Finding the way in San Jose

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The pair of burly movers ogled the weight benches before one inevitably sat down and ran a hand along the bar. Finally, one of the movers couldn’t help himself.

“Ma’am?” he asked Jyl Jurman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, could he possibly lift some weights?

Jurman amiably declined — insurance matters — so the mover contented his weightlifting desire by lugging the rest of the furniture, computer equipment and, yes, weights, into the brand new Gloria and Ken Levy Family Campus in Los Gatos.

But before he did that, he paid Jurman and Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center head Hal Bordy the ultimate compliment as he surveyed the rest of the weight room: “This place is going to be a hell of a good membership for whoever signs up.”

That’s certainly been the case in San Francisco and Foster City, where new, full-service fitness centers have brought users to Jewish community structures more effectively than a yellow brick road.

The Los Gatos campus joins the JCC of San Francisco, the North Peninsula Jewish Campus in Foster City and the yet-to-be completed Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto in constructing huge facilities costing, in total, hundreds of millions of dollars and occupying more square feet than a shipyard.

And Jurman, a native of San Jose and self-described “South Bay lifer,” was still walking on air, just a few inches above the polished tile and tons of creamy, mustard-hued Jerusalem stone as she oversaw the final move into the Los Gatos campus on Friday, Aug. 26.

“No, I’ll be at the campus all weekend. Yes, literally,” she blurted into the cell phone that rang constantly as she smoothed out the details of moving the federation, JCC, JCC preschool, Jewish Family Service and Yavneh Day School into a $24.7 million, 118,000-square-foot facility so new there’s still dust on the floors, wet paint on the walls and makeshift signs constructed from eviscerated moving boxes and duct tape.

“I still can’t believe this,” says Jurman while spinning about, almost Julie Andrews-style, in the campus’ expansive lobby. “I can’t believe the next day we go to work, it’ll be here.”

A grand opening is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 16

Jurman has been a federation employee for 18 years, and, practically since day one, involved members of the San Jose-area’s Jewish community have been pushing for a full-service campus. Yet, through a jarring series of fits and starts, it was only on April 1, 2004 that ground was broken on the campus.

Prior to that time, the four Jewish organizations were housed on the same site, at 14855 Oka Road, in a decrepit 1950s-vintage former Los Gatos school around 43 percent the size of the spacious new digs. Yavneh Day School actually moved out several years ago and rented space on the massive Blackford Campus in San Jose along with Kehillah High School. Now in a permanent home, the school can unpack its library from a mountain of brown, cardboard boxes for the first time in four years.

From Jurman’s modestly sized corner office, she can spy the deep, emerald green baseball field the city of Los Gatos was all too pleased to utilize for Little League games; a large, L-shaped swimming pool; a jungle gym; several outdoor basketball courts; and the rain-collection device that will soon fill the San Jose area’s only non-Orthodox mikvah.

Jurman can’t see the Addison-Penzak JCC from her arc-shaped windows, however. But it’s the JCC that has really metamorphosed from a grub to a butterfly with the recent construction.

In the olden days, the JCC didn’t have a gym, auditorium or weight-and-fitness room. And that, to put it mildly, has changed.

The JCC now boasts a huge, airy basketball court (complete with a heavy veil dangling from the ceiling that can be lowered to allow side-by-side full-court games), a performance center that can seat 500 theatergoers or 280 diners, and a gym featuring nearly 100 pieces of fitness and weight equipment that could move health freaks to salivate.

Bordy, the JCC’s executive director, is particularly proud of fitness machines with XBox video game consoles built right in; he predicts the kids will love them, but it’s obvious he does too.

And for those put off by the idea of physical exertion, the JCC will host the only kosher restaurant and commercial kitchen in the entire San Jose region.

As with the JCC of San Francisco and the Foster City Jewish campus, Bordy has contracted with Club One Fitness to operate the Addison-Penzak JCC’s fitness center, which he anticipates will bring a huge surge of marginally affiliated Jews and non-Jews onto the campus.

Years ago, the JCC boasted an all-time high of 800 members, but that dwindled down to around 300 when the JCC moved at the beginning of construction in 2004. Yet Bordy has already processed 1,000 new membership applications, and anticipates adding 1,000 more in short order. Such rapid expansion is not only impressive but necessary, as JCC projections call for around 2,500 members in order to be a financially viable operation.

That’s a far cry from the old days. “When I was growing up in San Jose, the biggest thing the JCC offered was a summer camp. We’d all just sit in a room,” recalled Jurman.

“Well Jyl,” deadpanned Bordy, “that was another century.”

Meanwhile, on the building’s second-floor, Jacob Orrin was engaged in a typically 21st-century activity: splicing together Ethernet cables. Yavneh Day School’s business manager pushed his blue-and-white kippah back on his head and focused on the task at hand — readying 63 Ethernet patches before the 110 kindergarten-through-sixth grade students arrived for the first day of school on Wednesday, Aug. 31.

The sense of permanence that comes from being housed in a huge new building with computers held in place by Ethernet cables (though, this being Silicon Valley, the building is a WiFi zone as well) is a welcome relief for Yavneh’s staff, students and parents, said head of school Lori Abramson.

“We’ll miss the [Kehillah] high school students, but we were on a high school campus and everything was high school-sized. We’re thrilled to be in a building that was built for our students,” said Abramson, seated at a tiny desk and nodding at a dry-erase board perhaps two-and-a-half feet off the ground.

“The kids get a sense of the wider Jewish community. For me, that’s one of the most thrilling aspects. We are a cohesive Jewish community.”

And, being housed in the same structure as Jewish Family Service and the federation fits right in with the lesson plans of the Solomon-Schechter affiliated school.

“Last year, part of the curriculum was to visit the JFS and federation and see what they do,” noted Abramson.

Over the next two years, the school will add a seventh and eighth grade. Abramson also hopes to add a second class for grades K through 5, bringing the school’s enrollment up to as many as 360 students. In preparation, the school’s wing features a cavernous, undeveloped room resembling a pygmy airplane hangar, which, in the future, could be carved into multiple classrooms.

The campus is the end result of a long and complex financial endeavor that isn’t over by a long shot.

To start with, the federation purchased the land from the JCC prior to demolishing the 50,000-square-foot former school and erecting the current structure. The first financial donation toward the campus was collected by former federation head Jon Friedenberg in the mid-1990s.

From that time, the scope of the project grew from remodeling the old school to building an additional structure to erecting an entire campus, and the budget rose to its current size.

Ken Levy, for whom the campus is named (along with his wife), is the founder of KLA Instruments, a leader in semiconductor technology manufacturing. The couple’s financial contribution obviously was significant, but the couple declined to reveal how much they donated to the project.

Jurman says pledges have covered about $16 million of the nearly $25 million budget, but she’s still looking to raise an additional $10 million to cover building costs and start an endowment fund. In order to cover that bill, she’ll be heading out into the community at large as well as soliciting previous donors to up the ante.

Make no mistake, $10 million is a lot of money, but Jurman thinks the campus will inspire much generosity by community members awed by its size alone.

“And, believe me, it is big,” she said. “I walk through it multiple times each day, and I feel it when I’m wearing heels.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.