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)

Local Jewish nonprofits receive millions in federal coronavirus payroll loans

Once the statewide coronavirus lockdown went into effect in March, the Oshman Family JCC ground to a halt. No fitness center. No preschool. No live concerts or lectures. Nothing.

That meant the Palo Alto institution and its 200 employees faced economic upheaval. Furloughs were unavoidable. Then, the federal government came to the rescue. The JCC applied for and quickly received a $2.5 million Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan to cover salaries, employee benefits, utilities and other expenses, at least for a little while.

“We feel very fortunate,” said Nathaniel Bergson-Michelson, chief marketing officer. “That’s roughly a month of operations for us. We are following the guidelines of the federal, state and county government, and we expect it’s going to be a while before large gatherings are possible again.”

PPP loans are part of Congress’ multi-trillion-dollar effort to shore up the economy as the virus tears it down. With nonprofits eligible for loans, scores of Jewish institutions have taken advantage. According to the Jewish Federations of North America, more than 500 Jewish nonprofits nationwide have received, collectively, $315 million in the form of PPP loans administered by the Small Business Administration. Another 445 submitted applications and were waiting to hear.

A number of Bay Area Jewish institutions were among those receiving loans, but their names have not been released publicly. (This publication also received a PPP loan, which will enable it to pay staff during the crisis.)

The JCC of San Francisco received a $3.6 million PPP loan, which CEO Marci Glazer said would “support our workforce for two months during this period with no earned revenue. Our focus is on continuing to develop creative programming in order to engage with our participants, develop digital content and plan for a return to in-person activity in whatever way is safe and practical.”

Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco received $187,500, which will cover payroll for its 12 full-time staffers. The funding should help the synagogue get by through June. “This enables us to not lay anybody off,” said Sherith Israel executive director Gordon Gladstone. “Once approved, [the funds were] in our bank account in 48 hours.”

Looking up at the dome of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. (Photo/file)
Looking up at the dome of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. (Photo/file)

Unlike many synagogues and JCCs, Sherith Israel does not run its own preschool (though it does lease space to an independent school), so its income stream was not as adversely affected by the shutdown as for some. But, as Gladstone noted, he has “no idea what [the virus crisis] means long term in terms of charitable giving. There’s no such thing as a recession that does not affect charitable giving.”

One of the benefits of a PPP loan is that it can be forgiven under certain circumstances. Gladstone feels good about Sherith Israel’s chances. “It starts off as a loan, then it’s forgiven if at the end of the loan period you demonstrate that your employee headcount hasn’t changed,” he said. “That’s the central pillar of the program: to keep people employed.”

Karen Wisialowski, executive director of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, said it became her “full-time job” to study up on all of the legislation coming out of Washington, D.C., meant to help institutions like her synagogue.

“We ended up applying for $490,000,” she said, a figure that was granted. “Our motivation from the get-go was clear: We did not want to go down the road of furloughing anybody, because we felt that it would impact mostly pre-K teachers, and we wanted them to know they are important to us. That was the high-level value.”

Unlike Sherith Israel, Peninsula Temple Sholom does have its own preschool, and its closure hit the bottom line hard. Wisialowski said tuition bills were suspended, but that many parents stepped up and made donations to the synagogue. The PPP loan helped even more.

“The loan took us out of discomfort,” she said. “It gives us breathing room from now until June 30 to not have to make any dramatically awful decisions.”

At the OFJCC, team leaders know that the PPP loan provides only temporary help. Bergson-Michelson said they have been meeting daily to figure out the next steps. “We anticipate reopening, which we’re very eager to do,” he noted, “but it will certainly happen in phases.”

Meanwhile, the JCC donated $15,000 worth of unused food and goods to an East Palo Alto-based homeless shelter and food bank Project WeHOPE.

At Peninsula Temple Sholom, Wisialowski is confident her synagogue will bounce back and is grateful the government is helping to make that happen,

“It is actually kind of a miracle,” she says of the PPP loan. “Not just that they got it together really quickly, but when you talk about a potential economic disaster, everyone’s on the same side, making sure money continues to flow into the economy.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.