The Leon and Toby Cooperman JCC on the Ross Family Campus (JCC MetroWest) in West Orange has announced a mandatory $120 security fee for the 2019 year for all members. The JCC said the fee, which is in addition to regular membership costs, is necessary, but not everyone is convinced.
“The world we are living in has changed,” said Stuart Raynor, chief executive officer at the JCC MetroWest.
“Almost every Jewish organization and non-Jewish organization is going to have increasing costs for security and given the world we live in, I don’t think that is going away.”
JCC MetroWest membership is comprised of 6,700 members from more than 3,000 households, according to Chris Strom, JCC MetroWest’s chief operating officer. The security fee will be used to cover an increase in security staff, according to Raynor.
While some members interviewed are fine with the new fee, others have suggested it is forcing them to flex too much financial muscle, and it may persuade them to lift actual weights elsewhere.
“I just joined two weeks ago and no one ever said anything about a security fee,” said Casey Devlin of Livingston. “That’s an extra $10 a month. That stinks … I’ll probably still come, but I’m annoyed.”
The initial imposition of a security fee started in 2017, when JCCs around the country received bomb threats. At that time, JCC MetroWest instituted a voluntary $36 fee, and the fee rose to a mandatory $100 in 2018. The new $120 fee will be split in two, half due in December 2018 and half in June 2019.
To date, none of the nine JCCs in New Jersey have imposed a security fee. There is currently no data available from the JCC Association of North America regarding whether other JCCs around the country are doing anything similar.
According to Robert Wilson, chief security officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, a few of the 85 or so synagogues in the Greater MetroWest area have adopted similar fees, mostly to offset the cost of security personnel.
An email to JCC MetroWest members dated Nov. 20 states that the fee is designed to cover $250,000 in security enhancements it will undertake in the wake of the Pittsburgh shootings, relying “on the advice of our professional security experts, as well as consultation provided to us by the security director of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and local, state, and federal law enforcement officials.”
The investment will support “enhanced technology, personnel, and capital improvements,” according to the letter, which adds, “The first, and perhaps the most visible, of these changes is the addition of another security professional in our JCC building.”
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant will cover some of the cost, but only for equipment and capital improvement. It cannot be used for staff. (Grants from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security, called
SECUR-NJ grants, do cover personnel.)
Raynor declined to discuss specifics. “I cannot talk about strategy,” he said. He added, “All of us wish we did not have to pay for this.”
Still, most members who spoke with NJJN on a recent Friday afternoon felt the fee was too high.
Hearing about the fee on Nov. 30 as he was leaving the JCC, member Murray Bloom said, “Time to go back to The Connection in Summit,” referring to a fitness center. His wife, Maya, who is Israeli, called the fee “ridiculous” and added, “Americans by nature are very scared and paranoid. You have to learn how to overcome fear. I don’t think that money gives you security. I would rather send my money to people at the [Mexican] border.”
Anita Vecchio of Livingston was surprised by the fee. “When a school or business decides to make things safer, usually their people don’t have to pay for it,” she said.
A few who declined to give their names felt similarly. “I think it’s too much and I will consider not renewing my membership,” said one woman from West Orange.
Another patron from Livingston who declined to give his name called the fee “crazy.” “It’s very pricey here compared to other places around,” he said. “Why put on all these extras? It’s really unbelievable.”
Jane Kennedy of West Orange, however, has no qualms about shelling out the cash for the sake of security. “It’s fine,” she told NJJN. “I have been evacuated two or three times with bomb scares out of the pool. It’s worth it.”