You Should Know… Jennifer Scher

Photo by Lisa Stern
Photo by Lisa Stern

When Jennifer Scher walks the halls of Gesher Jewish Day School, she has a good chance of seeing the children she tucked into bed the night before.

The director of development at the Fairfax campus is parent to second-grader Xander, 8, and kindergartener Maya, 5, as well as Dina, 2, who is enrolled at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia preschool. The 35-year-old Cleveland native and Fairfax resident and her husband, Michael, are members of Congregation Olam Tikvah.

Prior to joining the staff at Gesher in 2014, Scher worked at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, first directing outreach efforts to the Northern Virginia community and then taking the lead on the Create a Jewish Legacy endowment program.

We recently caught up with Scher to talk about community building in Northern Virginia, what her kids like about their school and bringing joy to Jewish learning.

What are your main responsibilities in your role as director of development at Gesher?

Financial resource development and institutional advancement. So, the business side of the house — fundraising and outreach.

What are you currently working on?

We have an upcoming spring event called “Gesher with a Twist,” and that is a three-event series in three different locations around Northern Virginia.

What’s it like having your children attend the same school you work at?

I love it. They do their own thing. I steer clear mostly of their school life day to day, but it’s sort of special to get a hug in the middle of lunch and to get to see some of those milestones.

Tell us about your passion for community building in Northern Virginia?

We have to reflect as a community. What makes up a viable and impactful Jewish community that’s welcoming to new families? We have an incredible community with everything that could be offered — with synagogues and Jewish social services and a JCC and a day school, but you don’t always feel it because there is this big geographic spread. You don’t have the same impact visibility that you have when you drive down Montrose Road [in Rockville], but all of those services and all of that excitement is here. When we elevate the organizations in our community and we support them and we help them to become more visible, we are growing an entire community.

How has Gesher been able to stabilize its finances and increase admissions?

It took a team of people and a community that wrapped its arms around the school. I came in at a time when there was a need to have one person who could be a connector. That was my role. I was a connector. That’s connecting lay leadership, connecting professionals, creating strategic partnerships. Gesher serves amazing students within our community, but is also a resource and a partner in the community — and positioning itself to really be the anchor for Jewish education in Northern Virginia.

What are your children’s favorite programs at Gesher?

I would say the MAP after-school program. Right now, my daughter on Mondays is in tap class and my son on Tuesdays is in fencing, so they’re very excited about the after-school program. I would say during the day my son thrives in math class. The math teacher often takes them to do sort of unusual math lessons, like if you are going to do ratios you might do it with a number of baskets you successfully make versus shots into the hoop. So, it’s very movement-oriented math, and he really thrives in that environment. My daughter is a sponge, and the Judaics and Hebrew teacher for the Gan loves to do a lot of music. So, she comes home and she’s singing nonstop, not just traditional Hebrew that we know in synagogue, but like fun Israel music. She’s just picking it up.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your role?

I really believe in the importance of joy. Everyone around here is pretty used to me talking about it — that in order to appreciate community and to value it, that the essence of joy has to be in everything that we do and being in a day school environment you feel that joy everywhere you turn. We can’t be a generation that focuses on “Why should you have a Jewish identity? Why should you be involved? Because if you don’t then the Jewish people won’t exist.” That’s not a good enough answer. You have to want to be a part of the community because it adds to your life and you have something to contribute. Why should the Jewish people keep going? What is the value that Jews bring to the world? It has to be more than because the Holocaust happened. I’m a granddaughter of an Auschwitz survivor, and I honor my grandmother every single day when my children fill their lives with the joy of Jewish learning.

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