an inscription on the wall: "welcoming strangers -- let your house be open wide, pirkei avot"
Inscriptions on the wall in the main lobby of the JCC of San Francisco. (Photo/Joyce Goldschmid)

Local JCCs working together to plan phased reopenings

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Melissa Chapman isn’t certain what the JCC of the East Bay will look like once it reopens, but she’s pretty sure it’ll include sneeze guards.

The CEO of the Berkeley-based center says she and her colleagues have been strategizing the post-pandemic reopening of the JCC, including the possible physical changes that will entail, although no one yet knows the precise date.

“We’re constantly questioning, constantly assessing,” Chapman said. “How do we make sure we can open the doors when it’s time to do so?”

She is one of several JCC executives across the Bay Area pondering how and when to reopen. It is a matter of vital importance to all JCCs, which have taken a giant financial hit. The problems and the solutions are both complicated, but all of the leaders agree that safety will come first.

One way or another, there will be a new normal.

Chapman says her JCC’s plan is “beautifully comprehensive,” ranging from how many gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitizer will be stocked in each classroom, to staggering the arrival and pick-up times for kids enrolled in the preschool.

Chapman isn’t doing the planning in isolation. She is part of an informal affiliation of Bay Area JCCs working together to exchange ideas and best practices as they anticipate coming out of lockdown. The partner institutions in addition to the East Bay JCC are the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, the JCC of San Francisco and the Peninsula JCC in Foster City.

The chief operating officers, CEOs and general managers have been meeting in their own groups via Zoom to discuss the different aspects of reopening.

“There’s a lot of good tangible sharing, modeling and predictive thinking,” said Laura Toller Gardner, chief marketing officer for the PJCC. “What’s equally important is the camaraderie, the assurance that nobody is in this alone. The JCCs are all in this together.”

main entrance to pjcc
Peninsula JCC in Foster City. (Photo/File)

JCC leaders have been paying close attention to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-stage reopening plan for the state, which is not tied to a specific timetable.

At the PJCC, Gardner anticipates a phased reopening, with child care and preschool likely among the first programs to return, allowed under Phase 2 of the state plan that currently is in effect.

“We’re looking at different models,” she said. “How can we physically distance, sanitize and provide some kind of modified programming that both meets the community needs and will abide by the county’s requirements? It will be a balance. It’s looking very likely we will stay virtual [online], particularly for those who fall in a certain age range.”

Other measures under consideration include a new form of electronic check-in at the front desk, making changes based on foot traffic patterns in and around the grounds, and possibly replacing door handles to prevent the spread of pathogens.

Sally Flinchbaugh, COO of the Oshman Family JCC, said her facility will reopen in phases as well. “We have multiple task forces looking at how operations are set up,” she noted, “so that we can get people back to campus safely to enjoy the JCC again.”

Empty entrance to the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, which closed its facility in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo/Courtesy OFJCC)
Empty entrance to the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, which closed its facility in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo/Courtesy OFJCC)

At the JCCSF, COO Craig Salgado said he and his colleagues are grappling with the new reality. “Everyone is looking into a crystal ball trying to figure out what [reopening] is going to look like,” he noted. “How do we get back to in-person activities while at the same time continuing to engage with the community virtually? At heart, JCCs are about in-person connection.”

Salgado added that in those weekly conference calls, the COOs discuss everything from joining forces to buy PPE and cleaning supplies in bulk, to figuring out how to safely reopen a fitness center. “It has been incredibly helpful to work with colleagues,” he added.

Salgado says the JCCSF may bring back child care and preschool first, as these programs allow working parents to return to their jobs. But he says procedures likely will be different, including limiting the number of children per group and enforcing other social distancing measures.

Another essential service offered by many of the JCCs is fitness centers. Phase 3 of the governor’s plan includes reopening gyms and fitness centers, and while Newsom has not announced when the state will move into that stage, JCCs are planning now so they will be ready when that day comes.

JCCs fitness centers can be a major source of income. For example, in 2017 the PJCC fitness center accounted for nearly $9.9 million of total revenue of nearly $17.8 million, according to its most recent tax reporting. At the JCCSF, Salgado says the fitness center accounts for a substantial 60 percent of annual income.

image of the main entrance to JCCSF
The JCC of San Francisco on California Street. (Photo/File)

That’s why he and his colleagues are planning for a safe reopening as soon as possible.

“We have set standards for our organization of each space in the building,” Salgado said. “For the fitness center, we will move half the equipment,” opening up an additional 10,000 square feet. “There’s a lot of confidence members [will be able to] exercise in a safe space.”

He said the pool and locker rooms will remain closed for a while, even after the fitness center is opened.

Though the lockdown has created significant financial hardship for JCCs, many have received help in the form of Payroll Protection Plan government loans, grants from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, and donations from community members. But until they return to full strength, the JCCs walk a thin financial line.

Gardner has faith. “The human spirit is resilient because of community,” she affirms. “We do what we do because we all have the desire to live in connected community. And we’ve created that at our JCC.”

Despite being stuck at home, Salgado said he and his colleagues are “working harder than we’ve ever worked” to get the JCCs opened up. But he knows it will not be the same.

“People are trying to understand what this new world looks like,” he said. “Society will start opening up, yet the virus will still be there, and we’re all trying to get our arms around that.”

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.