Former JEC administrator recalls charitys chaotic

When Jack E. George’s co-worker led him to the elementary school’s art room, he wasn’t surprised to find art. But he was surprised to find a Picasso.

And a Degas. And a Dali. And a Monet. And some Peter Max, and Andy Warhol to boot.

However, he was really, really surprised that no one had thought to put even a cloth over the artwork (which he claims were originals). Overenthusiastic, under-aged painters had inadvertently splattered their own Jackson Pollock-style paintwork onto the canvases.

But here’s the kicker: This was the art room of the now-defunct Jewish Educational Center’s Schneerson School, in which George was an administrator. At this time Rabbi Bentzion and Mattie Pil were drowning in millions of dollars in debt to more than 100 creditors, George and his co-workers went months without paychecks, and yet donated works of art were left to be ruined in a room that didn’t even have locks on the doors, insists George.

Working at the JEC brewed “a strange kind of excitement. Not a positive kind of excitement, though. You never knew what would happen tomorrow,” he told j.

George, who is not Jewish, has documented his chaotic year under the Pils in “A Broken Charity,” a memoir of the onetime San Francisco powerhouse JEC’s nadir viewed from his insider’s perch.

A longtime educator currently working with autistic children for the San Mateo County Office of Education, George served as an administrator, summer camp director and principal of the Torah Day School for the Pils. But he writes that he often found himself forced to deal with situations that didn’t come up in job description — such as being threatened with immediate arrest because of the school’s faulty fire alarm system, all while local television news cameras rolled.

As the JEC’s financial situation grew more and more dire, George writes, he and his co-workers were forced further and further into desperation; it was the financial equivalent of ants fleeing from rising water. Locksmiths stopped coming around. Garbage piled up. At one point, all the employees were mandated to sign a slip stating they were, from that point on, volunteers. Some did.

George also claims in his book that, on more than one occasion, Russian Jews with limited English skills were told they had to be at a certain place to sign up, in person, for social programs. Those places happened to be in the background of pro-JEC press conferences, and gave an appearance of grassroots support.

Later, during his tenure as summer camp director, George writes, he was ordered to shepherd as many kids as possible to one of Pil’s court appearances. (After initially being accused of multiple crimes, Pil in 1999 pleaded guilty to a single count of illegally structuring nearly $1.72 million in bank deposits, intentionally evading federal reporting laws on coin or currency transactions exceeding $10,000. He served nine months in a halfway house.)

“If I’m not mistaken, we had 90 kids on a bus with no insurance and kids sitting on the floor of the bus,” George says to j.

The author claims the Pils did not answer his letters and phone messages asking for their input. Mattie Pil hung up on a call from j. asking for comment.

After the dust has long settled, George says he doesn’t have an axe to grind with the Pils — even though he adds he never was compensated for working several months without pay. Mattie Pil was “a fascinating character,” and “I never really did have any feelings toward Rabbi one way or the other.”

He recalls Pil carrying $1,500 or more in rolls of 100s and whipping out a bill every time he needed something done.

George says he feels like a pawn in a vast chess game.

“I think we were all led on a wild goose chase and we were made promises that we believed but were not kept. We were always fed enough to keep us going. It would happen tomorrow. Tomorrow after tomorrow. And tomorrow never came.”

“A Broken Charity” by Jack E. George (123 pages, Publish America, $14.95).

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.