The Kaiserman JCC named veteran JCC executive Alan Scher as its new CEO, effective July 1.
Scher, 41, an associate executive director at the 14th Street Y in New York City, pledged to listen well and build relationships as the JCC considers its post-pandemic future.
“I’m a JCC guy,” he said. “I’ve had the honor and privilege to work at five different JCCs.”
Scher replaces Amy Krulik, who served as CEO from 2017 through March of this year. She left to become executive director of Main Line Reform Temple. Jay Steinberg is serving as the interim CEO.
Scher enters into a difficult situation as the Wynnewood-based JCC celebrates its 50th anniversary, as fallout from a collapsed pool roof in 2013 led to a steep drop in membership (there was no indoor pool again until 2019). And because of the pandemic, the JCC went from closure and furloughs of nearly the entire staff to the rehiring of many of those employees after securing a federal Payroll Protection Program loan.
The fitness facilities remain closed to members, although some group fitness classes are held online and two are held outside. Its preschool continues to operate, the pool just opened for the summer and Camp Kef is slated to begin in June.
Board President Cindy Smukler said Scher is the right person for the job and stood out among the dozen candidates seriously considered.
“From the get-go, I felt his love for the JCC,” she said. “The JCC is in his blood.”
Smukler said Scher will offer a fresh set of eyes to consider the institution’s future.
“He’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get dirty,” she said. “The big question for a lot of JCCs is what we look like in the community now.”
Krulik, who participated on the search committee for her successor, said Scher is well thought of among Jewish communal professionals. She noted there’s an added element for the position.
“You’re looking at things through a Jewish lens … and must be mindful for supporting and honoring our heritage and culture,” she said.
Scher grew up near Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and has Philadelphia childhood memories — a frequently visited cousin in Mt. Airy. He and his wife and two daughters will be moving to a home just four blocks from where the cousin lived.
After graduating from the University of Southern California — he later completed a master’s degree at Sonoma State University — Scher began his JCC career in Chicago. After a stint as a supervising teacher at CalSERVES, NCOEwest, he worked for five years at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.
In 2013, he returned to the East Coast as managing director of youth and family services for the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood in the New York City area. He joined the 14th Street Y in October 2017.
Although each of the JCCs is different in terms of size, amenities and other factors, Scher sees a common element: the ability to bond and inspire the community. That will be valuable post-pandemic.
“I see the antidote to the last 16 months as [being] JCCs,” he said. “People need community more than ever before.”
Scher has no preconceptions heading into the job, saying “it’s somewhat folly,” to come in with pre-formed ideas. By listening and building relationships, the proper direction should present itself, he said.
Scher described the JCC financially as a three-legged stool, with Camp Kef and the Robert J. Wilf Preschool and Kindergarten components doing well — camp enrollment is topping the pre-pandemic 2019 numbers — but the largely closed fitness component creating a major hole.
That means fundraising will be a key component of his job.
“Fundraising is essential for every JCC right now. It’s not a luxury right now,” Scher said. “Increasingly, philanthropy has had to fill that gap.”
The structure of local JCCs has changed radically in recent years.
The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia split up in 2009, leaving the three branches — the Kaiserman JCC, the Gershman Y and the Klein and Stiffel JCCs — on their own, including regarding fundraising.
The Kaiserman JCC is now the only true JCC in the five Southeastern Pennsylvania counties. The Gershman Y morphed into the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival and the Klein and Stiffel JCCs merged into one entity called KleinLife to reflect a larger communal role.
Still, Scher said he’s an optimist by nature.
“I have found out already that the Philadelphia Jewish community is a special place,” he said.
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