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Residents Protest Possible Sale of Silver Lake Jewish Center

March 24, 2004|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

Wearing bright orange T-shirts and carrying signs that read, "They don't sing Shabbat songs at strip malls," more than 100 preschoolers, parents and teachers from the Silver Lake Jewish community protested on Tuesday the proposed sale of their school and community center by its former parent organization.

At stake is the Silver Lake Independent Jewish Community Center, which is home to a preschool and other community programs. The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, which owns the property, plans to sell the center to help pay off its debts, which include $2.2 million to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the agency's main financial backer.

The protesters waved signs and sang -- accompanied by guitar, accordion and percussion -- for two hours outside the Jewish Federation office on Wilshire Boulevard.

The protesters contend that the JCC of Greater Los Angeles unfairly rejected their $1.8-million offer to buy the building because it could fetch a higher price on the open market.

"We're asking for a fair chance," said one parent, Jenny Isaacson. "We have the money. But forcing us to compete with developers in an inflated real estate market is not only unfair, it's very un-Jewish."

Officials at JCC of Greater Los Angeles said that the agency had asked the Silver Lake residents for a new offer, but had not received one since the $1.8-million bid in December.

The agency also said that it would be willing to consider an offer from Silver Lake members that is below the full market value of the property. The agency said it expected a new offer from Silver Lake by Friday.

The property has been on the market since January, with potential buyers touring the building in the last two weeks, according to Silver Lake officials.

The Jewish Federation views the debate over the Silver Lake facility as an issue for the JCC of Greater Los Angeles and Silver Lake residents to resolve.

"Our feeling is that we are certainly sympathetic with the leadership there," said Carol Koransky, associate executive vice president for the Jewish Federation, of the Silver Lake center. "We will work with them to continue to provide services, whether it's within that facility or whatever way they will be provided in that area."

In 1951, the Jewish communities of Silver Lake and Los Feliz raised the money and built the center. A few years later, the building was given in trust to its parent agency, which is now the JCC of Greater Los Angeles. It was understood that the agency would operate it for the good of the community, Isaacson said.

In 2001, financial trouble at the JCC of Greater Los Angeles propelled it into a crisis with its major funder, the Jewish Federation. The Bay Cities center in Santa Monica was sold to a nonprofit organization, and the North Valley Center in Granada Hills became independent. This month, the JCC of Greater Los Angeles announced that the Valley Cities center in Sherman Oaks, which had operated at a loss for years, is scheduled to close June 30.

To keep JCC of Greater Los Angeles from closing the Silver Lake center, the center severed financial ties with the agency in October 2001 and assumed operations of its own building, serving families of Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park.

JCC of Greater Los Angeles is hoping to pay off its debt and pool remaining resources to renovate the Westside center to serve as a flagship, leading to the redevelopment of Jewish community centers throughout Los Angeles.

"Debts have to be repaid," said Randy Myer, president of the board of directors at JCC of Greater Los Angeles. Focusing on the Westside center now will allow the agency to reach a large number of people with a centrally located facility, she said.

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