Alan Scher, 43, became CEO of the Kaiserman JCC on July 1, 2021.
A veteran of JCCs in Chicago, San Francisco and New York, he was taking on the big job for the first time. And at Kaiserman, it was a big job. The Wynnewood JCC had just been through a decade that included a collapsed pool roof, COVID closures and furloughs and an identity crisis.
What should a JCC be in the 2020s when so many Jewish Americans can work out in almost any shopping center? That was the question as Scher began his role.
Two-plus years in, he thinks he has an answer. But we’ll let him explain.
Let’s focus on two crucial areas for the JCC: Programs and infrastructure. What have you added since taking over?
First and foremost, we clarified the populations we wanted to serve. Young families, older adults and teenagers. We rapidly expanded our preschool. We’re now serving more families than before. We’ve added two classrooms.
The older adult piece is a major area that we have grown back. When I began here, adult programs were at a standstill. Now we’re serving almost 1,000 older adults on an annualized basis. We have this amazing new partnership with Gems at the J. Golden Slipper Gems. It’s an umbrella for the breadth of older adult programs. Classes. Fitness and wellness. We came together at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute to see the new “Golda” (Meir) film. Then we had a dialogue about how the film contextualizes the “Golda” experience.
That’s a nice example of a kind of cultural arts program that Gems will produce moving forward.
In terms of infrastructure improvements, they are a cornerstone of our strategic plan. We recognized that the building needed investment. It didn’t look as fresh as we wanted. Over the course of the last several years, we’ve put several thousand dollars into the building. We radically transformed our swimming pool.
We also put money into the back lobby. The (Philadelphia) Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. The JCC Maccabi Sports Hall of Fame. Gymnasium safety and security.
What are your areas of emphasis moving forward?
We recently procured a grant from the state of Pennsylvania. A half-million-dollar grant to continue to make further investments. But the funding has to be matched dollar for dollar.
We are fundraising to ensure we have that match. We’ve exceeded it. So next year we’ll be investing a million dollars in the building.
The preschool will receive a significant chunk. Especially the lobby. We’re also going to be doing significant work on our gymnasium. To many, it’s the heart and soul of the Kaiserman JCC. It’s the court that Kobe (Bryant) played on.
There will be upgrades to the floor, the bleachers and the lighting.
We are going to be doing HVAC work that ensures we’re energy efficient for the future.
So when you put all these upgrades and plans together, what do you see? What is the Kaiserman JCC in 2023?
Our strategic priority we had at the heart of it a vision of Kaiserman as a hub of Jewish life here in our region. We have become a vibrant center of Jewish culture in the community. We worked with the (Jewish) Federation (of Greater Philadelphia) to host the Israel 75 event (in May). It drew thousands of people.
We, as a JCC, could play that communal tentpole host role. We have an annual fall festival that brings hundreds of people. We celebrate not only Jewish holidays but the spirit of the community.
This summer, we served more children in Camp Kef than ever before. Five hundred-plus children. We are the region’s largest Jewish day camp.
And how do you feel personally about living and working in this area?
I would use the word bashert. I feel so blessed to have found myself here. My family is so thrilled to continue to flourish here. We have found quick and wonderful friendships.
I have really taken to Philadelphia. I’m someone who sides with the underdog. Kaiserman JCC has been a true underdog story.
We continue to have bold, ambitious plans for what we want this community to look like in the future. Conversations with folks in our community but also with Lower Merion Township. Demographics are building around older adults and young families. We’re responsive to our community in those areas.
Those are communities who were so pained by the troubles of the pandemic. The isolation that afflicted those populations was profound. We can be a place that can help this community flourish post-pandemic. I think we’ve played that role and I think we’ll continue to play that role.