Joel Marcovitch is just finishing his first month as the new chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, but he is just beginning to learn about the local Jewish community.
“As a federation, we are forward-thinking. We are going to respond to the needs of the community and we’re going to bring relevancy to what we do. We’re going to be doing some things that I think are very exciting, that’s going to bring fresh eyes, a fresh approach, and we’re going to talk about growing,” Mr. Marcovitch said.
Until the Federation’s annual meeting June 11, he said he is willing to listen to anyone about Toledo, the Jewish community, and the Federation.
“My mandate for the next 30 to 60 days is just to sit and listen and take it all in and understand the mechanics of the organization,” he said. “I want to hear from everybody — whether you’re a fan of the Federation, whether you’re not a fan, I want to talk to you. The hard conversations, I’m not afraid of.”
This is the new CEO’s first job serving the larger Jewish community. Before joining the Federation, he was involved in Hillel, which serves students in colleges and universities. Most recently, he was director of Hillel at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Mr. Marcovitch, who was born in London, joined Hillel a year after he finished college at the University of Salford in Manchester, England. He just completed a year in Israel when, “I decided I’d like to try to go to America.”
This led to a position with Hillel in Palm Beach, Fla.
“They offered me the job, so three weeks after I got back to London from Israel, I packed two bags of stuff, had $150 in my pocket, I had a one-way plane ticket to Miami, and I’ve been here ever since.”
His job at the Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach in Boca Raton, Fla., was at the bottom rung of the career ladder as a program associate, Mr. Marcovitch said.
“I moved up to program director, and director of Israel and engagement, and then the assistant over at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor [from 2006 to 2009], which is the largest Hillel in the country,” Mr. Marcovitch said. “Then I got the job as the director at the University of Georgia.”
Mr. Marcovitch, 35, moved to Toledo with his wife, Erin, a social worker providing grief counseling in a hospice, and their puppy, Manischewitz, or Manny, “a rescue from the pound. We fell in love with this little thing. Now it’s a 58-pound monster, but we love him,” Mr. Marcovitch said.
As CEO of the federation he said he would like to create a five-year plan for growing the community.
“How do we make the Jewish community of Toledo attractive for a young couple who are looking to settle down and raise a family? We have a wonderful school system, we have a very friendly community, we have a great [kindergarten] program that we provide, we have a great senior center,” he said.
One of his goals is to try to entice younger Jewish families to relocate to Toledo.
“I would like to focus on trying to get young people to come back to Toledo, kids whose parents are still here who went away to big cities like Chicago... bring them back and show them there is wonderful life here in Toledo and they can have a fabulous life and raise a family, afford a house, all the things that my wife and I were looking for in a community. It’s about taking that message out to communities and our own community, that we’re going to provide as best we can those social services and that Jewish life that we can.”
Mr. Marcovitch’s observant religious aspect is broad.
“I would consider myself a connoisseur of Judaism,” he said. “I don’t adhere to one identity at all. I wouldn’t consider myself a Reform or an Orthodox or a Conservative Jew. I think each of the different strands of Judaism provide a unique rich past to add to our collective memory, and they do wonderful, wonderful things, and for those who are not affiliated, the Federation can provide avenues and entry points into the Jewish community as well.”
There is another place dear to Mr. Marcovitch, as seen from his travels. He has been to Israel about 45 times, including two one-year visits.
When asked about Israel and the Palestinian Territory, he said, “You cannot have a safe and secure Arab state of Palestine without a safe and secure Jewish state of Israel. One cannot exist without the other. They have to live side by side in a two-state solution. Now, as far as where those barriers are, where those lines are, that’s for people in a much bigger pay grade than myself, but I hope to see peace there in my lifetime,” he said.
“We preach the idea of coexistence outside Israel. As I said, we have a wonderful community here [in Toledo] and we talk about coexistence, and if we can do it here, maybe there’s some hope in that part of the area, Israel and the Palestinians, but having a viable two-state solution, living with safety and security for both people, is what the priority needs to be.”