How did Toronto Jewry lose $72-million?

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How did Toronto Jewry lose $72-million?

(December 20, 2018 / KDJ) This just in: 2019 will be the year that the Jewish community in Toronto loses $72-million. You read that right. $72-million will be sucked into a big black hole.

What do I mean, really?

The United Jewish Appeal Federation broke ground for the new Prosserman Jewish Community Center on October 15, 2017, eight years after the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre was torn down.

Overall, the project is estimated to be at approximately $72-million. The new community center, to be located on the Sherman Campus on Bathurst Street, north of Sheppard Avenue, is scheduled to be completed December 2019.

What will this full sports complex “enhanced facility” offer? Taking a 100,000 square feet area, the JCC will have a gymnasium with a running track, a fitness center with multiple exercise studios, a splash pad, a cultural pavilion and multifunctional theatre, an outdoor sports field and courts, an outdoor park with a walking path, a café and atrium, and three saltwater pools, where two will be indoor and one to be outdoors.

The new infrastructure is not only unnecessary, but it is also wholly irresponsible.

It’s a shandeh that in 2018, Toronto’s first kosher food bank has closed, from lack of funds. Where will 150 hungry families go for groceries and basic necessities now? (But there’s enough money for a multifunctional theatre, mind you.)

Meanwhile, a quarter of Canada’s Holocaust survivors live in poverty, and about one in eight Canadian Jews (about 52,000) are living below the poverty line. (And yet, fiscally-shrewd UJA set up an Attawapiskat relief fund in 2011, for those plagued by poverty a thousand kilometers away.)

Furthermore, since 2010, the Toronto campuses of six Jewish parochial institutions have shuttered: Associated Hebrew School, Robbins Hebrew Academy, Leo Baeck, TanenbaumCHAT, Toronto Talmud Torah and Eitz Chaim. Mostly, this was because of – you guessed it – mounting costs.

Imagine that money spread to ten schools, each receiving $7 million – what that would do for Canada’s Jewish education, not to mention easing tuition for scores of struggling parents. Then again, there’s more “sex appeal” with three shiny new swimming pools, isn’t there?

Recall the Ontario provincial election in 2007 was basically a referendum on provincial tuition subsidy for non-public schools. The PCs led by John Tory, who led the effort of fair funding, took a shellacking. The community would never be able to so much as think to seek tuition assistance from the government ever again. If we have boatloads of cash to spend on new “exercise studios”, how silly it would look to put out our hand out to the province’s coffers.

Is it not the responsibility of our fellow community members to be more responsible with this kind of money, and use it to help sustain existing infrastructures?

The Toronto Jewish community is in dire need of monetary aid; no shortage of city synagogues, built a half-century ago, that are falling apart. Undoubtedly, Jewish life on campus and pro-Israel programming could use a financial boost – eg: Hillel, Hasbara, StandWithUs, etc.

Can’t have that. We’ve done without a new café and atrium for far too long!

To be completely fair, though, about a seventh of the monies for the new complex has come from the federal government. They designated $10.2-million from funds it matched from the New Building Canada Fund in 2016.

According to Liberal MP Michael Levitt (York Centre), who commented on behalf of the Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Amarjeet Sohi, the Canadian government, “recognizes that strategic investments in public infrastructure – including funding for sports and recreation projects like this one (emphasis mine) – will create growth for the middle class and ensure that our communities will remain among the best places in the world to live, work and raise a family.”

Got that? “Sports and recreation”.  Not anything Jewishy here. Not even an attempt to couch it as “multi-cultural enhancement”, or some-such hokum, euphemistically slipped in so as not to appear they’re playing favourites with any religion, or crossing any “church/state” issues. Nope, the money was allocated because it was a really expensive playground. And that is, precisely, what it will become: a community centre built with Jewish donations, rather than a Jewish community centre.

Now, let’s pause a moment to give the good people at the UJA Board a little benefit of the doubt. Supposing this was a cash cow. Maybe, just maybe, the accountants over there have a grand plan.

Thing is, I just don’t see how. I’m not privy to any of the inner workings of the finances (very few people are, sadly). But let’s suppose, in an ideal world, this new complex somehow magically nets a whopping $1 million in profit each year. That’s a whack-ton of gym memberships, I concede. So now they’re operating at a loss for 72 years, until they can make back a single red cent of the investment.

This is all academic, of course. If this had anything to do with monetary gains for the Jewish community – short or longterm – somebody, somewhere, would have swiftly assured us all of that fact.

Sure, the new building might help increase relations between the greater Toronto community and its Jewish community. In theory. I suppose.

It might even serve as a welcoming uptown non-denominational centre for Jews to gather for special events. But woe is us if our spending is misdirected from real priorities, such as keeping Jews Jewish. Because in the future, it may be the “Jewish community centre” in name only – when it is filled mostly by anyone but Jews.   

This article was edited by Dave Gordon.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a member of the JCC. I was a member for many years, even prior to the destruction of the old building. I thought (as did many others) that it was a mistake to tear down the old building. They were quick to tear it down before they even had the funding to build the new one. I felt sorry for some of the senior Jewish members who’s lives centred around the gym. After we got kicked out we dispersed to different gyms. The elders amongst us when home. They stopped going to any gyms and most lost their health rather quickly. It was a tragedy. It all came about so that some wealthy Jews could put their names up on a building. I continue to go there and enjoy the wonderful classes they offer and the company of many of my brothers and sisters but sadly I agree with the article.

  2. Well said indeed!
    For a lot of the seniors this was their only social life, providing great emotional and physical benefits. Many of these people had already been displaced once in their lives, and now found themselves without this special home and familiar routine, dispersed throughout various secular clubs in the area. But gone was the social glue and comfort of contemporaries.
    And as Leon above said, many just went home, now without social interaction and greatly reduced quality of life. Very sad.

  3. Absolutely fabulous must read story. I am so thrilled that somebody finally spoke up. The Jewish leadership in this city has absolutely lost their way and we will pay dearly for it in the years to come. Thousands of Jewish kids will never ever know what it is to have a Jewish education. Very very sad

  4. Well Said. Let’s face reality here as well. The Jews of Toronto are being assimilated at a FEROCIOUS rate. Lets take a hard cold look at assimilation rates among our Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist brothers and sisters. Will they are they stemming the tide of assimilation? The Shomer Mitzvah community has many challenges, but I know the numbers bear this out. If we all want there to be a Jewish future, for Toronto and elsewhere, we really need Shomer Mitzvah, educated and Dedicated Jews. Everyone in the Jewish Community needs to get on side with this priority. I appeal to our wealthy, influential Jews in our community (of all Stripes) – At least listen to our case!! Jews dedicated to Torah are really the only hope of the future, let us put aside differences and come together on SURVIVAL ISSUES!! ANOTHER THEATER OR OPERA HOUSE OR COMMUNITY CENTER IS NOT GOING TO SAVE JEWS.

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