In an unexpected move, the Rosenthal JCC in Pleasantville announced last week that it plans to close three of its four programs by June 30, ending a 36-year run in the northern part of the county.
The Pleasantville main campus, the Yorktown branch and Camp Discovery in Croton-on-Hudson will close. The Sunrise Day Camp for children with cancer, in Rockland County’s Pearl River, is run in partnership with the Barry and Florence Friedberg JCC in Oceanside Long Island and will remain open.
A statement released by the JCC’s president, Jessica Morgenthal, and executive director, Ellie Aronowitz, cited the pressures of economic challenges, increased competition and changing demographics as among the reasons for the closure.
With an operating budget of $4.2 million this year and a staff that, in 2014, included 79 fulltime and 139 seasonal employees, the center offers preschools, youth, family and senior programs, Jewish education classes, camps and social services to the Northern Westchester community. The building, housed in a former elementary school, doesn’t have a pool and the gym isn’t large enough to host competitive leagues.
Although the Northern Westchester communities had seen significant Jewish population growth between 2000 and 2010, that growth has stalled more recently.
“There’s no population to support the programs,” said Jessica Morgenthal, an Armonk resident with two children in high school, who has been board president of the Rosenthal JCC for the past six years. “The young family population is down. Young [Jewish] families are not moving in. That’s confirmed by the Pew study.”
And some of the families that do move to the area opt to place their children in synagogue preschools instead of at the JCC. While the Rosenthal JCC supports that choice in the spirit of Jewish continuity, it decreases its client base even more.
While there are other JCCs in Westchester — JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown and the Scarsdale’s JCC of Mid-Westchester — Rosenthal JCC was the only one in Northern Westchester and the impending closure has shaken the local community.
“We share the heartfelt disappointment with the lay leaders and professionals who put their heart and soul into the Rosenthal JCC. The reality is that the voids will be filled by for-profit and nonprofit organizations,” said Paul B. Warhit, president of the Westchester Jewish Council. “After a certain amount of time, people, in the long run, will realize they miss the JCC. There’s nothing like a JCC where the Jewish community can come together.”
Rabbi Seth Sternstein of the Yorktown Jewish Center and president of the Westchester County Board of Rabbis shared Warhit’s disappointment: “For 36 years, the Rosenthal JCC has served as a locus for Northern Westchester Jews to come together for a variety of cultural, educational and social events. Naturally, we are pained by its closing,” he said, adding that while it is too early to “tell what long-term effects the JCC’s closing will have, the Westchester County Board of Rabbis encourages the remaining Jewish organizations of Northern Westchester to work together to maintain vibrant Jewish life in all our communities.”
The JCC is now focused on helping clients and staff move to appropriate programs at other institutions.
“Our shared goal is to ensure that the programs and services most needed continue to be accessible and successful, which includes collaboration with local Jewish institutions and other appropriate organizations,” Alan Raboy, managing director of the charity’s Jewish Communal Network Commission, wrote in an email message.