In 2011, the Contra Costa JCC made a startling announcement. After 35 years of operation, it was selling the Walnut Creek property it had inhabited for more than two decades and ending its programs, including a preschool, camps and adult day care.
The sudden closure left scores of preschool parents in the lurch and, more significantly, left Jews on the east side of the Caldecott Tunnel wondering what the demise of their JCC meant for their community.
Turned out that reports of the JCC’s death were greatly exaggerated.
Despite the financial troubles that led to the closure, no one wanted to give up on the institution. Though the campus emptied, the JCC continued to exist as a corporate entity. Board members kept in touch and continued to plan for the JCC’s future, ultimately reviving the center three years ago as a “JCC without walls.”
Now they’ve taken an even bigger step: The Contra Costa JCC and the JCC of the East Bay have agreed on a new partnership that will bring programing back to areas that had been served since 1976.
“We wanted to expand the programming opportunities out here,” said CCJCC board member and past board president Robert Rich. “In collaboration with EBJCC, we can offer that.”
The details of the partnership are still being ironed out. Samantha Kelman, interim CEO of the JCC East Bay, said a series of community meetings will be held in August to hear from Contra Costa residents on what they want. Then she expects to see a launch of the types of programs the East Bay JCC does so well — from cultural events for adults to social gatherings for families to summer camps for kids — but tailored to the new, expansive geographic area.
A job opening was just announced for a new position to supervise programming. Although the person hired for the job will have an office at the JCC East Bay, Kelman emphasized that the arrangement is a real partnership and not an expansion. “They have great ideas and they’re still there as a player in the community,” Kelman said of the Contra Costa JCC. “We both have the big mission of pushing Jewish life forward in the East Bay.”
The East Bay JCC had its own close brush with mortality in 2008, when a cash-flow crisis and lag in fundraising triggered multiple layoffs and a curtailing of programming. Fortunately, in time the JCC righted its financial ship and is thriving today.
Even with no staff or brick-and-mortar location, the CCJCC has kept one major program going. Under One Tent (formerly the Jewish Book and Arts Festival) is itself a partnership among local synagogues and Jewish institutions that host author lectures, concerts, comedy shows, food events and film screenings throughout the year. “We’re very happy and proud of that program,” Rich said.
And it’s one with a wide reach. But now, with even more programming on the horizon, the Contra Costa JCC will have the opportunity to touch a new generation of local residents, including children who weren’t even born in 2011 when the JCC closed its facility.
“This is a really collaborative partnership,” Kelman said. “Jewish life in the East Bay is real and thriving.”