Richard Siegel, Director, Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management
Sunday, February 8, 2015
You’re not supposed to teach Torah in front of your teacher. I’m here to say a few words about the history of the school… which puts me in the awkward position of doing just that: talking about the founding of the school in front of the founder of the school. So, Jerry… forgive me…
In 1968, when what is now the HUC-JIR School of Jewish Nonprofit Management was founded in LA as the School of Jewish Communal Service, it was not the first school ever dedicated to the education of Jewish professionals. From the beginning of the 20th Century, there were several attempts to create graduate programs to educate professional leaders for the growing network of community centers, federations, advocacy organizations, cultural institutions and social service agencies which comprised the “American Jewish Community.” But while the School of Jewish Communal Service was not the first school of its kind, it was the first successful school of its kind… as evidenced by the hundreds of Jewish professionals who have graduated over the past 47 years and the impact our alumni have had and are having on the landscape of American Jewish life.
So why did the SJNM succeed when so many other attempts had failed? Because of three factors: it was founded at the right time, in the right place, and by the right people.
As many of you here remember, 1968 was a pivotal year in America. Among other things, it was the year that the first Baby Boomers graduated from college. The Baby-Boomers were an idealistic generation bursting onto the public stage and looking either to take over and transform, or to tear down and build new institutions for American society and polity.
The Jewish Baby-Boomers were similarly looking at the institutions of American Jewish life and saying that we could do better. And in line with the identity politics of the time, they felt empowered to reappropriate their Jewish identities and reshape the contours of American Jewish life in their image. The year that this school was founded was also the year that the Boston Havurah... the epi-center of the Jewish counter-culture... was founded. And they both shared the same ethos… to make Jewish life in America relevant, meaningful, creative, and excellent.
This was also the right place… both the institution and the location. We should remember that in the original charter of the Hebrew Union College in 1875, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise spoke about the training and education of rabbis and social workers for the American Jewish community. Now we’ve expanded “social workers” to include the whole spectrum of Jewish communal professionals, but there is no doubt that the SJNM is a realization of Wise’s vision, and as such, it is a perfect example of “Sof ma-aseh, b’macha-shava tehila. Last to be created, but imagined from the beginning.” And Los Angeles was the ideal venue… the newest campus, in the fastest growing Jewish community in the country, in a city that was redefining the American dream.
But even more than the right time and the right place, there were the right people. More than anything else, this school was founded because of the partnership of three remarkable Jewish thinkers and leaders… Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, Bert Gold and Jerry Bubis. Alfred Gottschalk was the Dean of the LA campus at the time, and he saw an opportunity for the college to have an impact on the increasingly influential American Jewish communal infrastructure taking shape beyond the synagogue. To help flesh out the concept, he enlisted Bert Gold, at the time head of the JCC’s in the Los Angeles area, and soon to become the highly influential Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee. And together, they made one of the most inspired hires of all time. They engaged Jerry Bubis… then a young Jewish Community Center director... to rigorously test out the concept and then to put the pieces in place to actually open and sustain a school… core values, educational philosophy, curriculum, faculty, and, most importantly, students.
Jerry served as director of the school for 19 years, until his retirement in 1987, and during that time, he built a school of distinction, known for excellence in professional leadership. At the beginning, there was only the graduate certificate, both for professionals already in the field… as well as for rabbinical students to learn the organizational skills they would need in their careers as rabbis. As the program expanded into a Masters degree, Jerry introduced field internships as a central pillar of the practice-based education. He designed the Israel Seminar… now the Steven Windmueller Israel Seminar... to give students a more sophisticated understanding of the Jewish state; and he negotiated truly ground-breaking joint and dual degree agreements with the Rhea Hirsch School of Education right here, and with the Marshall School of Business, the Price School of Public Policy, the Annenberg School of Communication, and of course, the School of Social Work, at our neighbor and partner, the University of Southern California. It is literally impossible to imagine this school without Jerry’s love for the Jewish people, his vision for the American Jewish community, and his belief in the profession of Jewish communal service. Jerry, we are in your debt.
Fortunately, the directors who followed after Jerry not only maintained his standards, but were attentive to the trends developing in the nonprofit and Jewish worlds and adjusted the school’s program accordingly: Ted Kanner,z’l, former CEO of the LA Federation, who unfortunately died early in his tenure; Jack Mayer, a distinguished Jewish leader who continues to serve the nonprofit community in the LA area; Dr. Steven Windmueller, who before becoming the school director was the Executive Director of the Albany Federation and the LA JCRC… who only stepped down from the position to become the Dean of the LA campus… and who, now in retirement, continues to serve as a valued advisor, advocate, friend and fundraiser for the school... and finally Marla Abraham who served as Interim Director after Steven and went on to distinguished service at the LA Federation and now at the American Jewish Committee. I am honored to be in their company and to carry on their legacy.
Of course, others also played significant roles in the evolution of the school, and I would be remiss not to mention the two Presidents I’ve had the pleasure to serve under… David Ellenson and now Aaron Panken… the current Dean, Josh Holo, who has been a leader in the re-envisioning of the school… and all the faculty throughout the years.
But the school is more than the directors, administration and teachers. Two other groups of people have been and still are essential to the story of the School of Jewish Nonprofit Management. First, our students and alumni… for whom this entire enterprise has been built and through whose professional achievements the reputation of the school has been and will be carried. I would like to acknowledge all of our students and alumni who are with us, including the chair of the SJNM Alumni Association, Stephanie Bressler, and the chair of the HUC-JIR Alumni Council, Andi Milens… and two special alumni… at least to me… Lori Klein, who was the Associate Director when I started and who was a partner through some very exciting times.... and Mandi Richardson, the current Associate Director, who is a partner in vision, strategy, communication and action. And now, I’d like to ask all the students and alumni to please stand up and be recognized!
The second group are the members of the SJNM Advisory Council. Currently chaired by Jay Geller and vice-chaired by Sherry Weinman, the Advisory Council is a unique body within the HUC-JIR community. The SJNM is the only school at HUC to have its own lay board. They are advisors, supporters, advocates, recruiters, mentors and connectors… and they are one of the secrets to the school’s success. Can I ask all of the SJNM Advisory Board members who are here to stand up and be recognized!
That brings us to this very moment, right now, when we will soon officially dedicate the newly named Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management. In this regard, I want to acknowledge the special role that Marcie and Howard Zelikow are playing in helping chart the course of the school going forward. Marcie has been… and is… a leader of the Advisory Council and a valued mentor for a number of our students… and for me. Howard has been a personal friend and an avid supporter… of Marcie, particularly, and therefore, also of the school. Their gift is so significant because it not only allows us to continue educating the future leaders of the American Jewish community, but it will enable us to reach out beyond the borders of this campus to bring the perspectives and skill-sets taught here to students on all of the HUC-JIR campuses, as well as to Jewish professionals already working in the field. There is much to look forward to… and we are deeply appreciative of Marcie and Howard’s leadership.
And so… Sof ma-aseh, b’macha-shava tehila. “Last to be created, but imagined from the beginning.” Last to be created, but even better than could have been imagined.
Thank you, Marcie and Howard… and thank you all for joining us, as we open this new chapter in the story of the HUC-JIR Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management.