Indoor workouts resumed at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto on March 13.
Indoor workouts resumed at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto on March 13.

‘It’ll take time to rebuild’: JCCs recovering from pandemic financial strain

A year ago, things didn’t look too good for Bay Area JCCs.

Furloughs, budget cuts and overall belt-tightening had set in among the community centers, which emptied out as Covid cases rose. Most hard-hit were JCCs with fitness centers, which are crucial revenue sources.

But now that the worst of the pandemic has eased in the Bay Area, the JCCs are slowly but surely returning to normal operations, gradually hiring back employees and turning the lights back on for in-person programs.

None of the Bay Area’s seven brick-and-mortar JCCs is completely back to normal, according to interviews with leaders from three of the area’s largest (all with fitness centers), and everyone said it would potentially take a couple of years for a full comeback.

Paul Geduldig
Paul Geduldig

“It’ll take time to rebuild,” said Paul Geduldig, who took the helm at JCC San Francisco in May after leading the Peninsula JCC for six years. “We anticipate that [bringing back] some programs will take longer. But we are also looking for new opportunities.”

The JCCSF, which reopened its doors March 8, had roughly 300 employees before the pandemic. But last June, it slashed its budget from $35 million to $17 million because of Covid-related losses. Staff levels dipped to a low of around 170 employees, and it is still operating with about that number right now. However, Geduldig said he hopes to hire back 47 employees before November.

With a limited number of people on-site during the pandemic, the JCCSF took the opportunity to renovate the locker rooms (opening July 5) and aquatics center (opening in October) through a $3 million fundraising campaign.

JCCSF reopened its indoor fitness center on March 8.
JCCSF reopened its indoor fitness center on March 8.

At the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, COO Sally Kauffman Flinchbaugh said her organization is hiring “like crazy” for kids’ programming, after-school programs are restarting, and the preschool will be allowed to have more children in the classrooms. However, although arts and culture programming is coming back, it will not be “to the degree we had it before,” she said.

A little more than a year ago, the OFJCC announced it was slashing its budget from $29 million to $18 million for fiscal year 2021 and would be laying off 21 percent of its workforce.

Sally Kauffman Flinchbaugh
Sally Kauffman Flinchbaugh

“We can’t afford to do everything we did before,” Kauffman Flinchbaugh said, adding that the OFJCC is still “quite” dependent on fundraising at the moment.

Before the pandemic, it employed 450 people. At its lowest point, in June 2020, it had 100 employees. The current number is 225. The JCC was able to open for outdoor fitness last summer, and it reopened its indoor fitness center on March 13.

“Slowly,” she said, “we are growing again.”

At Los Gatos–based Jewish Silicon Valley, which in December merged with the Addison-Penzak JCC, CEO Lael Gray said that last summer the organization was in “full-blown crisis mode” because of the financial constraints of the pandemic. In June 2020, the APJCC announced a 20 percent cut to its $10 million budget.

Lael Gray
Lael Gray

Gray said that a series of two Paycheck Protection Program loans “really saved [us] from having to make any further cuts.”

Pre-Covid, the JCC had 230 employees, which fell to 176 by July 2020. But with the indoor fitness center open since March 3, the numbers are looking better these days, with 209 staff.

Summer camp and early childhood programs are seeing the most “re-growth,” Gray said, but the fitness center, while slowly getting back to normal, is still an area of uncertainty. “We don’t know when people are going to feel comfortable going back,” she said.

“We are just not counting on it being normal next year,” Gray added.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler is a staff writer at J. You can reach him at gabriel@jweekly.com and follow him on Twitter @ggreschler.