Allan Finkelstein Reflects as Lifelong Career in Jewish Community Programming Comes to Close

This spring, Allan Finkelstein, who served as Executive Director of the Columbus JCC from 1982-1991, will retire from leading the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, where he served as president and Chief Executive Officer since 1994.

For over two decades, Finkelstein made strengthening the Jewish community, and the role Jewish community centers play in it, his top priority, turning the mission of the JCC into a movement with a continental reach and beyond, to Israel.

“What I am most proud of is that we say together that we are a movement—with a shared vision and principles; and in 2014 with a new and revitalized brand that reflects who we are and where we want to go. And through all of this, we have strengthened our unique ‘people-to-people’ relationship with Israel, one that is very unique to what JCCs are all about,” Finkelstein recently wrote.

Serving more than 350 JCCs across North America, Finkelstein sought to expand the scope of programming that JCCs provide, enabling them to become go-to destinations for fitness and wellness, Jewish, Israel , cultural and arts programming. While at the JCC of Greater Columbus, he ushered in a new era of JCC programming, as well, overseeing the opening of the new building in 1983.

“When I see the renovated JCC and the new programs all over the city, it is rewarding,” Finkelstein said. He helped initiate many new programs, including JCC Maccabi/ArtsFest; Boarding Pass, an Israel travel program; and Discover CATCH, a child-focused health and wellness program utilized at JCCs across the nation, including the Columbus JCC where it is built into programming at all three Early Childhood Education sites.

“As I move onto the next chapter of my life, I am pleased with the legacy that we have created…. It’s been such an incredible privilege to lead the JCC Movement, to work with hundreds of colleagues across the continent and around the world, to witness our resilience, our impact on Jewish life in North America, and our commitment to excellence in everything that we do,” Finkelstein wrote.

While at JCC Association, Finkelstein oversaw branding efforts for the Movement, with a goal of bringing a unity of vision, language and imagery to JCCs across the continent. “What could be more satisfying than to lead a movement that I have been a part of not only my entire career, but also, my entire life, since I was a kid,” said Finkelstein, who grew up attending the Emanuel Cohen Center in Minneapolis, the precursor of the JCC, and a JCC resident camp, where he met his wife, Bonnie. Finkelstein holds a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Minnesota.

Finkelstein looks forward to seeing his vision continue to be carried out by Dr. Stephen Hazan Arnoff, who was selected to succeed him as CEO of JCCA. Hazan Arnoff serves as Director of Culture, Community and Society at the Shalem College in Jerusalem. While reflecting on the JCC’s 100th anniversary, Finkelstein offered this advice to the Columbus JCC, which especially resonates on the eve of his retirement: “Never forget the ‘why’ of our mission…not just the ‘how.’”