$1B for the Day After: An Open Letter to the Jewish Funder Community

by Doron Krakow, President/CEO, JCC Association of North America

There are 164 JCCs across North America.  Collectively, their annual operating budgets total more than $1.6 billion and they employ over 38,000 full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees.  Each year, their summer camps are home to more than 100,000 young people, campers and staff, and their early childhood education programs serve over 30,000 children representing more than 25,000 families.  In every instance, the numbers are unrivaled.  And that’s only a part of the story.

In total, they see over 1.5 million people a week.  One and a half million people.  A million Jews.  One million Jews a week – of every stripe and style.  From infancy to old age, from Ultra-Orthodox to thoroughly secular, from every corner of the political spectrum, and every letter of the identity alphabet they come week after week after week.  While levels of participation in many sectors of our community have seen precipitous declines, Jewish engagement through our JCCs has never been higher.

The JCC is also the weekly choice of half a million of our friends and neighbors from beyond the Jewish community.  Why? Because we make them feel welcome and treat them like part of the family.  North America’s JCCs are the largest platform on this continent for Jewish engagement and grass-roots Jewish community relations.  They are our strongest asset and our greatest resource for the continued pursuit of richer Jewish life and more vibrant Jewish communities.

Barely three weeks ago, the field was, on balance, vital, dynamic, prosperous, and at a high watermark in as much as a generation. Its business model, as always, heavily dependent on fee-for-service revenue, which represents 80 percent of an average JCC’s income.  Literally overnight, that income stream stopped nearly dead in its tracks when the overwhelming majority of JCCs closed their doors in response to the recommendations of public health authorities and elected officials. Otherwise sound institutions were confronted by concerns about insolvency, not as a result of a faulty business model, but owing entirely to the impact of an act of God. Cash reserves and support from local Jewish communities are all that stand between some JCCs and the nightmare of widespread layoffs and cancellations.  For others, that time has come and gone.

The North American Jewish community built and evolved the JCC Movement over decades and at a cost of untold billions. Those investments must now be safeguarded so that our JCCs can resume their critical community-building work the day after this crisis comes to an end. On that day, they are going to need easy access to low- or no-cost capital with favorable repayment terms.  And not only JCCs. Overnight Jewish camping is in the crosshairs as well.  A lost 2020 summer season will leave a $150-million hole in their business model. Hillels. Day schools. Religious institutions.  There will be many. For JCCs, and likely others with otherwise healthy business models, this capital backstop will be a lifeline, and it’s well within the capability of our community, within your capability to provide it.

I’m asking you to come together to provide or guarantee $1 billion in low or no-cost credit and to make it available on the day after. Repayment periods of 10 years, with none expected in the first 24 months, will allow restored margins to support the necessary payments. These are sound businesses. And we’re going to need them for a long, long time.

Your announcement will provide a huge boost to the confidence of all concerned in the midst of a dark and difficult time. For the families who rely on us for Jewish life and learning, and for the staff, whose livelihoods have been placed at risk. For our lay leaders, who bear expansive responsibility, and for local funders who will know that they are not alone.

From that moment, you will enable every one of us to begin thinking in earnest about what comes next.  And we will devote each ensuing day, from now until then, to availing ourselves of every other source of funding and relief—public and private. The backstop you provide will be precisely that; our recourse of last resort.

Jewish philanthropy has amassed greater capacity than at any time in the history of the North American Jewish community. It has provided the impetus, wisdom, accountability, and—above all—the critical fuel that we need to drive a dynamic Jewish community agenda. We’ve always been comforted by the presumption that it would have our backs on a rainy day. Well, here we are. A storm the likes of which we’ve never seen before and the end is nowhere in sight. We need you—now. A billion-dollar backstop. We’ll be ready to do our part on the day after. We need you to do yours today.

May we go, together, from strength to strength.