The Closing of the Jewish Center

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



A Tale of Two Centers


Jewish Centers are friendly places where Jews from the community can congregate, can develop friendships, can meet each other, can enjoy various forms of recreation, can exchange information, gossip a bit,  express their manhood through participatory sports, and other comforts.  The women can find like minded people and age mates, and can compare their offspring, their growth, and their accomplishments.  They can exchange political news, which candidate is healthy for the Jews, and, best of all, grown men can delight in locker room jokes, relive their adolescence, and healthy laughter can be heard and enjoyed. Jewish identity is reinforced and outsiders can participate and learn about Jews and Judaism in a benign inviting environment.  This is a place where religious differences among and within the Jewish Community are forgotten and reform, conservative and orthodox members participate freely and peacefully with their fellow co-religionists. The Centers include people and services for and of all ages, from children to senior citizens.  They are able to feel safe and welcome and do not have the need to travel from place to place to meet their various needs. In the past the Centers were in touch with one another and had a common agenda and goals, enabling administration and staff to have curricula which were similarly appealing and which are cost effective. 

Those of us who have been long time supporters and members of the Center were shocked to learn that our main Buffalo Jewish Center, located where the majority of our brethren reside, is being closed.  A lengthy letter with “explanations” and directives arrived at our door.  Allegations of lack of funds, large deficits, and too much unneeded space were some of the rationalizations cited.  Consolations were given freely that people could transfer to the “downtown” center – a center which serves chiefly the public - not the Jewish population (thus it excludes the Jewish elderly, for whom this location is inaccessible), a general gym can be used somewhere in Amherst (this would break up the friendships within the members and they would be dispersed as well as not being Jewish nor having a Jewish orientation), eventually a new Jewish  Center would possibly be built, etc. etc. How would money be spent for a new building if there are not enough funds now to retain that which already exists?  The general membership of the Buffalo Jewish Center were not really consulted.  The participants knew nothing of the plan to close the place and were shocked, “surprised” and dismayed upon receiving the letter that made this unfortunate announcement. 

Could there possibly have been some politics or mismanagement in the decision made?  Before the Kadimah School decided to have its own building, the Jewish Center was asked whether they could utilize a portion of the Center to house all of the students there.  They were willing to pay rent and renovate the back portion for classroom space.  Their offerings were turned down without much consideration.  This move could have lightened the financial burdens for the Center, in addition to those of  Kadimah. 

Long before this final curtain was drawn there was a history of and self aggrandizement among the management.  It is a story of “Chad Gadyo”.  There was a deep chasm between the factual, the visible and reality.  In 1974, when the Benderson (Amherst) building came into being, the executive vice president humbled himself to the Board of Directors publicly.  They called him their Bald Eagle.  The man took off his hat, displayed his hairless cranium and bowed to the Board and the crowd, displaying his alleged good nature and good humor. To the staff he became the angry dictator, and they in turn bowed to his demands with hostile obedience.  Ultimately the membership suffered and were only superficially “consulted” re their wishes and needs. The replay of this situation is thus complete!

The Mission of the Jewish Center is thus declared dead!  Why would Jewish people want to remain in Buffalo, and why would they want to come here where there is next to no Jewish life left?  The Jewish Center held our community together and was a place for warmth, friendship and Yiddishkeit for our brethren. Where is the belief that Jews help one another, that we stand as one?  What happened to the application of “Am Yisroel Chai” or “Hine Ma Tov Umanayim” ?  With the closing of the Jewish Center of Greater Buffalo we are taking away a great part of the cohesiveness and importance of our Jewish Community of Buffalo.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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