Kohelet Yeshiva’s story over the past seven years has been one of growth.
In 2016, donor David Magerman gave Kohelet Yeshiva High School $30 million. With that generous gift, Kohelet merged with the Yeshiva Lab School to open an elementary program. It also built Kohelet Yeshiva Middle School. Three years later, Magerman paid for a 30,000-square-foot building to house the K-8 program. And in July 2022, he teamed up with another donor, Scott Seligsohn, to gift $12 million more to the school. Next year, Kohelet will embark on another expansion project, according to Communications Coordinator Nachi Troodler. The school began in 2000 with 15 students in the basement of a JCC. By 2023-’24, it will welcome 355 students, according to Troodler.
And now, it has also found the person to oversee this new, improved and much bigger version of Kohelet Yeshiva: Jennifer Groen. The 50-year-old will become executive director of the school on Aug. 1.
The lifelong congregant of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park is not technically a member of the Lower Merion Jewish community in which Kohelet operates. But she has educational experiences in the wider, Philadelphia-area Jewish community from which Kohelet attracts students. Groen has worked for the nonprofit organization Moving Traditions, the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College and the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.
Groen describes herself on her LinkedIn page as someone who “works collaboratively to cultivate and grow communities to improve the world.”
“I grew Barrack’s enrollment. I worked with Moving Traditions and grew their program. And when I was at Gratz, we grew the student body,” Groen said. “This is a natural progression for me.”
“We are excited to have Jennifer Groen bring her extensive experience in the area of Jewish education and Jewish day schools to Kohelet Yeshiva,” said Andrew Paris, the president of Kohelet Yeshiva’s board of directors. “As Kohelet Yeshiva continues to experience growth and works to further enhance the Judaic studies and general studies education that we are privileged to provide to hundreds of students in grades K-12, we are thrilled to add Jennifer Groen to our amazing administrative team.”
Groen will become part of a leadership team that includes Becky Troodler, the principal of Kohelet’s lab school and middle school, and Rabbi Noam Stein, the principal of the high school. As Lori Salkin, the incoming president of Kohelet’s board of directors, explained, Troodler and Stein are responsible for academics. Groen is responsible for funding, building construction, security and finances. All three report to the Yeshiva’s 22-person board.
Due to the public-facing nature of her role, Groen’s personality helped her get the job. Salkin said Groen “is really outstanding in terms of her warmth and people skills.”
“She immediately impressed us with her ability to connect,” Salkin added.
Groen explained that the same ability helped her in previous roles. She worked at Barrack for the past 11 years, rising to the position of assistant head of school for the last three. As an alumna of the institution, she felt she could “speak passionately” to potential families and donors.
In the 2000s, her role at the Jewish Community High School of Gratz involved driving around to synagogues on Sunday mornings to talk about the importance of Hebrew school after the b’nai mitzvah process. Gratz’s program grew to 13 satellite campuses and almost 900 students during her eight years helping to lead it.
At Kohelet, Groen’s job will be bigger but not much different.
“Meeting people,” she said. “Finding out what Kohelet needs. Talking to board members and the staff and learning as much as I can. I’m just going to be going on a listening tour for a little while.”
As its name suggests, Kohelet Yeshiva is a modern Orthodox community. And while Groen does not describe herself that way, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors has made it her mission to further Jewish education.
She believes in a modern Orthodox education like she believes in a pluralistic one and in continuing to study after the b’nai mitzvah. Groen belongs to a Conservative synagogue, but she does not put a label on her “Jewish journey,” she said.
She’s an active member of Beth Sholom. Her children go to day school and Jewish summer camp. She calls herself a Zionist who frequently visits Israel.
“It’s how I live my life,” she said. “You can’t separate the Jewish from the Jen.”