Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

Community held hostage


A new mortgage encumbering the Maitland community campus was recently signed.  The campus, home to the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, The Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Academy of Orlando, and the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center, is truly the jewel of our communal assets. Sadly, this process has revealed flaws in the jewel that run so deep it may be cracked beyond repair.

When Bank of America announced that it would not renew the letter of credit for the old mortgage, effectively “calling” the note on the campus, the Federation began to search for new lenders.  It found one, with outstanding terms that provided relief for all the agencies on campus.  But in particular, it would have taken some of the back breaking burden off the Federation’s slumping shoulders, if the other agencies involved had not used the leverage they had to hold the Federation hostage, for their own benefit, disregarding the greater needs of the community.

A little background: The old campus mortgage was, in round numbers, about $5 million.  The JAO and the JCC had previously approved each carrying $1.5 million, along with debt they had already been allocated. The Holocaust Center paid its proportional share, based on its square footage.  The Federation paid the rest, payments that were far greater than they would have been if based on the space the Federation used. Far greater because, every time a campus agency was in arrears (one agency in particular has been for years), or late to make a payment, or crying poor, or failing to meet its obligation to fund property maintenance, the Federation stood up and made good, dipping into reserves, using the annual campaign to shore up the shortfalls.

The new mortgage provides for a longer pay-off period and a much lower interest rate, and even though nearly $1 million was added in fees that had to be paid to Bank of America, the monthly payments on the campus were reduced significantly.

Now here’s the rub.

The new lender insisted that every agency on campus sign the mortgage.  Before they would, negotiations ensued with the Federation. The agencies, which have not received money in recent years from the Federation because of the Federation’s near collapse and shrunken campaign ($700,000 last year; maybe $800,000 this year, from a high of $2 million a little more than a decade ago), demanded that the savings the Federation would have seen, savings that would have allowed the Federation to allocate additional funds to community needs, be given to them on a priority basis. Rather than the Federation saving approximately $100,000/year, funds which could have provided the only community-focused agency tremendous relief, the agencies said, “Give it to us.” And the Federation had no choice, so it did.  Instead of a community-based perspective, the agencies on campus could do nothing more than look out for themselves—to the detriment of all.

What has become glaringly apparent through all these machinations is this: after years of struggling for survival, fighting to maintain a community view, the Federation has absolutely no broad-based support, especially from the agencies it has supported for years. There is no and will never be a community fundraising campaign.  The local agencies will never come together to do what is right based on community needs rather than their own narrowly focused ones. The time has come to take the necessary, if drastic steps, that finally acknowledge the current situation. Here’s what they are:

1) Dissolve the Federation.  There’s no other choice. With no support it sadly serves no purpose. The only true community agency has no community behind it. The great programs the Federation currently provides, like Beit Hamidrash (our extended Jewish high school), will have to be absorbed by other agencies or tragically fall by the wayside.

2) Turn the Facilities Management Committee into the property manager.  Give the agencies what they want—control of the Maitland campus.

3) Sell the JAO building and use the funds to lower the debt. The JAO got more than any agency from the 2000 Capital Campaign, raised less than any other agency, and has never used the entire building that was built specifically for them.  The second story remains unfinished. With an enrollment that is at least 80 pupils less than it was when housed in its original quarters, there is no reason for the JAO to stay where it is.

4) Move the JA back into the old building.  To those who say it can’t survive there, I say look at history. That’s where it was during its greatest success, with more than 240 students. The new building was constructed based on projections of a school with 400 students. The idea that it can’t make it without the new building makes no sense. This will involve the JCC giving up some space it currently uses, to which I say—COMMUNITY. Consider the needs of all. Give up what has to be given up. Do what needs to be done.

5) And finally, the major donors of the community, the people with the deep pockets and real power, need to step up and say, “Enough.” You—our great philanthropists—need to say, “I will give no more.  You will get no more until you change.”

In the most bizarre turn of events, a process that was meant to shore up the community’s resources and protect our greatest asset—our campus that for years has been the heart of Jewish Central Florida—has instead revealed the complete lack of unity, not in our synagogues, not between families, friends, individuals, but between our agencies that should be working together for the greater good.  It’s time we see our agencies for what they are, a band of disparate parts, each invested solely in themselves.  It’s time our agencies realized that sometimes, when you take a hostage, you end up with blood on your hands.

And that’s the tough good word.

The opinions in this column are those of the writer and not the Heritage or any other individual, agency or organization. Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email dsb328@gmail.com.


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