A $6.5 million donation to the Washington DC Jewish Community Center is not only the largest gift the center has ever received, but accorded to CEO Carole Zawatsky, it also is one of the largest ever given to a JCC that is similar in size to the one in the District of Columbia.
The donation from Irwin and Ginny Edlavitch of Washington, which was announced Dec. 2, is “such a tribute to the vibrancy of Jewish life and community,” said Zawatsky. “It’s quite remarkable. The best way to say it is [that] we are absolutely blown away by the magnitude of their generosity. This is a couple who is committed to D.C.”
Irwin Edlavitch, in a prepared statement, said, “This campaign is an opportunity for us to leave a lasting legacy to an institution that is at the heart of the city we love, Washington, D.C. We are proud to help transform the home of this thriving Jewish community.”
Added Ginny Edlavitch, “We are honored that our philanthropy can provide numerous opportunities for the center to enlarge and engage the Washington, D.C., community for now and into the future.”
The condition for accepting the gift was renaming the building in Dupont Circle. It will be known as the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, D.C.
The center’s board of directors agreed Dec. 1 to accept the multi-million dollar donation with a “thunderous applause of unanimity,” said Zawatsky.
“The entire board literally broke into thunderous applause.” The reaction was one of “pure joy,” she added.
The Edlavitch name is not new to the JCC in the city or to other organizations.
The couple previously donated $1.5 million to the DCJCC during the center’s renovation campaign in 1996, and the current JCC building is the Irwin P. Edlavitch Building.
Now the entire institution, from its preschool to its arts and speakers programs, will bear the Edlavitch name as well.
The Edlavitchs also have donated to Washington Hebrew Congregation. The synagogue’s rental hall that is used for special occasions bears the couple’s name.
The couple also have been supporters of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
In 2010, the Edlavitch family donated $5 million to fund a cardiology outpatient clinic at Children’s National Medical Center in the city. They are also avid supporters of the arts, with the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Gallery of Art and the Harman Center for the Arts benefiting from their largesse.
Irwin Edlavitch, who owned and operated Atlantic Garage, is president and director of the Irwin P. Edlavitch Foundation, a nonprofit in McLean that was founded in 2008. He is also a past president of the Washington Parking Association and director of the National Parking Association.
He has served on various boards, including the DCJCC, the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Washington, and the Children’s National Medical Center Foundation.
His wife, Ginny, a longtime member of the DCJCC’s board of directors, was a former special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She is involved in philanthropic work and sits on several boards.
The gift to the JCC marks the kickoff of its capital campaign. The money will be used to create additional spaces in its historic building for arts and culture, learning and youth programs.
Preliminary plans include a second, flexible performing arts space to support the center’s theater and film, literature and music festivals.
The renovation plans also include additional classrooms for the early childhood center and other youth and family programs and will provide better access for individuals with disabilities.
The money raised also will be put toward making the building more energy efficient.
Additional space is needed, Zawatsky said, noting that the vast majority of the DCJCC’s programs and classes “routinely sell out. We are bursting at the seams.”
Three-and-a-half years ago, the center served 285 families in its preschool program. Today there are 1,300, she said. There are 200 children on the waiting list for preschool programming.
Increasing the number of children in preschool, camp and after-school programming helps enable the Jewish community to thrive in the District, Zawatsky said.
The DCJCC has been seeking to expand its presence in the District for a while. In May, it purchased a three-story townhouse for $2.45 million, directly across the street from the center.
The townhouse is being used for offices so that the center could increase the number of its rooms used for classes and programs.
The Edlavitchs’ gift was received in total, putting its fund-raising efforts into high gear right away.
“When we started planning our capital campaign, we could not have imagined the size of this lead gift nor the opportunities it now presents for the center, our Jewish community and the entire city,” said JCC board president Stephen Kelin. He called the donation “transformative.”
Executive board member Tina Small said the donation was “such an extraordinary opportunity” for the JCC, its physical building and Washington.
“It allows us to go forward,” she said.
The Edlavitchs made it clear that their donation was not just for today but also for the future, said Small, a Bethesda resident. The couple did not ask the board to change any of its programming, but rather insisted that the center’s staff “just continue what you are doing.”