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As JCCs Struggle, UJA Pumps In $10 Million
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As JCCs Struggle, UJA Pumps In $10 Million

Amid big layoffs, plea by JCC Association for $1 billion from Jewish philanthropists.

The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan has laid off staff members, but officials there did not say how many. Wikimedia Commons
The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan has laid off staff members, but officials there did not say how many. Wikimedia Commons

To help sustain the 22 Jewish Community Centers in the city, Westchester and Long Island, UJA-Federation of New York announced this week that it is allocating nearly $10 million in interest-free loans and grants. It pointed out that JCCs are “struggling to maintain empty facilities, pay obligations and keep essential staff due to limited cash reserves.”

Eric Goldstein, UJA-Federation’s CEO, said in a statement that the assistance to the JCCs is part of an $11 million allocation that is in addition to the $23 million disbursed last week to provide emergency funding for essential food programs and to provide its network of human service agencies with cash flow.

The majority of JCCs in the U.S. are closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, prompting an urgent plea to Jewish philanthropists to provide or guarantee $1 billion in low or no-cost credit to ensure they reopen.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 700 employees at four local JCCs have been temporarily laid off, according to the newspaper J. In suburban Philadelphia, the Kaiserman JCC furloughed 176 of its 178 full- and part-time employees on March 27, according to the Jewish Exponent.

In a statement to The Jewish Week, the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan did not say how many staff members had been laid off, saying only: “Like many JCCs and nonprofits around the country, the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan has had to make thoughtful and sometimes painful decisions regarding staffing as a result of revenue loss due to COVID-19 and social distancing. The JCC sees our staff as family and our hope is that these changes are temporary. We look forward to reopening our doors as a strong, sustainable institution when this crisis ends.”

Doron Krakow, president and CEO of the JCC Association of North America, said the Suffolk Y JCC and the Mid-Island Y, both on Long Island, have also laid off staff.

Other local JCCs did not return calls seeking comment.

The JCC Manhattan and JCC Harlem are closed at least until April 19, and remaining activities have moved online. The JCC Manhattan announced on March 23 that six people on its staff, board and “our JCC community” tested positive for Covid-19, and that all recovering.

The 92nd Street Y is also closed, with all its scheduled in-person programs suspended.

Some JCCs continue operating food pantries and providing meals to seniors — including Passover dinners. Rick Lewis, CEO of the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview and the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack, said the Mid-Island Y is still operating its food pantry and the Suffolk Y is operating its lunch program for seniors.

In an open letter to the Jewish funder community (https://jcca.org/helpjccs/), Krakow wrote that 80 percent of an average JCC’s income is dependent on fee-for-service revenue that has now stopped, compelling “otherwise sound institutions” to be concerned about insolvency “owing entirely to the impact of an act of God.”

When they will be able to reopen is still unknown. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said of most institutions Tuesday, “It is not going to be soon.” The White House this week extended until April 30 social-distancing regulations, and New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio Tuesday directed police to begin issuing fines of $250 to $500 for people not following that directive.

In New York State, coronavirus cases topped 75,000 on Tuesday, and the death toll reached 1,550.

In an interview with The Jewish Week, Krakow said JCCs are dealing with two problems: getting through the shutdown period and then how they will resume operations once the shutdown ends.

“When the crisis is finally behind us those institutions that suffered financial harm will need capital to get back up with their early childhood programs, programs for seniors, after school activities and programs for families,” he said. “Families that use these programs will themselves be injured by the impact on the economy, and their ability to pay for the services at the same level as in the past will be diminished. We are making this call for a $1 billion capital backstop … to allow our institutions to be able to plan thoughtfully for the day after, knowing that there will be resources there for them.”

Krakow said that he is estimating that once the JCCs reopen, they will require “as much as a half-billion dollars over a two-year period and we would expect to repay it over the following seven or eight years.”

In addition to aid to JCCs, UJA-Federation is allocating $250,000 in emergency cash support for low-income CUNY Hillel students. The grants would be up to $1,000 per student. It is also allocating $300,000 to six JCCs that are longtime participants in the UJA Single Parent Initiative because, it said in a statement, the coronavirus “crisis is having an outsized effect” on approximately 160 single parents who require emergency cash to cover their basic expenses for food, medical care, and rent.

In addition, the organization is allocating $250,000 to the Hebrew Free Burial Association to “ensure dignified Jewish burials” for every Jew regardless of financial means. The association anticipates a 20 to 30 percent increase in burials because of the disease in the next few months and the grant would cover the cost of 100 burials.

Krakow said he was “thrilled to hear” of the help UJA-Federation is providing the JCCs here. He noted that Jewish federations in Miami and Chicago are also providing help to their JCCs. He said the JCCA would be “reaching out to every federation individually” to ask them to help their local JCCs. He noted that many JCCs have already laid off 60 to 90 percent of their staff.

The Suffolk Y senior lunch program continues to operate because of a contract with Suffolk County. It is open to anyone 60 and older who lives in the county. It was started in 2017 after the Jewish Association Serving the Aged ended its senior programs on Long Island, according to Janine Mandera, coordinator of the Suffolk Y’s senior nutrition program.     

The lunches are packed in bags and may be picked up in front of the Y, where a staffer wearing gloves will place them in the back seat. A $4 suggestion donation is requested for each lunch.

“We are reaching out to everyone who walked through our door in the last year to make sure everyone has what they need at home,” Mandera said. “We have volunteers who will drop things off at their homes, and we are finding that more and more seniors are asking for help.”

In addition to providing lunches, the Y has asked its seniors if they would like a free Passover dinner. Some 130, about 80 percent of whom live alone, said they did, Mandera said.

“The reason we are doing the Passover meals is because so many seniors are isolated in their homes,” said Tina Block, the Ys chief program officer for adult services. “Normally, they would have traveled to their family. But since they are alone, we are offering this option. If they are able to pick it up at the JCC we will give it to them; otherwise we will drop it off at their home.”

The meals are being provided free through a $250,000 grant from UJA-Federation of New York. Rebecca Saidlower, UJA-Federation’s executive director of regional planning, said that nearly 8,500 pre-made Passover seder meals would be provided to all those in need.

In addition to a complete chicken meal, each household will receive a seder plate with all of the seder items, matzah and grape juice, she noted.

“This year we knew there would be even more people who would not be able to get to a store or to a family member or would be struggling because they maybe just lost their job,” Saidlower said. “The meals are going to seniors, single parent families, Holocaust survivors – folks in need at any stage in life. And we built a new web platform for people looking for seder rituals: how-to-seders, a list of virtual seders and online seder classes.”

(UJA-Federation’s Passover resource page is: ujafedny.org/Passover-resources.)

Meanwhile, supermarkets report that they have an ample supply of kosher-for-Passover food, including fresh meat and chickens. And they were taking extra sanitary precautions because of the coronavirus. One store, Gourmet Glatt Emporium in Cedarhurst, even stationed a security guard at the front door to take customer’s temperatures with a thermal temperature gun as they entered.

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