To mark its 125th milestone anniversary, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh did something new: The organization, whose educational, recreational and social service efforts benefit thousands across the region, held its annual meeting online.
Admittedly, it was COVID-19 that necessitated the decision to go digital, but in delivering its message through Zoom on Sept. 15, the JCC reiterated its commitment to finding innovative and meaningful ways to bring people together through a familiar framework.
“When I assumed the role of board chair last September, I could not imagine what the second half of the year would look like,” said William Goodman, chair of the JCC’s board.
As unexpected as the global pandemic was, there was comfort in knowing that whatever challenges arrived, the JCC’s mission statement — nurturing people and connecting community each day, through every age, and inspired by Jewish values — would serve as a guide, continued Goodman.
Transitioning from March 14, when the JCC was open and running at full capacity, to March 15, when the community center began what would be weeks of closure, was challenging, explained Brian Schreiber, the JCC’s president and CEO.
“Closing our facilities was among the most painful decisions I had to make in my 21 years here, but during the 10 weeks that Pennsylvania and Allegheny County were in the red phase, we didn’t let that closure stop us from serving community,” he said.
Whether it was providing more than 35,000 grab-and-go meals to seniors, livestreaming fitness classes throughout each day or hosting blood drives at the Squirrel Hill and South Hills facilities that netted 1,000 donations and helped 3,500 local patients, the JCC continued its longstanding commitment to enriching life for its members and the community at large.
This work was supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the United Way, and when it came time to reopen, the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative, an arm of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, provided guidance and expertise to ensure optimal safety, said Schreiber.
From a financial standpoint, while the Jewish Healthcare Foundation stepped in and delivered a special $2.5 million grant, many members also offered aid by donating dues throughout the closure, registering for new programs and sending notes of encouragement.
Each effort was greatly appreciated by the organization’s staff and lay leaders, as it became clear that the pandemic’s fiscal repercussions could potentially uproot so much of the communal fabric, noted Schreiber.
“COVID hit people hard, and had a calamitous impact on our agency: shutting down millions in earned revenue; a deep reduction in full-time and professional workforce in early April, not all of which have been restored; and increased operating costs to sanitize and disinfect program areas, and conduct daily health screenings, on all who enter our facilities,” he said.
“We have a long way to go,” Schreiber continued, “and the situation could even get more difficult — we just don't know — but COVID cannot diminish our resolve to recover, rebuild and restore.”
Along with updating members about the community center’s current state, the annual meeting featured the installation of new board members and a series of award presentations.
Stephen Tobe, an active volunteer with J Café and AgeWell Pittsburgh, received the Lillian Goldstein Senior Adult Volunteer Leadership Award. Todd Reidbord, principal and president at Walnut Capital, was given the S.J. Noven Koach Award in recognition of his outstanding service to the JCC. Journalist and media expert Margie Ruttenberg was given the Ida and Samuel Latterman Volunteer Mitzvah Award for her considerable efforts to disseminate the JCC’s message of Jewish values, kindness and social justice. Scott Seewald, senior counsel at Arconic Inc., and an active JCC board member since 2013, received the Rogal-Ruslander Leadership Award. A presidential citation was given to Olivia Livingston, a decorated swimmer who trained with the JCC Sailfish and will continue her athletic endeavors at top-ranked University of Louisville. Finally, Beth Goldstein accepted the Center for Loving Kindness' Loving Kindness Award on behalf of her father, the late Bob Goldstein, a longtime JCC member whose kibbitzing and eucalyptus spray enhanced the center for decades.
With recognition of the approaching holiday season, Jamie Scott, department director of the children/youth/family division and specialty camps director at the JCC, closed the meeting with the blowing of a shofar and well wishes.
“Thank you for coming to our annual meeting,” said Scott. “We are wishing you a happy and healthy new year.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.