By Laura Porter
WESTBOROUGH – On July 29th, the Boroughs Jewish Community Center in Westborough closed its doors permanently.
The decision, made in the wake of crippling financial difficulties, came after months of devoted effort on the part of the executive board of directors to raise funds and remain solvent.
“Our primary source of revenue is tuition from enrollment in the Boroughs JCC Preschool, which, sadly, stands significantly below our expectations for the 2016-2017 school year,” wrote Stephen Marmor of the executive board in an open letter to the community. “We simply do not have the funds to continue operations.”
Twenty years ago, the organization began as the Westborough JCC and later became the Boroughs JCC. It had been in its present location for 15 years, renting space in a privately owned building.
According to the mission statement on its website, its goal from the outset had been “to enhance the educational, social, and cultural lives of our members and the communities in which we live.”
In addition to the preschool, it offered “programs, events, resources, and social services to all members of our communities, regardless of faith or culture” and served as “a gateway to the Jewish community in our area.”
Clearly, the decision to close was made with reluctance and great sadness.
The JCC’s executive board “is made up of volunteers – current and former parents – who are passionate about the mission and role of the organization in our community,” Marmor’s letter emphasized. “Please know that the leadership of the Boroughs JCC pursued every feasible alternative prior to committing to this painful step.”
In addition to staff, the sudden closure has had a significant impact on families whose children are currently enrolled in summer programs as well as the preschool for the coming year.
In order to mitigate that impact, the JCC board was able to work out an arrangement with the Westboro Tennis and Swim Club for the rest of the summer session. Preschool children enrolled for JCC summer programs beginning August 1 were offered the option of attending the club’s Kinder Camp during August at no additional charge to their families.
The JCC website also lists several area preschools that have sent flyers and offered assistance to families now looking for alternative arrangements.
The closing is “sad for our community as a whole,” says EJ Dotts, president of Congregation Beth Tikvah, which shared space in the building with the Boroughs JCC for 15 years and was previously located in the same area on Route 30 for five.
“They filled an important need in the community,” she says. “It was a home for those who were unaffiliated; they didn’t have to feel they had to pick a synagogue.”
Congregation Beth Tikvah, she says, considered the long-term relationship with the JCC “a great partnership,” especially in recent years. “There was a synergy between the two organizations.”
The synagogue is currently in negotiations with the landlord of the building, hoping to remain where they are but open to other possibilities if necessary.
“It’s a great location for us; we really like it here,” says Dotts. “We’re hoping it will work out, but if we can’t, it’s an opportunity to look for something that’s even better for us.”
The Jewish community as a whole has been “very supportive of us,” she says, noting that Congregation B’nai Shalom, the Federation and Congregation Beth Israel have all “reached out with offers of help.”
In the meantime, the synagogue is conducting “business as usual,” preparing for an open house at the end of the month and for the High Holidays.
“The key takeaway is that we are in good shape as a synagogue, we have a great congregation and the building is just a building,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s about us, not the four walls around us.”
The closing of any organization in the Jewish community is cause for concern. A JCC plays a unique role, says Emily Holdstein, executive director of the Worcester JCC.
In addition to serving as “a warm and welcoming meeting place for the broader community,” JCCs provide a place where “secular and unaffiliated Jews can experience a Jewish connection without the real or perceived pressure to ‘practice’ religion,” she says.
Those involved with their JCC sometimes choose to engage with other Jewish organizations in the community. Others are content with “the JCC’s brand of Jewish.”
“Along the way the entire community gains diverse exposure to Jewish culture and is awakened to the universality of Jewish values,” she says.
She lauds the Boroughs JCC for perfectly filling “this role of creating community, educating and sharing Jewish values that bridge cultures and religions. The closing of its doors is a loss to the entire community not only for its vital preschool and children’s programs but also for the role it played in enhancing understanding among diverse participants. JCCs enrich the communities where they operate, and Westborough will feel the loss of the Boroughs JCC for years to come.”