A second chance: East Bay JCC battling back from financial crisis

Hunkering down: That’s how Sally Kauffman Flinchbaugh, the acting executive director of the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, describes the climate at the embattled Berkeley institution.

But she quickly adds that the JCC today is more stable in terms of programming, staffing, finances and morale.

“We’re bootstrapping,” Kauffman Flinchbaugh says. “We’ve pared back significantly, as many organizations have. We are trying to provide the best programs we can on a shoestring budget. We are in fundraising mode.”

The JCC continues to offer its core programs, including all children’s and senior programs, the Jewish Music Festival, and Books & Bagels, an ongoing author lecture series.

Facing a dire financial crisis, this past July the JCC let go seven full-time staffers, including its executive director, Marj Wolf. Then the word went out: Unless $500,000 came into the coffers, the JCC would have to drastically curtail programming, or perhaps even close its doors.

That figure remains an elusive goal, but Kauffman Flinchbaugh reports progress.

A fundraiser held in September not only netted the JCC around $35,000 but, according to Kauffman Flinchbaugh, “the good will it created in the community was important as well. People were celebrating the JCC instead of hanging our heads.”

Though the staff roster has been cut, a new preschool director has come on board. She is Ronnie Jacobs, the former preschool director of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Also joining the staff is Daryl Grace, who will serve as director of the JCC summer camp, Camp Tzofim.

A Kensington resident, Kauffman Flinchbaugh became a fan of the JCC because her children attend the preschool there. She later joined the board because she believed so strongly in the JCC’s role, calling it “a Jewish home for people who don’t want to belong to a synagogue.

“For a lot of people here it’s their touch to Judaism,” she added.

She and her colleagues hope East Bay Jews continue to rely on the JCC as a haven. Though the institution is not out of the woods yet, Kauffman Flinchbaugh thinks the JCC may have turned a corner.

Says Kauffman Flinchbaugh, “I had one staff member say to me, ‘I have hope again.'”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.