Loss of CCJCC a hard lesson

While the Bay Area Jewish community has seen some of its institutions fold over the years, the collapse of the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center came as an especially intense shock.

Practically overnight, the Walnut Creek institution went from a bustling hub, with a popular preschool and senior services center, to a locked-up, empty shell. The Dec. 16 closure left dozens of families scrambling for child care and many more people wondering what went wrong.

We, too, at first asked the question: Who lost the CCJCC? It’s natural to want to affix blame, perhaps find a villain responsible for something that until recently seemed unthinkable.

Many factors contributed to the end of the JCC: a lack of community support, a failed condo development deal that would have brought in considerable income, disagreement among JCC leadership about the feasibility of building a new facility on-site or moving.

The bottom line is that the JCC didn’t garner the necessary support — either financial or popular — to sustain itself over the long haul.

It seems clear there was no villain at work here. In a time when nonprofit organizations struggle for every dollar, there will be winners and losers. Lamentably, the JCC became the community’s most highly visible loser.

Although it did not have the draw of the glittering JCCs in San Francisco and Palo Alto, the CCJCC played an important role in the East Bay.

The preschool, the Alzheimer’s respite care and seniors hot meal programs, the annual book festival, summer camps, even a Weight Watchers chapter, all called the CCJCC home.

This begs the question: Should Jewish community institutions be subject to the same laws of social Darwinism as the regular business world? True, failure is part of life, but we are a people that lights candles this time of year in praise of miracles.

It is a shame there were no miracles left for the Contra Costa JCC.

While the final disposition of the CCJCC remains in flux, we can draw some lessons. For one, we can never assume that several decades of prior existence guarantee a perpetual future.

Without vigilance and ceaseless support, even our strongest institutions could be vulnerable to potentially existential shocks.

We wish the JCC staffers the best of luck in finding work, and to the community that depended on the JCC we express deep regrets. It’s definitely lonelier in the East Bay Jewish community without the warm and welcoming CCJCC.