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New JCC to open in shuttered Deal facility
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New JCC to open in shuttered Deal facility

The newly completed basketball court at the soon-to-open Jewish Community Center Jersey Shore in Deal.     
The newly completed basketball court at the soon-to-open Jewish Community Center Jersey Shore in Deal.     

After the JCC of Greater Monmouth County survived bankruptcy in 2011 and abruptly closed the doors of its Deal facility two years later, the Jewish Community Center Jersey Shore will open in the shuttered building on June 21.

The opening of what was known as the Ruth Hyman JCC was delayed for six days from its originally scheduled June 15 start while contractors complete work on renovating its fitness wing.

The 110,000-square-foot facility on a 12-acre campus was rescued from bankruptcy by real estate developer Donald Epstein of Oakhurst, who served as chair of the former JCC board. Although it remains the same nonprofit entity that existed before bankruptcy was declared, it will be run by a new three-person board, with Epstein as its head. He could not be reached for comment. 

As they prepare for the grand opening, workers have been installing new gym equipment and creating special areas for yoga, exercise bikes, and personal training in a facility that will also offer racquetball, basketball, and swimming classes.

According to the JCC’s executive director, Ike Zagha, opening day will also be the start of a recruitment drive that he hopes will enroll “several thousand members.”

A May 15 press release issued by the JCC described itself as “a cultural, educational, and recreational center, offering exceptional programs, classes, and special events designed to enrich the mind, body, and spirit. We are driven by the Jewish values of welcoming guests, kindness, respect, and communal responsibility.”

Although membership fees “are not set in stone yet,” Zagha expects them to be $60 to $70 a month.

He said membership “will be open for people in the general community. You do not have to be Jewish…. We offer a pool — most of these places don’t have pools. We will have two basketball gyms. We are going to be competitive,” he told NJ Jewish News in a May 26 phone interview.

But others fear that competition is already rough. Apart from a burgeoning number of nonsectarian health clubs on the Jersey shore, the Deal Sephardic Network — representing the area’s insular Syrian-Jewish community — operates its own fitness facility less than a mile from the new JCC.

“Of course we are concerned about the competition, but we have a slightly different demographic from the DSN,” said Zagha. “They have a lot of young families, but we don’t have anything for youth at the moment.”

He pledged to restart the JCC’s day camp in the summer of 2016. “It is too late to bring it back this year, but in a few months we will start promoting it,” he said.

In addition, the JCC will offer programming for older adults, including swimming, painting, and pottery classes.

“In the fall we may move into adult programming, like speakers the JCC used to have years ago. Then maybe we will have Israeli speakers and have it geared to more Jewish members, but we are not equipped to do that yet,” Zagha said.

As a former member of the Hyman JCC whose previous work experience is in international telephone sales, Zagha said he hopes to avoid the financial pitfalls that forced the facility to close two years ago. 

“I am not sure how it was before, but it looks like they had quite a bit of employees here. Maybe they were overstaffed,” he said.

Keith Krivitzky, executive director of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ, told NJJN, “The federation will deal with any organization or operation that wants to serve the Jewish community.” 

In past years, the former Jewish Federation of Monmouth County allocated to the Deal JCC as much as $250,000 in annual grants as well as an unspecified six-figure loan to help keep the organization afloat.

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