Jacobs family tells its La Jolla and JCC history

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L-R, Gary, Joan and Irwin Jacobs; Arna Poupko, and Craig Taubman.  (Photo: A Victor Goodpasture)

L-R, Gary, Joan and Irwin Jacobs; Arna Poupko, and Craig Taubman. (Photo: A Victor Goodpasture)

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—Philanthropists Joan and Irwin Jacobs of San Diego told of four Jewish institutions they had a hand in building—and also disclosed a detour that happened along the way.

The couple—who met at Cornell University and later migrated to San Diego where Irwin went on to  co-found the large digital communications firm Qualcomm—were part of a panel that was moderated by their son, Gary, on “Building Jewish Connections and Community” and presented Tuesday, April 1, the concluding day of the biennial convention of the Jewish Community Center Association.

After noting that he had spent some time as a youth at a Jewish Community Center near his home in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Irwin told of visiting Warsaw much later in his life and seeing that while children were being dropped off at the center, their parents typically stayed away.  He said that he and Joan decided to back a program to get mothers to accompany their children to the center.  They also provided funding for “a good Internet service.”

In Budapest, he said, on a tour conducted by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (popularly known as the “Joint”) they visited a center that attracted youngsters and seniors but not anyone in the age cohorts between.  Irwin said he and Joan decided to help dig out the basement of the building and put in a health club.

There was also an old synagogue in Kishinev, Moldova, which he described as one of the poorest countries in Europe.  The building was in shambles, so he and his wife decided to contribute funds to rebuild it.

The JCC in which they were most involved was the Lawrence Family JCC in the La Jolla section of San Diego. The campus is named for their family in honor of their contributions.  Son Gary, who looked on as his father spoke, had served as president of that institution during the time of its expansion.

Joan related their family moved in the 1960s to La Jolla in order for Irwin to take a faculty position at UC San Diego, where today the School of Engineering bears their family’s name.  At the time Realtors did not want Jews to settle in the area—believing Jewish residents would lower property values—and devised a system for alerting each other when a prospective buyer was Jewish.  Such a buyer then would be told that the house no longer was available. However, Roger Revelle, who then was the leader of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, was able to persuade Realtors that houses would be worth more with a new University in the neighborhood.  If they wanted such a university, the Realtors would have to end their discriminatory practices.

Not long after arriving in La Jolla, said Joan, she was part of an effort to find land to build a JCC somewhere in the area.  She went looking for land where such a JCC could be built.   Instead, she said, she “found a lot for our home.”  That was the detour.

It was not until 1981, she told the JCCA delegates, that the JCC entered into a 50-year agreement with the City of San Diego to build and operate a facility on public land in the La Jolla area.  M. Larry Lawrence, owner of the Hotel del Coronado, made the lead gift for the center, which thereafter became known as the Lawrence Family JCC.   A 50-year extension has already been granted, she said.

Joan and Irwin Jacobs  noted that they have four sons and 11 grandchildren. All of the grandchildren have attended the preschool at the JCC, Joan said.

The family members said they make contributions to other institutions including Jewish Family Service, the Food Bank, and more recently, San Diego’s new Central Library.  “Education is very important to us,” said Irwin.  He added that his family financially supports UCSD, MIT, Cornell University and the Technion.  Recently, he noted, they helped to create the Technion-Cornell Applied Science School On Roosevelt Island in New York City.

The other two panelists were Arna Poupko Fisher, a philosophy professor at the University of Cincinnati. and Craig Taubman, a singer and songwriter.

Poupko offered three suggestions for the JCC movement.  The first challenged JCC’s not only to find ways to connect people, but also to create programs and spaces that reinforce Jewish identity.  There should be buildings with a Jewish sense to them, she said.  There is “no such thing as ‘too Jewish,’” she asserted.   Second, said Poupko, programs at the JCC should have contemporary meaning.  With Pesach coming up, she suggested, as an example, that programming juxtapose the Hebrew slavery of old with other kinds of slavery today, particularly human trafficking.  Her third suggestion was that JCC’s develop programming to validate the lives and works of their members.  For example, she said JCC’s may want to develop contests for seniors to reflect on their lives.  And, “mitzvah days” for youth and adults alike could prompt JCC members to go out into the community to engage in acts of tikkun olam.

Taubman told of going as a child on Disneyland’s “Small World” ride and enjoying seeing animated figures, representing the children of nations around the world, singing “It’s a Small World” in their native languages. But the “special part for me was when I heard it in Hebrew,” said Taubman.  “Then the ‘Small World’ became my world.”   His sense of Jewish pride grew stronger after attending Jewish camp and later going to live in Israel for several years.   Eventually he became a song leader at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, where he helped to develop “Friday night live” Shabbat services that he said regularly attract as many as 1,000 people. Such Shabbat programs require innovations, some of which traditionalists might find objectionable.  However, he asserted, we “can’t let our traditions get in the way of our mission.”

Currently Taubman is involved in a charitable venture in which a former synagogue turned church at Pico Boulevard and Union Street in Los Angeles  brings together people of mixed ethnic and religious backgrounds.  While the various religious denominations conduct their own services in the sanctuary, there are numerous events that bring  all the parties together.  “You can’t love your neighbor unless you know your neighbor,” said Taubman.

*
Donald H. Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World, which seeks sponsorships to be placed, as this notice is, just below articles that appear on our site.  To inquire, call him at (619) 265-0808 or contact him via [email protected]

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