The May 2 column by Joel Swanson, “America’s Jewish institutions were failing: Coronavirus hastened their demise,” offered some fascinating — but also highly inaccurate — views on how American Jewish communal life is changing. Swanson quoted me on the painful economic hit North America’s 164 JCCs have taken during the pandemic, but then simply discards JCCs as now “irrelevant.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Immediately before the pandemic hit, North America’s JCCs were, on balance, vital, dynamic, prosperous, and at a high watermark in as much as a generation. JCCs serve more than one million Jews from coast to coast each week, along with another 500,000 of our friends and neighbors from beyond the Jewish community.
Our 150 day and 25 overnight camps, also impacted by COVID-19, typically serve nearly 100,000 young people each summer. These numbers reflect how JCCs (Jewish Community Centers and Jewish Community Camps) continue to play a vital role in our communities, providing a breadth and depth of programming from early-childhood education and the arts to Jewish life and learning and much, much more to members and participants of every age and Jewish demographic.
Letter | America’s JCCs are neither failing nor irrelevant
Most JCCs have already received funding through the U.S. SBA loan program or the Canadian provincial governments’ short-term relief program. Now, the focus is increasingly on the “Day After,” and the need for a $1 billion loan fund to JCCs and other fee-for-service institutions and programs to resume their pre-crisis roles as the major drivers of Jewish communal life.
We’re already seeing strong indications of support for the concept through the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund. JCRIF is a unique collaboration among Jewish foundations and the Federation system, designed to provide targeted assistance, primarily in the form of zero-interest loans to select U.S.-based Jewish organizations experiencing financial distress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative seeks to maintain the infrastructure of Jewish life that advances Jewish education, engagement, and leadership.
Despite Covid-19, the JCC Movement remains strong and vital to the Jewish community’s broader imperative to build a stronger, more vibrant, more vital Jewish community from coast to coast. Our best days are in front of us.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America