Like many of you, I was taught by my parents that it is our responsibility as Jews to do all we can to help the less fortunate, to promote justice, and to make the world a better place through our actions and our philanthropy. In turn, I am always curious to learn why others give.
With philanthropy in mind, it thrills me to welcome our new PJCC CEO Jordan Shenker, not only as our professional leader, but also, along with his wife Tracey, as new members of both our PJCC Chai Society* and our Legacy Society — composed of those of us who wish to ensure that the PJCC continues to serve our community long after our lifetimes.
—Judy Bloom, PJCC Board Vice President and Chair of the Governance and Legacy Committees
Recently, PJCC Director of Development Nicola Burt sat down with Jordan to discuss what inspires him about philanthropy, how he’s made giving a family affair, and how he looks forward to building more connected community with PJCC’s generous donor community.
Nicola Burt (NB): Jordan, you have spent your life in service of JCCs and the Jewish Community. Why do you think philanthropy is critical, both Jewishly and generationally?
Jordan Shenker (JS): From an early age, I heard about the importance of supporting community and taking personal responsibility. Both my parents were involved with Jewish organizations [United Jewish Appeal (UJA), Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA)] nationally. I went on my first UJA mission when I was eight years old, which was a Jewish family trip to Israel.
For me, the first time I was solicited was by a family friend at Federation shortly before my bar mitzvah. This friend asked whether I would consider giving some money to support the community. This was my first introduction to the idea of collective philanthropy, of giving philanthropically to a community, and it left a lasting impression.
NB: How did you become a Jewish professional, and why is this important to you?
JS: When I think about my career, it was really shaped and informed by my childhood experiences, in particular, Jewish youth group and Jewish overnight camp. These were both communities that created a sense of belonging and connection for me, that gave me a sense of purpose and meaning as a Jew and as a person. I first learned in these spaces how to make a difference for others and in the world, and the impact we can each have. This personal sense of satisfaction and an understanding that I could help make the world a better place, and how my Jewish identity shaped this opportunity, was transformative for me. That’s why this work is important to me.
NB: Please talk about how you and Tracey taught your sons about generosity, tzedakah (charity), and philanthropic giving.
JS: When Tracey and I got married and had children, we thought about giving in the same way our families had done. For us, our philanthropy is not only about where we work — in addition to my JCC work, Tracey’s career has focused on Jewish organizations as an executive director for a synagogue, director of a Jewish preschool, and at a JCC in special events — we also support our synagogue life and the work of Federation.
We taught our three sons about our collective and communal responsibility to take care of the Jewish people and that this begins at home; it’s a personal responsibility. It was also important for us to talk about taking care of Jewish people, in the diaspora beyond our hometown, and in Israel. This is one of the reasons Tracey and I joined the PJCC’s Chai Society even before we arrived in the Bay Area.
NB: How do you see your sons embracing philanthropy/this mindset/these lessons?
JS: All of our kids have aligned with tikkun olam (repairing the world) in different ways, in how they are taking care of the world and making it a better place. Our oldest works at a JCC, our middle child uses mindfulness in his practice, and our youngest son just accepted a job working in a JCC also. They have chosen professions that reflect the values that Tracey and I aspire to have them learn — there is no greater accomplishment as a parent than to have your children reflect the values that you instill.
NB: You have been at the PJCC for just about two months. From your initial impressions, what do you see as the opportunity here?
JS: In the North Peninsula, there is a tremendous opportunity to engage and connect collaboratively in ways that are unique from other Jewish communities. We have an opportunity to support one another — enhance Jewish life together on the North Peninsula in collaborative ways.
At the JCC, we also serve a diverse community. As a Jewish agency, it is important to be concerned about what is happening in the world more broadly. We need to remember that we do not only exist within the Jewish community, and how we welcome and connect with and speak up for the greater community speaks volumes about our values and character as an organization.
NB: Thank you, Jordan, for sharing your insights. On behalf of all of us, we are so excited to have you and Tracey join our PJCC community and look forward to what lies ahead!