base to reinvest back into a Jewish community center that serves our entire catchment area. Our goal is to put a self-sustaining, viable, and vibrant JCC back into our catchment area.”
Mr. Tucker said that the board is working with a broad range of other Jewish agencies — federation, social service agencies, JCCs, local synagogues, the Jewish Home — “to ensure that all together, we meet the needs of the community. The JCC will stay focused on the things the JCC can do best.
“We would like to rebuild our connections within the community,” he said, asking anyone who is interested to email firstname.lastname@example.org. “It will take about six to twelve months to develop our plan. We have one shot at reinventing the JCC for our community, and we want to do it right. We have the opportunity to move from being a struggling Jewish community center that really was unable to serve its constituents to an unbelievable world-class institution that can change the game for Jews in our area.”
He hopes, he said, that “the community will be patient and work with us.”