Alan Feldman, CEO of JCC MetroWest, has announced that he will be leaving the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange, effective Nov. 20. He has accepted the CEO position at the Mandel JCC of the Palm Beaches in Florida.
While a search for a new CEO takes place, Feldman will be succeeded by an interim director who will start in November; the JCC hopes the new permanent CEO will be in place by May or June 2016.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Alan, and we are happy for him,” said JCC president Larry Rein. “Alan gave us fresh thoughts and new ideas. We think the new person will do the same, with fresh eyes and new excitement. We will miss Alan. He did wonderful things for us. But as the saying goes, as one door closes, another opens.”
Feldman came to the JCC in 2008 as interim head, and became the official CEO in 2009. When he arrived, the JCC was in a challenging place financially, losing $1 million annually. Before he arrived, the JCC was forced to end operations at its facility on the Aidekman campus in Whippany. A costly renovation of the West Orange flagship building also put a strain on JCC finances by 2007.
In each year of Feldman’s tenure, according to Rein, the deficit dropped. Two years ago, the JCC made $500,000. Although last year it lost about $100,000, Rein said he hopes there will be a positive gain this year.
The deficit currently stands at “a few hundred thousand dollars,” according to Rein. “Now we need to ramp up to be comfortable and solvent and have a cushion.”
There were other signs of renewal during Feldman’s tenure, including a new art gallery, renovations to the theater that made it handicapped-accessible, and a renovation of parts of the Early Childhood Center, as well as additions like the Adler Aphasia Center and a Hadassah office now located at the JCC.
He has brought another project — a new pool for JCC MetroWest’s Camp Deeny Riback in Flanders — nearly to fruition. The goal of $700,000 has “almost” been reached, according to Rein, who expects to have the remaining money by the spring.
Feldman said he is proud that he has created what he labels “short-term stability” for the organization. But he pointed out that the organization still needs to find “long-term sustainability.”
To get to that place, Feldman made some difficult choices for the JCC, most notably closing its early childhood center in Whippany and helping to bring the private Gold’s Gym into the athletic facilities formerly operated by JCC MetroWest on the Aidekman campus.
“We are in a different place financially than we were back then,” he said, referring to 2008. “We are smaller because we needed to become smaller to manage our finances.”
But that didn’t make it easy for him. “Those are the most difficult decisions anyone who sits in this chair has to make — disengaging with staff when they have not done anything wrong. Downsizing required us to let go of people who performed well, but we could no longer sustain their positions in our structure.” He added, “If you don’t struggle with that decision, then you are missing the point.”
He faced other challenges, including a bomb threat and some controversy around a short-lived alternative Hebrew school.
Reflecting on his accomplishments, Feldman was quick to praise many members of the staff and slow to take credit.
He praised Rhonda Lillianthal, director of Jewish learning, for developing the “largest and most successful” Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning in the world, with 160 students at as many as 10 different sites. He credited Sharon Gordon, the director of the JCC’s Center for Adult Enrichment, and her team of “the most dedicated people I have ever seen,” along with the contributors who helped fund senior adult activities in 11 locations.
Feldman also expressed pride in the JCC’s fitness and wellness program created in partnership with Saint Barnabas Medical Center, and “Mitzvah Moments,” a volunteer project to help people live dignified lives.
Looking ahead, Rein said the critical skill set for the next CEO will be “fund-raising, fund-raising, fund-raising,” along with relationship-building. In addition to completing the pool project, the JCC leadership wants to bring up the numbers in the early childhood center from 200 children to 250 over the next two years, and at Deeny Riback from 350 to 400 children in the same time period.
“Alan has set us on a nice path, but it’s still uphill,” said Rein. “Like Moses, he brought us [close] to the Promised Land but will not make it in.”
Feldman said, “This is a great agency that serves thousands of people every day. I am going to miss it tremendously.”