In the wake of numerous bomb threats to JCCs around the country, JCC MetroWest is charging a $36 “security fee” on members at its Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange.
The fee was announced in an e-mail and letter from CEO Stuart Raynor dated Feb. 27. It reads, in part, that “this new reality requires us to review and refine our security procedures on an ongoing basis to maximize their effectiveness.” The recent threats, it goes on, have “caused us to make significant adjustments to our budget to cover the unanticipated additional costs.” In order to offset those expenditures, writes Raynor, “we have found it necessary to charge our members a tax-deductible, $36 security fee.”
The JCC MetroWest facility was among the community centers on the receiving end of a bomb threat on Jan. 31. As of publication time, more than 100 bomb threats had been received since the beginning of the year at Jewish institutions, mostly at JCCs, but also at day schools and several offices of the Anti-Defamation League. None were found to be credible.
JCC MetroWest hired a new security company in January and nearly doubled the number of security staff “because of the intensity of the security we need now,” JCC president Larry Rein told NJJN. Security costs have more than doubled, from about $150,000 to about $350,000 per year. “We have over 3,000 members,” he said, “so we thought we could recoup some of the expense” with the fee.
The fee is not mandatory; anyone wishing to opt out must let the JCC know by April 1. By March 13, two weeks after the letter was sent to about 3,200 people, about 100 had chosen not to pay the fee. More than 35 people have sent letters expressing their support for the JCC’s moves to improve security, according to Rein, and 40 members have given between $54 and $250, making up for those who opted out.
While a few other JCCs around the country have imposed emergency security fees, no other in New Jersey has reported doing so. Several have received threats, including the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains (on Jan. 18), the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill (Feb. 27), the JCC of Middlesex County in Edison (Jan. 18), and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly (Jan. 9 and 31, Feb. 27).
The Milton & Betty Katz JCC in Margate is currently in discussion regarding changes in security, but at this point, there is no additional fee, according to CEO Jack Fox. Similarly, Jennifer Mamlet, executive director of the JCC of Central NJ, told NJJN, “We discussed it only briefly and agreed it was not the right course for us at this time.”
At least one JCC in the state is trying to recoup some of its emergency expenses, but not through an added fee; instead, the JCC Jersey Shore in Deal is looking into grants and donations to offset increased security expenditures, according to general manager Ike Zagha.
Several members at the West Orange JCC, interviewed on Sunday, had no objection to the additional charge.
“This is something very valid and something I’m happy to pay,” said Aharon Shamash, a member of the JCC since July. “It’s just sad that we have to do this.”
His wife, Hillary, brings their young son to the toddler program three days a week, and they use the JCC’s fitness facilities on the weekends. “Anything for tighter security, given the times we’re in right now, is fine. We’re happy to do it,” said Hillary Shamash. In the last few months she’s observed more security guards in the building, including an increased presence outside the preschool area.
Eileen Davis, a member since the 1990s, also did not oppose the security fee, given the “climate” of the country, saying, “I think it’s a fact of life right now.”
Aharon Shamash recommended more diligence outside the building, where a guard reviews cars before they drive into the garage or outdoor parking lot. Members are identified by an orange sticker on the outside of their rearview mirror. But occasionally Shamash drives a car without the sticker, and, he said, “You just wave and get right in.”
That observation does not mean security is as lightweight as it might appear, said Rein. “They are always asking, ‘Does anyone look suspicious?’” The guidelines to determine what “suspicious” is come straight from Homeland Security, he said. So even when it seems a visitor has simply been waved through, someone has in all likelihood looked into the car to see who the passengers are and gone down several other items on a checklist that Rein declined to divulge.
The security personnel may even have taken down the license plate number. “It’s not a 100 percent check, but it’s security than comes from the government,” Rein said. He added that security at the front desk for those entering from the parking lot is about to get much tighter. “We are making physical changes so people can’t get through so easily there.”
Overall, Rein reported, the current situation is unrelated to the financial straits JCC MetroWest was in just a few years ago. “I’m happy to say we’re doing great financially,” he said. “Good things are happening, and we are on a very good path. Nothing is perfect, but we are excited about our path.”
Still, he acknowledged, given that having to beef up security was not anticipated, “I feel good about what we are doing to be as fiscally responsible as possible.”
Representatives of the JCC Association of North America, the national umbrella organization for JCCs, did not respond to NJJN’s requests for comment.