Landlord Trouble

By Nathaniel Popper

Published June 20, 2007, issue of June 22, 2007.

One of the first Jewish institutions to be established in post-Soviet Russia may have to shut its doors at the end of this year, due to a struggle with one of America’s largest Jewish charities.

The Jewish Community Center of St. Petersburg received a letter last month from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, known to some as the Joint, explaining that the JCC would not be receiving any further funding for its activities and that it would have to begin paying rent for the space it occupies. The JCC’s director, Alexander Frenkel, has been sparring with the JDC’s leadership. He said the new demands were a form of retribution.

“It’s absolutely clear that this is a punishment for publicly complaining,” Frenkel told the Forward. “The Joint wants to guarantee the destruction of our organization.”

The head of the JDC, Steve Schwager, told the Forward in a statement that his organization was “convinced that the funds we allocated to this venture can be better utilized in other Jewish activities in St. Petersburg.”

The JCC’s funding struggles are part of a larger, ongoing battle between Jewish leaders in St. Petersburg and the JDC, which has supplied most of the funding for Jewish activities in the former Soviet Union. The leaders of local Jewish agencies have complained in recent months about the JDC’s administration. One particular sore point has been the new Jewish center the JDC built in St. Petersburg. The JDC has struggled to win tenants and has pushed other Jewish agencies to move into the building.

Frenkel says that the biggest problem moving forward is the JDC’s new demand for rent on the JCC’s property. He called the request “galling,” because the JCC originally owned the property and transferred it to the JDC in the mid-1990s as a precondition for receiving further funding.

Martin Horowitz, an official at American Jewish World Service who helped Frenkel purchase the property in the ’90s, said, “We would never have expected anything like rental payments, and certainly not anything approaching a market rent of $75,000.”



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