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Agencies pick up programs as JCC closes
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Agencies pick up programs as JCC closes

The JCC of Western Monmouth will cease operations on or about Oct. 15, but some of its key programs will continue to be offered by other local organizations.

JCCWM president Howard Topal cited “financial considerations” as the reason for the closing of the organization, which, founded in 1997, ran seniors, arts, and athletics programs out of storefront offices in Manalapan and later at the Freehold Jewish Center.

“We have found it increasingly difficult, in a challenging and uncertain economic environment, to raise or attract sufficient funding,” Topal said in a prepared statement.

The seniors program has already been shifted over to Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County, headquartered in Asbury Park. It continues to be directed by Marion Riback, who works out of JFCS’s Morganville office.

Rising Stars, another popular program, which creates theatrical productions featuring youngsters between seven and 17 years old, is now under the aegis of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center. Lisa Goldfarb is in charge of the program, which recently held auditions for its presentation of The Wizard of Oz, to be performed Dec. 14 and 15 at the Axelrod theater in Deal.

Topal told NJJN that even though JCCWM never acquired its own facility, it had mounted a full array of programs for seniors, singles, youth groups, and couples as well as athletic activities like local Maccabi games and a basketball league.

JCCWM was established in 1997, initially as an offshoot of the more substantial, but now defunct, JCC of Greater Monmouth in Deal. Later, as an independent entity, it maintained an office in Manalapan. It has been housed at Freehold Jewish Center since last year.

When it became evident that the closing was near, the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County and other area agencies stepped up to make sure that efforts like the seniors program and Rising Stars continued to operate.

JFCS director Paul Freedman said Riback became an employee of his agency in early July. “We have a lot of respect for what JCCWM accomplished,” he said in a phone interview, “but we are a larger organization with more resources, and we have high hopes of expanding the number of participants in the various elements of the seniors program.”

Riback said there are currently four major initiatives for those over 60: a film program, a leisure/learning series that features entertainment and/or education, a book club, and excursions to places of Jewish interest.

“On Oct. 24, we’ll be showing Mel Brooks in To Be Or Not To Be at the Brookside Assisted Living Facility in Freehold,” she said. “On Nov. 13, we’ve scheduled a trip to Manhattan to see the musical Lies My Father Told Me at the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene.” A kosher lunch is included with the film and leisure/learning programs, Riback added.

Goldfarb said Rising Stars used Freehold Jewish Center as a rehearsal space for about five months after the Axelrod Performing Arts Center theater at the JCC in Deal went dark, following the financial setbacks that forced the closure of the facility.

“We found the experience fruitful,” Goldfarb said. “The people in Freehold were warm and accommodating, and we were able to expand our reach into western Monmouth County, finding new young talent to join our shows. We used to draw only from the shore area towns, but now we are known all over the county.”

According to Goldfarb, Rising Stars will split rehearsal time in the future between FJC and the Axelrod space, which is once again available for major productions (Les Miz will reopen the theater in November). “This will allow us to continue to use talent from western Monmouth without overburdening families with long rides every time,” she said.

“Federation’s emphasis is on funding programs and projects that are needed by the Jewish community, and not on organizations per se,” said federation executive director Keith Krivitzky. He told NJJN that the federation had given the JCCWM hundreds of thousands of dollars in the aggregate, as much as $50,000 a year, often through matching funds — which the JCCWM had difficulty raising. This past year, funding was targeted to two programs only — Mitzvah Day and the seniors’ program, as these were deemed by federation’s local allocations committee to be the most important and viable.

Krivitzky said he was glad the federation was able to help transfer and expand support for the seniors program through JFCS, and to make a new grant to Rising Stars so that they could continue to provide great teen programming.

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