Rabbi Philip Warmflash feels fortunate when he reflects on his Jewish Learning Venture career.
“Little did I know when I first moved to Philadelphia that I would be able to stay in the same position for the rest of my career. It really has been a blessing,” he said.
Warmflash announced his pending retirement on June 17 after holding the position of executive director at JLV for 27 years. He will conclude his position at the Jewish education agency on Aug. 31.
“It just felt like it was a good time to be able to go off and do some more studying and follow some other passions I have. I’m looking to do some more consulting work with various organizations, some coaching work, studying more, which I haven’t had a lot of time for, and just enjoying my time more,” he said.
Warmflash has seen the organization through multiple changes over the years. He has maintained his position since the name changed from Community Hebrew Schools to Jewish Outreach Partnership and finally to Jewish Learning Venture.
He received the Covenant Award, one of the highest honors in Jewish education, in 2007, and chaired the Association of Directors of Community Agencies from 2016-2018.
“We’ve always been involved in education and engagement and have changed over the years as the community’s changed. It’s been very exciting,” he said. “I am proud of the fact we have always been able to be one step ahead of whatever was coming next. The creativity, the innovation of the agency, our ability to meet challenges in Jewish education and challenges in the community, it has been wonderful.”
He attributes his ability to maintain excitement for his position to his co-workers.
“I’ve been working with an amazing staff and board and they’ve given me the chance to expand and grow,” he said.
The appreciation is mutual.
Chief Strategy Officer Anna Marx said she feels happy for Warmflash to take his next steps, but sad he will be leaving JLV.
“He’s been such an important figure in our community. He’s been really a great mentor to me and has such a vision to bring Jewish Learning Venture together and make it what it is,” she said.
Chief Program Officer Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer said Warmflash’s leadership style helped JLV create innovative and inclusive programming.
“One of the really exciting things when I look back on the last decade is Phil’s leadership is about empowering people,” Kaplan-Mayer said. “As much as he was a collaborator, especially on community inclusion, he really trusted my vision. There was never once a time when I brought a program idea to him and he said, ‘No don’t do that.’ He always listened to what the idea was and helped me develop it.”
One of the projects Kaplan-Mayer and Warmflash worked on together was a training program for b’nei mitzvah tutors to accommodate students with learning disabilities, one of the first of its kind in the country.
“What if a child struggles with reading Hebrew? What support do we need to put in place? What if there’s a child with sensory issues who’s overwhelmed by being in the synagogue with lots of people? When I brought it to Phil and said, ‘No one’s ever done this,’ he said, ‘OK, let’s do it.”
Warmflash said JLV was one of the earliest organizations to develop inclusive programming for students with special needs and their families.
“When we started doing our work in special needs, it was difficult to get congregations to work with us. Now, we have Jewish Disability and Awareness Month in February. That was part of some hard work that went on over the years,” he said.
The approach has served JLV well during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency responded to social distancing by creating online community programs including jkidphilly Live, which streams educational content for young learners every morning at 10 a.m.
“In a very difficult situation, we’ve been able to create a lot of opportunities, and I’m very proud of that,” Warmflash said.
JLV staff are looking to the organization’s future with optimism.
“I am inspired by what Phil has built helping congregations, educators and families.
Whoever comes to JLV next will have big shoes to fill, but will also have a very clear blueprint of everything that Jewish Learning Venture stands for,” said Robyn Cohen, director of PJ Library in Philadelphia.
Marx and Kaplan-Mayer will lead the organization in interim roles after Warmflash steps down.
“We are excited, we’re developing some new in-the-mail opportunities for families of jkidphilly and we’re really thinking about what’s next for congregational education, especially given the current circumstances,” Marx said. “We’re working very hard this summer to figure out how best to support the community.”
Warmflash is confident he is leaving JLV well-equipped for the future.
“It’s an unstable time, but the agency is in a very stable place. Which is great to see, and it’s because of where we were before the pandemic,” he said.
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