What began 100 years ago as the YM-YWHA of Raritan Valley in New Brunswick, and in recent years became the Campus for Jewish Life in East Brunswick, has fallen victim to bad timing in a poor economy.
On Feb. 17, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Trenton, providing it with court protection from its creditors to gets its financial affairs in order. However, all bills from the date of filing forward need to be paid.
In the end, the CJL could not meet the fund-raising goals it faced after closing its aging, unsalvageable facility in Highland Park, which it moved to in 1955 and left in 2007. Plans to develop that site into a new Y in partnership with a condominium developer had previously fallen through in the face of mounting resident opposition.
The Highland Park land, at Raritan and Adelaide avenues, was sold the following year to Atlantic Reality, which razed the building, but has yet to construct anything on the site.
After almost a year of hearings before the Highland Park Planning Board, the Y had decided to build a 60,000-square-foot facility on the 11.5 acre site it owns on Dutch Road in East Brunswick, which it used for its swim club and Y Country Day Camp.
Copresident Amanda Shechter of East Brunswick said the community had been “supportive and responsive, but despite our best efforts, we couldn’t bring it to fruition in the current economic climate.”
“That we were in difficulty with finances has been a public rumor for some time,” acknowledged CJL board vice president Jeremy Renna. “It’s a sad story, but the financial support was not there, and at the end of the day, you have to make tough choices.”
Renna said after leaving Highland Park, the “newly rebranded” facility, renamed the Campus for Jewish Life, was swept up in the economic crisis as it was just finishing an “educational phase” that included community gatherings and architectural presentations.
“We hung on another two years,” said Renna, a Highland Park resident. “But ultimately you have to have enough cash to meet your responsibilities under Chapter 11. Right now we are trying to figure out what our options are between the creditors and what’s left, because ultimately our creditors have to be taken care of.”
‘Continue to flourish’
The East Brunswick site, which includes a large pool, playgrounds, sports fields, tennis and handball courts, and other facilities, will be put up for sale. The Y’s offices, which were moved to the United Way building in Milltown after it left Highland Park, still remain open.
Its senior programs, which had been moved to Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, were picked up over this winter by the Jewish Family & Vocational Service of Middlesex County and are being held at the Highland Park Conservative Temple Congregation Anshe Emeth.
Its early childhood day care center, which had moved to Parker House in Highland Park, and its after-school program, which most recently had been at the Hatikvah charter school in East Brunswick, will continue independently under the direction of current CJL executive director Robin Kessler.
Kessler told NJJN that she could not reveal details of the future of the Y’s childcare programming until they are formalized on May 23, after press deadlines, but said the transition “would be seamless” for the involved youngsters.
“We are all very saddened by the closing of the agency,” said Kessler, who began 30 years ago at the Y as its preschool director, before becoming associate executive director and then, three years ago, executive director.
“Many families were raised here, my own as well, where they became instilled with a love of Jewish communal service,” she said. “The children of our programs are our pride and joy and they will continue to flourish in the atmosphere of love that has been built.”