On April 12, members of the Klein and Stiffel Jewish Community Center boards met privately. By an 11-1 vote, they passed a resolution to shutter the Stiffel because it's too expensive to maintain.
They set June 30 as the last day of operations, but that could change. The board and its overseer, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, hope for some sort of miracle.
In any other city, wouldn't you expect a fuss when so much history is about to be extinguished? Rakhmiel Peltz would. He's director of Jewish studies at Drexel University and has taught Yiddish at Stiffel since the 1980s.
"There is absolutely no appreciation of living Jewish history within the organized Jewish community," he said. "What an outcry would arise in New York if they announced the closing of the Henry Street Settlement or the Educational Alliance."
The Stiffel center is just as important to this community, he said. And its significance has to do as much with its multicultural present as with its Jewish past.
Once, 100,000 Jewish immigrants lived in South Philadelphia, but that number had fallen to about 2,000 in the mid-1980s, when Peltz spent a year researching Yiddish culture in the neighborhood.
So the center began serving newer emigres arriving in Philadelphia, and demand for its services remains pitched.
"The big event each year is the communal Passover seder," Peltz said. "This year I sat at the Vietnamese table and I loved it. They were laughing and eating the matzo at the wrong time - they didn't realize it was not just a meal but a ritual."
Bobby Rosin, who has taught art once a week at Stiffel since the 1980s, said the center had never seemed more vital than now.
"It's thriving," Rosin said. Her husband, Richard, cast the vote against closing. "I feel like my art class is a microcosm of the center itself and how the world should be. That sounds hokey, but we've had Jews, Italians, Ukrainians, African Americans, Polish people, Hispanics, Chinese Americans.
"Everyone delights in each other and their progress. It seems to me the federation really ought to take pride in this diversity and do what they can to keep it going."
Stu Coren, a spokesman for the Klein and Stiffel JCCs, said the South Philadelphia Center costs $400,000 a year to run and was losing "significant amounts of money." The boiler and roof must be replaced - costing another $400,000.
The board, he said, felt it would be better to serve clients at three other South Philadelphia senior centers or at the Klein JCC in Northeast Philadelphia - which is a hike, but people could travel by Paratransit.
A federation official said his agency was willing to fund Stiffel until a plan is devised to serve all of its former clients.
"I don't know if this is the way of the world or if there is a solution to the problem," said Murray Dubin, a former Inquirer reporter who grew up in the neighborhood.
The center is where Dubin went to Hebrew school, where he learned to shoot baskets under its low ceilings, where his father had a stroke.
When Stiffel became a senior center in 1975, Dubin's parents, Mary and Benny, went there each day. His mother chaired the advisory board, making speeches in a style that made Peltz think he was listening to the queen of England.
"If my mom was alive, I'd be furious," Dubin said. "She's not. So I'm just sort of sad."
Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917 or email@example.com.