In a different time, Dava Schub would brew a fresh pot of coffee in the morning, open a bottle of wine in the evening and invite people at either time to sit down in her office and chat. That’s how she would like to get to know Washington’s Jewish community.
But Schub, who came to Washington to become CEO of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center — just like the organization she now heads — has to do her job at a distance.
“There’s no barrier to sitting with me at my virtual table and talking,” Schub said. “I still want to hear those stories. And I still want to know them. I still want them to know me.”
Schub, 48, began work on Sept. 1, succeeding Carole Zawatsky, who had held the position since 2011. During that month, Schub has participated in a series of virtual meetups to introduce herself to Jewish community members and hear their perspectives on the powerhouse downtown JCC that in 2019 had $9.4 million in revenue and $36 million in assets, according to public records.
“People have asked me [what] my vision for this JCC is and it is my inclination to turn the question around,” Schub said in an interview last month. “First, this is not my JCC. This is yours, this community’s. And what I want to do is to leverage all of our assets to enrich the lives of people in D.C. and the greater DMV area to broaden and deepen access points for Jewish life for anyone who wants them.”
Saul Pilchen, president of the Edlavitch board and a member of the search committee that hired Schub, said she represented “technical excellence” and was impressed by “her deep experience and deep affection for the mission of the JCC project.”
Schub grew up in Connecticut. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in social work from Yeshiva University. Schub spent the last 25 years working in JCCs, most recently as chief program officer at the Marlene Meyerson JCC on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“Dava motivated everyone to bring their best selves to the table in her role,” said Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC. “Her commitment made our dreams of [purchasing] an out-of-town day camp and [opening] an uptown branch a reality.”
Schub said doesn’t plan any shake ups right now. Her immediate priority is helping the Edlavitch JCC weather the coronavirus pandemic.
“My priority is continuing to build a strong community within and beyond the walls of this JCC,” Schub said. “COVID is a long game. But it’s so clear to me there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
America’s 164 JCCs are the Jewish community’s largest single employer, according to Debra Nussbaum Cohen in Jewish Insider, employing 40,000 full- and part-time staffers.
The Edlavitch JCC, like its counterparts, was hit hard by the pandemic, when it suddenly had to close its doors. It furloughed two-thirds of its 74 person staff on July 1, but continued to cover health benefits, Schub said.
As the center began to reopen, it called back most of those employees. But as of Sept. 17, 15 people remain furloughed, Schub said.
“We are not immune from the economic hit of this time and, actually, in many ways, JCCs have been hit harder than some other nonprofits,” Schub said. “Many of our typical revenue streams have been damaged. And, again, I think it’s about the long game. It is my hope that people will continue to support the organization by attending programs because we’re going to need them to stick with us so that we can remain strong now and on the other side of this.”
The JCC works with a medical consultant on how to reopen safely, Schub said. The fitness center has reopened as well as the preschool. The center is also running a virtual preschool, Gan Ananim: Preschool in the Clouds.
The JCC’s pool has reopened, but Schub doesn’t expect in-person performances at Theater J to resume until next year at the earliest.
Schub said the JCC plans to continue to offer virtual theater productions, film screenings and music classes and is looking into hosting socially distant outside events.
According to JCC Association of North America CEO Doron Krakow, unlike many Jewish organizations sustained largely by philanthropy, most JCCs cover 80 percent of their operating expenses by charging fees for early childhood education, day and overnight camps, gyms and cultural events.
The Edlavitch JCC is a bit different. It relied on donations for more than half of its budget in 2017, according to its most recent publicly available tax statement, with programming accounting for just 43 percent of its revenue, though that was during a major capital campaign.
Schub said her agency will need to rely even more on philanthropic support to keep functioning. The coffee is brewing.