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Ex-board chair heads Deal JCC purchase
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Ex-board chair heads Deal JCC purchase

The Ruth Hyman JCC in Deal, which served the Jewish community of Monmouth County for 73 years before declaring bankruptcy in December 2011, has been purchased by a corporation called Save the Monmouth JCC, LLC.

The owner is real estate developer Donald Epstein of Oakhurst, who has served as chair of the JCC board.

Neither Epstein nor his attorney, Frank Velocci of Florham Park, responded to numerous inquiries about reasons for the purchase or whether the property would remain as part of the Jewish community.

As a limited liability corporation, Save the Monmouth JCC agreed to purchase its $5.5 million mortgage and assume another $1.5 to $2 million in debts and obligations to other JCC creditors, according to sources familiar with the arrangement.

Keith Krivitzky, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, told NJ Jewish News he was unsure of the facility’s future.

“The federation is supportive of any effort that tries to address the issues affecting the JCC in Deal and to maintain the facility in the Jewish community for the benefit of the Jewish community,” he said in a March 5 phone interview.

In past years, the federation has allocated the Deal JCC as much as $250,000 annually as well as a six-figure loan to help keep the organization afloat.

In recent years, the 110,000-square-foot facility on a 12-acre campus suffered financial setbacks that forced the closing of its preschool, the Center Play School, its day camp, and a theater housing the Axelrod Performing Arts Center.

After the theater rung down its curtains at the JCC for the final time last November, it has been renting other venues for staging its productions.

“We hope this will prove to be just an interim measure,” APAC’s executive director, Jess Levy, told NJJN last month. “Once new owners take over the building in Deal, we hope to be able to move back in, and again take advantage of the 550-seat state-of-the-art facility that had been our home for five years.”

Among other organizations that had rented space in the building were the Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore, which relocated to Ocean, and the JCafe, which closed.

The building is reportedly in need of up to $1 million in repairs; a new roof is needed over the gym, and there is a leaky floor beneath the swimming pool.

The JCC’s closing left some 20 to 25 employees without paychecks for their last few weeks of work. A former employee who asked not to be identified told NJJN, “What I and my fellow former colleagues are concerned about is the secrecy that has taken place regarding the purchase of the building and the JCC closing in the first place.

“I was an employee of the JCC and there had been no accountability for a long time,” said the former employee. “When the bankruptcy became official on Dec. 5, 2011, we were left holding the bag. We were told, ‘Sorry. Maybe you’ll see some money down the road, but maybe you won’t.’”

Although he did not respond to current inquiries about the ex-employees’ status, Epstein did tell NJJN in 2011, “The employees are our support system, and their dedication to this agency is unquestionable. The JCC board understands the concerns of its members and employees. Our focus right now is to make sure the building operates and the employees are paid.”

Meanwhile, the federation is involved in a strategic planning process that will factor in the JCC’s closing with community needs for the future, said Krivitzky.

“We need to map where the Jews are in Monmouth County, where their needs are, and where there are opportunities to invest that will make a difference in our Jewish community,” he said. “In the area of programming, it is important to look afresh at where there are needs and what is happening in Monmouth County and figure out the best ways to provide service in this area. They probably will need to be different from the ones in the past.”

rwiener@njjewishnews.com

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