Beth Sholom Congregation Hires Danielle Otero as Executive Director

Danielle Otero (Photo by Raymond Otero)

In 2013, Danielle Otero moved to Wyncote with her husband, Raymond Otero, and young son. Raymond Otero had gotten a job at a tech firm, and they wanted to be closer to family in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The Oteros also wanted to join a Conservative synagogue. One day, they went to an Israeli festival in Center City. They walked by a booth about a preschool at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park.

Two members, Kim Decker and Eileen Weingram, started talking to the young couple.

“And the rest was history,” Otero said.

The family joined the synagogue. The parents sent their three children, now five, eight and 11, through that preschool. And on Dec. 14, the board of directors of Beth Sholom Congregation sent out an email to its community.

“The board of directors at Beth Sholom Congregation is pleased to announce the hiring of Danielle Otero as its new executive director,” it said.

Otero’s Jewish home is now her full-time job, too. The 39-year-old had visited Conservative synagogues before. But she saw something about Beth Sholom starting with that day at the Israeli festival.

“There was just something about it. Something intangible,” Otero said. “You walk into a service and people smile. The way people greet you. People just love seeing the kids here.”

Otero joined the Elkins Park synagogue for its preschool initially, and she got “very involved” in the school early on. The family became part of Beth Sholom’s Brodie Family Early Learning Center preschool initiative, a pathway to full membership that gives families a discount on preschool tuition and synagogue membership in exchange for attending a few events a year.

“The goal is for families to continue onward in the synagogue and stay involved,” Otero said.

First and foremost, the mother appreciated the teachers in the preschool.

“Our teachers love the children. They are not just there to teach the kids. They love the kids,” she said. “It’s evident and the kids feel it.”

So then, she became parent-teacher organization president for “many years.” But as Otero said of her family, they became the prototype for the preschool initiative. That’s because from early on, they liked the rest of the synagogue community, too.

When they first joined, the Oteros were invited into people’s homes for Shabbat dinners. They also talked to the rabbis, David Glanzberg-Krainin (still with Beth Sholom) and Andrea Merow (no longer there), about the shul’s open-door policy. The rabbis were all ears if the parents had ideas for new programs.

Danielle Otero, back left, at a congregational event (Courtesy of Art Lashin)

Over time, Otero joined the board of directors and became chair of the congregational engagement committee. She also realized that the rabbis meant what they had said.

The synagogue went from having tot Shabbat services five times a year to once a month, according to Otero. It started a bar mitzvah program for kids who are becoming adults in the same year to gather for dinner and plan social service projects together. It also began hosting Friday night Shabbat dinners catered by a kosher restaurant in the area called Judah Grill.

“People come for the food but also for the socializing,” Otero said.

Otero had a career working in development and program management for nonprofits and government organizations. But she stopped in 2011 to have kids.

Then, over time, she began picking up more lay leadership hours at Beth Sholom. It never felt like a job because it was close to her heart. But it was time consuming.

“I had always known I would go back to work. My youngest is in kindergarten now,” she said. “When the opportunity arose to take on this position, it just made sense. I’m not a newcomer. I know the staff. I know the congregants. There’s very few surprises to me.”

Synagogue leaders and congregants know Otero, too.

“She has been a member of Beth Sholom Congregation for nearly a decade. She is intelligent, strategic, and hardworking,” said the board in its email. “She has developed strong relationships during her time as a member of our congregation and has intimate knowledge of our operations.”

The Old York Road synagogue still has 450 member households, according to Otero. And her goals for building and perhaps growing the community are aligned with the board’s goals.

“Improving congregational engagement, growing membership, enhancing congregational culture, enhancing our religious experience, continuing to enhance and upkeep our physical plant and achieving our budget,” Otero said. “We have expanded our welcoming protocol for new members. We’re prioritizing engaging our current members.”

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