by Miriam Rinn
Former Communications Director, JCC Association
Originally featured in the autumn 2007 issue of JCC Circle.
“I’ve been in sales my entire life,” says Kenny Silverboard, Senior Olympics/JCC Maccabi Games® coordinator at the Marcus JCC in Atlanta. “The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what you’re selling. Everybody’s selling something. You just have to believe in what you’re selling.” Silverboard sold industrial chemicals for over twenty years, but when the company he worked for changed management he felt he’d had enough. “My favorite day of the week was Friday and my least favorite [time] was Sunday night,” he says. During those years, he’d played softball and basketball at the JCC and volunteered in different capacities. He’d coached basketball and mentored BBYO, as well as led the JCC Maccabi Games delegation. He’d even served as chair of the JCC Maccabi Games Committee.
In 2004, Silverboard joined the PE department to work with the Games delegation and start the Senior Olympics program. He feels he’s now using his personality and sales skills, just as he did in the past. The difference is that “the JCC is a lot more fun to sell. The week goes by so fast it’s unbelievable.” He’s now transitioning to the special events department, and is excited about the new challenges. “I’ve been able to take something I love to do for no money and do it for a living.”
David Kirschtel, the executive director of the JCC-Y in Rockland County for six years, also found himself at a career turning point when he arrived in New York from Boston. An accountant with a waste-management company, Kirschtel had been transferred to Rockland County to manage medical and solid waste. After an unfortunate experience reminiscent of The Godfather, Kirschtel decided he wanted out of waste management. He thought he’d go into business for himself, and when his commercial landlord invited him to join the board of the JCC, Kirschtel says, “I looked at it as a great way to network at first.” His five years on the board affected him greatly. “I grew to believe that the JCC was a very important institution for the community,” Kirschtel says, and when the JCC needed a new exec, he applied for the job.
After six years, and despite significant financial challenges, Kirschtel says he loves his job. “I felt great about my corporate climb, and I felt good that I built a successful business, but the satisfaction [here] is that I make a difference every day in people’s lives.” And his accounting and management experience has come in handy too. “My background was internal audit,” Kirschtel explains. “We had systems in place that were absolutely terrible.” He has turned around operations with problems before, and as he says, “From my perspective, anything is possible.” It’s good that Kirschtel is an optimist because the JCC is in the process of raising 20 million dollars to renovate a facility they recently purchased. “Every day we keep moving forward,” the new JCC professional affirms.
In her previous career in corrections, Sherry Kulman may have worked with some of Kirschtel’s waste-management colleagues, but as the executive director of the Bathurst JCC in Toronto, she’s finding that all her previous experiences have been useful. “The broader your experiences are in general, the more you bring” to the job, she believes. As the director of the John Howard Society, a prisoner rehabilitation agency, she often met the directors of other United Way agencies at meetings. When Bathurst’s previous director was leaving, she suggested that Kulman apply for the job.
“It’s been great,” Kulman says. “The first year was challenging. I had worked in a very grass-roots organization that for the most part was completely funded.” The JCC’s need to make or raise enough money to operate was something new for her. “I’m loathe to call it a business, but everything we do can be offered in the larger community,” she points out. Still, she’s discovered an entrepreneurial aspect to her personality, and she’s enjoying the challenge.
Because she managed a social-service agency before, Kulman slid smoothly into her duties as executive director. But working within the Jewish community was something new for her, even though she’d grown up in a committed Jewish family. The boundaries are more blurred than in her last job, she says, although she appreciates the familial intensity. “If you need help from your lay leadership, they’re there.”
Architecture may seem very different from camping, but Jim Mittenthal, the director of Camp Barney Medintz of the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, finds that his expertise in architecture and in psychotherapy are real pluses in his current job. He worked as an architect for years, and after earning an M.S.W., practiced as a therapist. “What I’m doing now has enabled me to use my different skills,” says Mittenthal. “As the director of Camp Barney, I’ve had a role in designing dozens of buildings.” He finds his clinical skills come in handy when talking to staff and families, but so does his fundraising, marketing, and business management experience. In all the jobs he’s had, Mittenthal has worked to integrate people’s lives with their surrounding environments. “It’s putting puzzles together.”
