Ruling Favoring JCA Gives Renewed Hope

In a most welcome development in the long struggle over the future of the Cedars at the Jewish Center for Aged, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Melvyn W. Wiesman ruled in favor of Cedars/JCA in its trial seeking an injuction to prevent PAMI, the mortgage holder of the property, from foreclosing without first giving the agency the opportunity to purchase the mortgage note. As reported in an article by Mike Sherwin in the St. Louis Jewish Light on June 25, Judge Wiesman ruled that PAMI, a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers, must give the Cedars/JCA a “purchase notice,” as stipulated in the original lease of the ground on which the Cedars was built. The Cedars at the JCA is a 252-bed senior care facility, which serves mostly frail elderly members of the Jewish community. The $60 million facility, built to replace the former outmoded buildings, was opened in 2003.

Cutting through the legal language, the ruling provides an opportunity for the Cedars at the JCA to continue to fulfill its mission to the Jewish community, dating back to its founding, to provide a nursing home facility for the indigent elderly members of the Jewish community in a setting that is sensitive to the specific needs of its Jewish residents, including provision of kosher food, a Jewish chaplain and a Jewish synagogue/chapel on the premises. If the ruling had gone the other way, it is possible that the new owners could decide to terminate that commitment to the Jewish community. The framers of the original lease of the ground on which the Cedars is built deserve credit for their prudence and foresight to assure that every possible avenue was kept open to assure the continuation of a non-profit Jewish home for the aged. Such facilities have been in place in St. Louis since the establishment of the original Jewish Orthodox Old Folks Home in 1907 and the Reform Jewish Home for Aged and Infirm Israelites in 1885; the two separate facilities merged as the Jewish Center for Aged in 1940.

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The leadership of the Jewish Center for Aged concluded that the facilities on South Outer 40 Road, to which the JCA had moved in the 1980s were outmoded and in need of replacement. The beautiful, state-of-the art, $60 million facility which was built on the JCA property was designed to meet the needs of the Jewish community into the 21st century. Unfortunately, unforeseen factors, such as the huge increase in insurance and security costs after 9/11, along with the big price tag for the new facilities, created a major financial crisis for the agency, and considerable consternation among the families of the residents, rabbis of all streams of Judaism, and groups like Jews United for Justice, who were concerned that a possible financial failure of the agency would make it impossible for the JCA to fulfill its historic mission.

Ken Rubin, president of the JCA Board of Directors, said the court ruling by Judge Wiesman was “as positive an outcome as we could have hoped for. The judge’s decision supports what we have been saying our rights have been all along. It certainly gives us a much better opportunity to continue our mission, and that’s what the board is looking to preserve — the mission of this over 100-year-old institution.”

Rubin indicated that there are three different options going forward. PAMI/Lehman Brothers could appeal; they could issue a purchase notice, or they could want to talk about some kind of settlement. He added that the JCA Board and Executive Committee are working hard to analyze the various alternatives and to be in a position to respond whatever happens.

The leadership of the Cedars at the JCA, along with the Jewish Federation and other interested parties, have been working diligently to see that everything possible is done to assure that our community will continue to meet the needs of its frail elderly members. There will be many more challenges ahead, and the price tag will likely be financially significant. But there is really no alternative but to seek a permanent solution to the challenges facing the Cedars/JCA to make absolutely sure that we will always be able to fulfill the mitzvah to “honor our father and our mother.”

We strongly support the efforts by the leadership of the JCA/Cedars and the Jewish Federation to take advantage of the new opportunity provided by the court ruling, and urge our readers to be prepared to generously support whatever needs to be done to keep our promise to our elderly community members. No other alternative is acceptable, and we are confident that as always, the 60,000-member Jewish community of St. Louis will do whatever is necessary to fulfill this commitment.