Worried charity-backers rally to save programs

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They especially wanted to voice publicly their affection for the organization.

Calling the JEC their lifeline, dozens of worried seniors crowded the center's entrance in the hot afternoon sun. Reliant on the JEC for English and citizenship classes and weekly kosher meals, they swarmed members of the media, waving their hands in the air to punctuate their predictions of what life would be like without the center.

"Without the school, they will be without ears, without eyes," said Lyusya Kreymer, speaking in the third person of her Russian-speaking peers.

Earlier in the afternoon, a federal bankruptcy judge had appointed a trustee to replace a receiver who was in the midst of liquidating the JEC. That had followed local and state civil actions alleging, among other charges, misuse of funds by JEC officials.

Appointment of a trustee has granted the center a reprieve, at least temporarily. Announcement of that action energized the crowd at the site Tuesday but did not completely quell supporters' anxiety over the possibility of losing the charity.

Distress was etched in the face of 74-year-old Lisa Kuryanetskaya, who attends JEC-sponsored citizenship classes and whose granddaughter attends Schneerson Hebrew Day School. She spoke of the JEC as her social hub, and worried aloud what her life will be like if it closes.

"I see here my friends, my neighbors, my schoolmates," she said.

Although seniors comprised the bulk of the gathering, they weren't the only ones to lament the possibility of the JEC's closing.

On the fringe of the crowd, Boris Podolsky, a dark-haired 21-year-old, stood with two young women. The three regularly attend weekly Russian-speaking game nights for young people at the center, enjoying comedy shows in their native tongue.

"If the place will close, it will close part of our culture," he said. "This is the best place in San Francisco for Russian Jewish culture."

Parents of young students attending Schneerson Hebrew Day School also expressed their concerns.

Barbara Turpin, a single mother with two children in the preschool, said the prospect of its closure has caused her great distress.

"Our whole life has been in an uproar because of it," she said. "This has been our home away from home. It's the best school I've ever found."

Looking down at her dimpled daughter Tali and light-haired son Nadav, Turpin said: "They get a lot of love and a lot of support. They love the school."

Like many of those attending the vigil, Turpin was quick to defend Rabbi Bentzion Pil and his wife, Mattie, the JEC founders and former top officials who have come under fire for their management of the center.

"Someone should look at how they support and nurture the kids," she said. "All the parents feel like that — American, Russian, Israeli."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.