Sam Sorin, 90, Led JCC During Its Heyday


Sam Sorin served as a leader of the former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia during its golden years.

Sam Sorin, longtime executive vice president of the former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia during its golden years, died on Feb. 26 at age 90.
During his tenure at the JCCs, its budget grew from $1.6 million in 1971 to $9.5 million. Memberships also tripled and exceeded 23,000 when he retired in 1991. Years after his departure, the JCC decentralized, with each former branch becoming autonomous.
Judaism and Israel played pivotal roles in his life. 
Born in Cleveland, his parents were from the shtetl-sprinkled region of Eastern Europe that was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia. Sorin’s father was a chazzan, and his mother was a leader in Jewish communal life as well as a dedicated homemaker. 
Sorin’s first language was Yiddish; he grew up in a household with stories of pogroms and Cossacks. He always joked that he didn’t know that non-Jews existed until he went to high school, according to his daughter, Fran.
He attended Ohio State University; his time there was interrupted by an army stint from 1943 to 45. He served in France and Belgium and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. 
After returning from the army, Sorin received his degree from Western Reserve University, where he met his wife, Lois Fraiberg. They married and moved to Pittsburgh, where Sorin received his MSW from the University of Pittsburgh.
Sorin began his career in the Jewish centers field in 1950. After an initial stint in Cleveland, he and his family moved to Dallas, serving as executive director of the Jewish Centers there for seven years, eventually winding his way to Philadelphia in 1970.
Sorin was adamant about making the Jewish Ys and Centers Jewish in content as well as in name. For several years, under his leadership, the local JCC staff participated in an annual training program in Israel. The program, the first of its kind for any JCC in North America, later became a model for others.
Sorin himself was a frequent visitor to Israel. He was particularly proud when his granddaughter, Erika, made aliyah, served in the Israeli army and received her education in Israel. His grandson, Jason, and daughter eventually moved there as well, all currently residing in Tel Aviv.
He is survived by two daughters, Deborah Leff and Fran; a son, David; his companion, Adele Crane; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.


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