Admin on September 1, 2023
As we celebrate JCC of Greater Pittsburgh’s new President and CEO, Jason Kunzman, on his first day in his new role, we wanted to share his remarks from our 128th Annual Meeting that took place on August 31, 2023.
We are so excited to see all that Jason accomplishes in his new role.
One of the most interesting phrases in the Torah is found in Parshat Mishpatim – na’ aseh v’nishma – we will do and we will listen. But which is more important – the action itself or studying to determine the purpose of our actions? This tension between the abstract and the reality on the ground is explored through Talmudic text where Rabbi Tarfon insists, “Action is greater,” while Rabbi Akiva takes the alternate stance maintaining that, “Study is greater.” As the text continues, the elders reach consensus and proclaim, “Study is greater for study brings one to action.” This balancing act between thinking and doing is exactly what makes the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh so unique. There are times in which we lean on the data and build consensus to lead us to action and then there are other times when we leap into action and seek perspective at a later point. Most importantly, though, we are an agency in constant motion never backing down from answering the call to service.
I joined the JCC in 2017 for two primary reasons – first to give back to the same Jewish community that wrapped me and my wife in a cocoon of care when we arrived on the scene in 2001 without a job or a place to live and second for the opportunity to learn and work alongside of someone with Brian’s expertise, wisdom and stellar reputation both within the JCC movement and across the Pittsburgh region. Very soon into my tenure, though, countless other moments reaffirmed my decision – first bus rides to J&R Day Camp, Jewish and non-Jewish teens gathering together in our Second Floor space to learn about Israel, older adults celebrating Shabbat each week with early childhood, countless personal wellness journeys curated by the JCC’s fitness instructors and personal trainers, Color War at EKC and of course the creation of Pittsburgh’s resiliency center, the 10.27 Healing Partnership. The breadth and depth of the agency’s reach is both overwhelming and inspiring and through it all we seek to impact thousands while counting by ones.
Jewish tradition sees each generation as “smaller” in comparison with the previous one, but we are told that later generations have the advantage of standing on the shoulders of those who have come before them. While as the incoming CEO I squarely stand on Brian’s shoulders, the JCC as a whole has its feet firmly on the ground in a sprinter’s starting position ready to work toward goals that take on the slow but meaningful process of initiating positive change. This transition in leadership, however, provides a unique opportunity for us to harness our organizational curiosity and ask questions that allow us to redefine what is possible for our constituents, the JCC staff and the broader Jewish community. We will deliberately build upon both Brian’s legacy and the visioning process Scott mentioned earlier to chart a path forward in our relentless pursuit of excellence to better meet needs related to health, wellness, safety and connection while ensuring a stronger and more resilient future for all. As the Irish pop rock band the Script said in their 2012 hit song Hall of Fame, if we collectively dedicate ourselves our community will burn the brightest flame and the world will know our name.
This next leg of the JCC’s journey requires the insights, support, grit and determination of so many of you. First and foremost, I would like to thank our incredible staff for your commitment to our mission and for teaching this one-time outsider to Jewish communal work what it truly means to serve community. I cannot wait to work with each one of you in furthering our organizational culture of collaboration, creativity and continuous learning and shaping a JCC poised to take on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Together, we can make the JCC the best place to work throughout the Pittsburgh region!
Thank you to our Board of Directors for entrusting me with this position and for your support and encouragement in pushing boundaries, taking risks and remaining curious about how best to meet community need. Please continue to expect excellence in everything we do while also supporting the agency to seek out and expose ourselves to topics and circumstances in which dialogue and action are necessary. This will be critical in our role to challenge the status quo and foster a sense of collective ownership and accountability across our community while staying rooted in what we hold most dear about the JCC.
None of this would be possible if not for the enduring support from the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, the United Way, and countless other foundations and individual donors. I look forward to working with you all in amplifying our respective partnerships as a means of maximizing shared impact. Thank you for continuing to hold us accountable to the highest ethical standards and for devising new and innovative approaches to address the needs of those we serve.
And to the best mentor anyone could have ever asked for, thank you, Brian, for your patience, tutelage, insight and wisdom. Your thoughtful, steady approach has served the JCC exceptionally well and you have been a beacon for our community in both good and difficult times. I promise to work tirelessly in maintaining your legacy each and every day as we push the limits of what a JCC can accomplish on behalf of the Jewish and broader communities.
Finally, to my family and friends. Each of you in your own way has played a role in preparing me for this moment and it is only with your continued support that I will be successful in the future. Don’t let me off the hook, though, in finding the right life balance which will allow me to be my very best both at work and out of the office. I love you all very much.
May we use the rest of this month of Elul, as we prepare for the upcoming Jewish holidays, to engage in chesbon hanefesh – an accounting or realigning of purpose and a time to reflect on our collective capacity to change the world through building more caring, inclusive and just communities. Thanks to you all for believing in the magic and the promise of our beloved JCC. Together, we are going to achieve great things.
President and CEO – JCC of Greater Pittsburgh