Federation, JCC buildings damaged by tornado
Photo:Courtesy JFGD 
The facade of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas after the Oct. 18 tornado.

Twister decimates Federation interior, J on Wheels

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Two key Dallas Jewish community institutions suffered major damage from the EF3 Tornado that cut a 15-mile swath from I-35 to Richardson. The Aaron Family Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas which share the same campus at 7800-7900 Northaven Road were hit hard by the twister. 

Because it was Sunday night, the JCC was already closed when the storm hit and no one was in the building or on the campus. The JCC and Federation were already scheduled to be closed on Monday and Tuesday in observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

The JCC, 7900 Northaven

JCC president and CEO Artie Allen ran through the significant damage that was known on Monday afternoon. 

“We have a lot of damage to the outside of the building. We lost our J on Wheels. It’s gone, we found it but it’s destroyed,”  he said referring to the JCC’s mobile unit which travels around bringing JCC programs to where Jewish people are out in the community at large. The state-of-the art trailer landed in the front yard of Bruce Birnbaum across Northaven from the JCC. The white pick-up truck which tows the trailer was also totaled thrown from the Federation parking lot into the fence that borders Northaven Gardens.

This is the second time in four months that the JCC has been pummeled by a severe storm. The June 9 windstorm damaged trees and fencing and knocked out power.

“This is much more devastating, much more devastating.” said Allen.

There is debris on the inside of the building that needs to be cleaned up he explained. The biggest issue is that the Donsky gyms took on water from gashes in the roof. There is standing water on the wood floors. All in all, Allen says he believes that the J was lucky because no one was on the campus or hurt. “Someone was looking out for us,” he said.

At press time Tuesday, the J planned to remain closed on  Wednesday. When it reopens will depend on when they can get power to the building which was still out Tuesday night.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, 7800 Northaven Road

While JCC will be able to restore operations in its own building as soon as possible, the interior damage to the Federation is extensive. 

“Our building is severely damaged. We won’t be back in it for a number of months,” said Mariam Shpeen Feist, Federation president and CEO. 

Federation COO Gary Wolff was the first on the scene about 7:45 Monday morning. Based on what he had heard about the damage at the JCC, he was expecting something similar at the Federation. “I walked inside the building and ceiling tiles were everywhere,” Wolff said. “As I walked around the Federation the sounds got louder [ water beneath his feet] and the water was more visible.” He estimates that there was approximately four inches of water.

Meeting Wolff at the Federation was Vincent Gammieri, the Federation’s director of Information Systems and Operations. The pair headed to the server room and began salvaging computer equipment.

Over the last four months, the Federation has been working on continuity planning in the event of needing to move their operations offsite in an emergency.

JFS was part of that plan, and the Federation will operate out of the JFS boardroom through Friday. Depending on when the JCC gets power restored, the next step would be to move to the Mankoff Center on the second floor of the JCC until next steps can be determined.

At press time, the Federation planned to be up and running Wednesday morning in the boardroom of Jewish Family Service through Friday. 

“From the outside view of everyone in the community, nobody will be able to tell the difference, said Federation Board Chair A.J. Rosmarin. “It’s a tribute to the staff. Everything will keep rocking along.”

Feist echoed the sentiment that the professional staff of both the Federation and other Jewish community organizations have been unbelievable.

This is about being there for the community to rebuild, our resilience and to be strong. I’m incredibly grateful to our agency and partner executive leadership. It’s been exemplary.

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