Larry Rothenberg comes from a business-minded family. They were McDonald’s franchisees, and then he and his brother opened a chain of hair salons in Indianapolis. “After a lifetime in a family business,” he says, “it’s a good idea to stretch out.” While his brother decided to go to law school, Rothenberg knew he wanted to work within and for the Jewish community. Indianapolis is a relatively small place, though, and there weren’t that many jobs available. “I had spoken to just about every Jewish organization in town,” Rothenberg says, so he was delighted when a position as an adult education director opened up at the JCC. “It’s probably better than what I thought it would be,” he says. His responsibilities with ACE—adult continuing education–include planning classes and events for the baby-boom generation. His target audience is between 45 and 65, so if he was doing something with popular music, he says, he wouldn’t include big bands or hip hop. Although he offers a few Jewish education classes, most of those take place in synagogues, he says.
Rothenberg believes that his business background helps him do his job better. He put together a business plan for a new program, and he knows how to analyze an existing situation and how to set goals. He also knows how to put together a budget. “I don’t enjoy it, but it doesn’t scare me,” he says. In general, he looks at many things differently because of his background—deadlines, customer service, and fees, for instance. Business teaches you how to make things happen in an organized way, he believes.
Although the reduction of income has been a challenge to him and his wife, “we enjoy ourselves much more than when I was in business,” he says. “It’s a tradeoff.” Rothenberg is happy with what he does. “I wanted to broaden what I do and add some meaning to my life. It’s a blessing.”
Aaron Rosenfeld also gave up a lucrative profession when he left the law to become the assistant executive director at the JCC of Greater Monmouth County in New Jersey. Although he’d always wanted to be a lawyer, “I became increasingly dissatisfied with the law,” Rosenfeld says. Defending lawyers who were sued for malpractice “wasn’t personally satisfying for me. I was looking for something that went to my soul a little more.” Everyone at the JCC knew Rosenfeld well; he was on the board and the Executive Committee, and he was deeply involved with the JCC Maccabi Games when the JCC hosted in 2001. “I was a vice-chair, responsible for getting all the kids housed,” Rosenfeld says, and as he spent more time at the JCC—often taking afternoons off from work—he realized “this was something that I could feel passionate about.”
Raised to enjoy being Jewish, Rosenfeld believes there are many opportunities in a JCC to share that experience. Deal, New Jersey is a diverse community where many Sephardic Jews summer, and Rosenfeld is eager to bring all Jews together. He sees that as a part of his job. After completing JCC Association’s Executive Development Training Program, Rosenfeld was promoted to associate exec. “I probably work more hours than I did as a lawyer, and sometimes the days are more stressful, but I come into work every day smiling,” he says. JCC work may not pay as much as the law, but “doing what you feel passionate about makes up for the loss in income,” Rosenfeld says. “I never needed to be a millionaire.”
“A hospital is a multi-dept organization,” says Stuart Raynor, which is one reason that he was attracted to JCCs when he decided to change careers. Publicly traded for-profit hospitals were going through consolidation at the time Raynor decided to leave. “I had gone through lots of changes and transition. I finally thought it was not what I wanted to do any longer.” He wanted a stable job where he could contribute to the community, so he went to work for the JCC of Houston. “Jerry [Wische] gave me a lot of opportunity to learn,” Raynor says. He also participated in the EDPT program. “It is a great way to get a picture of the field,” he says.
Raynor has just become the executive director of the Robert E. Loup JCC in Denver. He finds that the biggest difference between the corporate world and JCCs is the amount of resources. “Ultimately, the exec of a hospital has the same bottom-line responsibility as the exec of a JCC,” Raynor says. Another major challenge is the slow pace of change in JCCs. Executives must be able to manage change so it’s not too upsetting, but quick enough to respond to the market. “Some people are good at change,” Raynor says, “and some people are very change resistant.” But Raynor has no regrets. “I knew what I was getting into. It feels like a really good fit. I love what we’re doing. I feel like I’m making a positive contribution to the community.”