When Jeffrey Lasday entered the world of Jewish professionalism in the 10th grade, leading a club of 10-year-olds in the Pittsburgh Young Judaea, his reasoning was simple: “I became a Jewish professional for the money.”
The position paid $5 per hour, but it opened Lasday up to the world of possibilities being a leader in the Jewish community had to offer.
Now Lasday is taking his 40 years of experience as a Jewish educator and professional and applying it to his role as the senior chief, external affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which he took on Dec. 20.
“I navigate towards people who don’t just look at this as a job, but really embody the whole Jewish community in their lives. So they personally participate; they personally engage. They’re members of Jewish organizations and not just someone who clocks in at a job,” Jewish Federation President and CEO Michael Balaban said. “Jeff and his family have always been deeply steeped in the Jewish community.”
As senior chief, external affairs, Lasday will work to build relationships within the Jewish Federation, as well as work with congregations, organizations and constituent agencies in the Greater Philadelphia area to build more synergistic bonds.
“It’s working with the larger Jewish community and thinking about, ‘What would an ideal 21st-century Jewish Philadelphia look like?’” Lasday said.
Having served various leadership roles in Jewish educational institutions in St. Louis and New York, Lasday made the bulk of his impact thus far in Detroit, where he was the director of the Alliance for Jewish Education and senior director of community development at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit before becoming the chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Center there in 2017.
At the time, the JCC of Metropolitan Detroit was losing more than $1 million a year. It was forced to close down one of its two buildings and reduce the staff and budget. In partnership with JCC CEO Brian Siegel, Lasday created a seven-point strategic plan to rescue the JCC.
“We integrated our departments in the [Jewish] Federation with the departments that were existing at the JCC and created a new vision for what a 21st-century JCC should look like,” Lasday said.
With a $2.5 million budget, 15 full-time professionals and more than 100 consultants, Lasday’s department was transferred from the Jewish Federation to the JCC to smooth out operations there.
“In Hebrew, there’s a term, tzimtzum, which means contract,” Lasday said. “[Jewish] Federation was willing to contract some of its programming for the better good of the Jewish community.”
2017 was not Lasday’s last encounter with tzimtzum. As COVID hit in early 2020, the JCC was forced to furlough 90% of its staff — 230 employees — as well as shut down its fitness center, day care and day camp, the lifeblood of most JCCs.
“At the JCC, for us, it became a matter of just being able to survive,” Lasday said.
Navigating decision-making weekly, the JCC, under the guidance of Lasday, was able to successfully open their outdoor pool and later other facilities with COVID-protocols that aligned with the information available to them at the time.
“It was really a matter of holding our breaths and getting through and making decisions — like everybody at that time was — with not enough information,” Lasday said.
After the birth of a granddaughter last year, Lasday wanted to move back to the East Coast to be closer to his and his wife’s family. A friend of Balaban’s for more than 27 years, the two connected to discuss a position for Lasday in Philadelphia.
Lasday’s hiring is part of a larger reorganization effort within the Jewish Federation that included the transition of Nikki DeCaro to the position of senior chief, finance and operations.
“This is a team sport,” Balaban said. “We’ve reorganized three key areas of the organization. Nikki plays a central piece, I play a central piece and Jeff plays a central piece in helping to reformulate those corridors of the organization, those pillars.”
With Lasday on board, Balaban is confident the reorganization will progress smoothly.
“He really has an incredible way of maximizing people’s potential and will be a great asset to me as we work to tackle some of the larger issues and opportunities that we face as a community,” Balaban said.