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Thank you for celebrating and honoring Cindy and Jeff with us!


Dear Friends,

We want to offer a heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped to celebrate Cindy Smukler, Jeffrey Barrack, our guests from Sderot, and the incredible work of the Kaiserman JCC. Last night was truly a night to remember.

But for those of you in attendance who heard Hagit Yaso’s harrowing story, who heard about Cindy and Jeff’s deep commitment to the JCC, Israel, and fostering ties between the two, who heard about the JCC’s big plans for the future; you know the work is only beginning.

Please read on for CEO Alan Scher’s full speech from the night:

Good evening, everyone. I am honored to share this occasion with all of you. That you have joined together to celebrate the Kaiserman JCC, the leadership of Cindy Smukler and Jeff Barrack, and the special connection between the Philadelphia Jewish community and Israel. It is inspiring – and well timed. I want to additionally recognize a few individuals who have joined us. First off, I want to thank all our board members this evening. If you would all stand. Thank you! Also, I want to thank Ron, Rachelle, and the rest of the Kaiserman family. Your unceasing support, particularly for this evening’s event, provides the foundation on which we accomplish everything.   

Next week the Jewish community will celebrate the harvest festival of Shavuot. Harvest. That is an apt word for our gathering this evening. For in so many capacities, tonight represents the culmination of a herculean amount of investment. We are here this evening in praise of that effort personified: Cindy and Jeff’s tireless efforts. 

They are not alone. We champion them as representatives of each of you – stewards in the cultivation of our mission: creating fulfilling connections, enhancing lives, and fostering Jewish peoplehood. A mission that we have seen deepen in impact, and flourish more vibrantly, this last year precisely because of your advocacy.  

Almost two years ago, as one of the last acts of her tenure as our Board president, Cindy garnered the approval of an ambitious strategic plan for the JCC. It envisioned the JCC as playing a pivotal role in our regional landscape as a “vibrant hub.” It articulated a sustainable organization, well patronized by young families, teenagers, and older adults. The plan imagined state of the art facilities, best in class programs, and a passionate staff and board. Today, I am proud to share that the harvest is here. Let me share a few examples: 

  • We have become a hub in Early Childhood Education. With almost 200 young people in the Robert J. Wilf Preschool and Kindergarten, and a significant waiting list, we have just announced the opening of a second site – the Philly JCC Early Learning Center at Temple Brith Achim.
  • This summer we will serve almost 700 young people. Becoming ACA accredited last year, our camps stand as not only a standard for Jewish day camps in the region, but the largest here in PA.  
  • Over 500 teens from across the five Philadelphia Counties find meaningful engagement here – many through our signature Jewish leadership programs, the JCC Maccabi Games, the Diller Teen Fellows
  • program, and J Ball. 
  • This year we successfully launched Gems at the J, an initiative that routinely serves 500 older adults. We are operating these programs not only here, but in Bucks County, and across Northeast Philadelphia through a partnership with Federation Housing. 
  • And finally, I spoke a moment ago about serving as a hub for Jewish life. Literally thousands have participated in our Jewish and Israeli cultural programs here at the Kaiserman JCC, and since October 7 we have doubled down in this space, hosting rallies and heroes from Israel for our community. 

But as impressive as these aspects are – they are merely one way to quantify our harvest. I want to share with you stories that personify the work we do here at the Kaiserman JCC.  

  • After October 7, despite our preschool being at capacity, we welcomed 12 different families from Israel. I have gotten to know several of these families, and I enjoy spending Friday mornings singing with them at our weekly Shabbat celebration. I recall a conversation with one person who contacted me in the late fall. “My family is flourishing,” she told me. “Other schools that we reached out to in this moment of need told us they couldn’t help. The JCC has seemingly moved heaven and earth to welcome my grandchildren.” This is what the Kaiserman JCC does. Not only for families in need from Israel – we do this for every family. 
  • Our teen programs also meet young people at a critical juncture. As an example, I think about one teen I got to know last summer in Israel. Like many of us at that age, she had been riddled with questions. Growing up in an interfaith family, she also had wonders about identity, and who she might become. Our program has answered her questions. As a swimmer, she built a community competing the summer before in San Deigo. Traveling to Israel for three weeks was a leap – she had never been away from home for so long. It paid off. She won medals that made her incredibly proud. Was deeply moved meeting other Jewish athletes from across the world and learning firsthand about Israel. Her parents told me she came back a different person. 
  • Lastly, I think about mah jongg, where I’ve met a good deal of our Gems participants. Our back lobby fills up every week with players. It was there I met a woman who had lost her husband last year. This was unexpected. And some days, she just didn’t want to get out bed. Her adult children had moved away, and rediscovering her life not as a couple, but as an individual left her isolated. Gems at the J changed that. She told me we’d saved her life. 

I often wonder about how many more lives we can enhance for the better. Because while we are making progress, we are merely at the beginning. I want to tell you one last story – and this involves some familiar players.  
As one of the centerpieces of the strategic plan, the Kaiserman JCC needs to embark upon a capital campaign. It’s no secret that our facilities are bursting at the seams, insufficient for our current programming needs. In addition, years of lean financial circumstances have prevented us from investing in our infrastructure. Over the past three years, we’ve begun to change that trend. Investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, we have begun the work of updating our building. Next month, we will begin work on a renovation of our gymnasium, and for the first time in our history install air conditioning! We will also be making improvements to our lobby. But the long-range effort begins next year.  
This past fall, thanks to the ingenuity of Cindy, our leadership – Phil, Cindy, and me – took a visit to the St. Louis JCC. We were there to meet with a visionary philanthropist whose passion is Jewish Community Centers. This individual, Michael Staenberg, had invited us to see what he’d built not only in St. Louis, but also in Omaha, Kansas City, Denver, Minneapolis, and Scottsdale. He asked us a simple question – did we want to see how the results of a capital campaign – when done correctly – might truly transform an institution?  
Now, I have a confession: Since I arrived here to Philadelphia almost three years ago, too often I have heard the opposite. “That can’t happen here,” I’m told. Ambition? Not in Philadelphia. And yet, sitting together over lunch – Michael Staenberg, Cindy, Phil, and me – everything seemed possible. Thanks to Michael’s generosity, we are actively working with the design firm that has renovated six JCCs. And while nothing is in stone, I wanted to share with this group a sneak preview of what we are beginning to envision. Would you like to see?  
Click here to check out our imaginative renderings. 
Consider these seeds planted. And I want to plant one more: Our community has faced a difficult, and long road since October 7. I want to end with a word about our commitment to Israel. Next year, we will begin a new chapter, fostering a center for Israeli culture. The anchor of this initiative will be many of our existing programs that bring people  to Israel – the Diller Teen Fellows program, the JCC Maccabi program, and Momentum. But these will expand – thanks to the generosity of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia we will have funding to bring more trips to Israel, and focus on new populations. Additionally, we are honored to be hosting three shlichim next year for our community. These emissaries will work in partnership with other community institutions, serving as a font for inspiration. Finally, the vibrant programming we have begun to offer since October 7 will continue. With our program partners from IAC, Tzofim, and other organizations, this institution will serve as an unbending bridge to Israel.  
It’s sweet to think about harvest, no? Speaking of which, you all have on your chairs a bag of candy, some of which has come directly from Israel. Also, in your bag is a QR code. I’m going to ask you to begin to water those seeds this evening. That QR code is a link to a donation page. Tonight, many of you have already been generous, but now, having heard this message, I am asking you to invest further. Your donations – in any amount that feels meaningful to you – provide a wellspring to this future. I ask that you each of you consider how you can play a role in making this vision a reality. Donate now. Donate later. Come find me – let’s talk about your role in the harvest. You’re here at the beginning. It’s time for you to plant the tree.  

Alan Scher, Kaiserman JCC CEO