Judy Weil, who recently joined the YMCA in Wayne as director of Jewish programs, hit the ground running — beginning work on February 1, organizing a well-attended Purim carnival on March 20, and hosting a model Passover seder for seniors on April 13. (Not to mention the “big Passover expo” on the same day showcasing holiday products, featuring a nutritionist from Shoprite, and including arts and crafts projects. Oh — and the April 11 cooking demonstration featuring the community shlicha.)
As director of Jewish programs and outreach, Ms. Weil hopes “to increase the exposure of Jewish programming at the Y and increase Jewish membership.”
She believes she is particularly well suited for the position.
“I’ve been a Wayne resident for 30 years,” she said. “My kids grew up here. I’ve been a member of the Y for 25 years” — that is, both before and after the facility changed from the YM/YWHA of North Jersey to the Wayne YMCA in 2011 — “and I’ve been past president of [the town’s] Shomrei Torah and the local B’nai B’rith Women.”
Ms. Weil is particularly impressed by the Y’s “phenomenally forward thinking attitude,” led by executive director Justin Inhe and associate executive director Joyce Goldberg Fein. The latter, who is Ms. Weil’s immediate supervisor, was the interim executive director when the formerly Jewish Y joined with the Metro YMCA to become the Wayne YMCA.
Ms. Weil also acknowledged the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which has provided a one-year grant to fund her position.
“It seems to be a lovely partnership,” she said of the relationship between the two Ys. “I love that the YMCA’s mission is child-centric. For example, they provide one week of free swimming lessons to kids.” It also, she said, “has been extremely welcoming to me.”
She said that the change in the Y’s status “reflected changes in the Jewish population of Wayne.” It was only 5 percent Jewish when she moved in, she added, noting that “with more intermarriage, it’s a different community we’re reaching out to.”
With that in mind, she is preparing a five-week program for May, called “Building Bridges, Building Friendships.” For that program, she is inviting leaders of different faith communities to address participants. One session, she said, will look at Abraham as the father of two religions. “Then there will be one from the Indian school in Wayne; one from the mosque; and one from the rabbi of my synagogue.” That rabbi, Randall Mark of Shomrei Torah, has been called upon quite often since Ms. Weil took on her new position. “I’ve been leaning on him a lot, but he thinks it’s great,” she said.
Pointing out that Wayne has a large unaffiliated population that might be attracted by revitalized Jewish programing, Ms. Weil acknowledged that some former members simply walked out when the old Y became part of the new organization. “As a member, I heard some grumblings,” she said. “Some just left. We want to pull people back in and get new members. Many never walked in when it had its old name.” But of those who did, “many stayed.”
In addition to May’s interfaith program, Ms. Weil is planning a large gathering to mark Yom HaShoah, “but it won’t conflict with that of federation,” she said. She will also coordinate events for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
Hiring a designated Jewish professional at a YMCA is not common practice, she continued. One such program exists in Toledo, Ohio; another is in Jerusalem. “I was told about one in Massachusetts, but I can’t find it,” she said. “This is really wonderful. It’s taking a look at what the community is looking for, and then supporting it.”
Ms. Weil hopes to reach unaffiliated Jews, as well as those who leave organized Jewish life after their children have passed b’nai mitzvah age. “I love a challenge,” she said. She added that she has already worked together with the town’s Conservative and Reform rabbis and has been in touch with Rabbi Michael Gurkov, who heads Chabad of Wayne.
Does she have a fixed agenda?
“I’m making it up as I go along,” she said. “When I have time, I check on Ys around the country to see what they’re doing.” Although her grant from JFNNJ is for one year, she hopes that it will be extended. Her initial interview was two-pronged, she said, and she faced questions from representatives of both the federation and the Y.
“I marvel at the forward thinking of doing collaborative hiring on this,” she said. “I told them both that they needed to hire someone from Wayne, someone who knows the players and the town. Both factions heard that.”
Lisa Harris Glass, managing director of the federation’s community planning and impact department, said that the idea for Ms. Weil’s position “grew organically, emanating from a meeting with the leadership of the Wayne Y, including members of the Jewish committee. The need for this position emanated from the change in the management of the Wayne Y to the Metro YMCAs. They have been great to work with and have done a lot for the Y. Our mandate was to find a way to preserve and increase the ‘Jewish’ in Wayne, once the Y no longer had that as its central mandate.
“Although we conceived it more than a year ago, the position took a long time to fill. We were not willing to settle.
“The minute Judy came in for the interview, we knew she was a great fit,” Ms. Glass continued. “She had a clear passion for the Wayne Jewish community. Additionally, as a former Jewish professional and a Jewish lay leader, she possessed an innate understanding of gathering stakeholders and working collaboratively. We hope that Judy’s presence and work will serve as a fulcrum for the Jewish community of Wayne, and surrounding areas. We believe her work will provide a means for gathering Jews of all types for community events in which we can celebrate our Jewishness — where we can come together and feel our collective presence in the community.”
Ms. Glass noted that the position is important “as we believe it will raise the profile of the Jewish presence in the community. Ms. Weil also will serve as a conduit to bring the federation’s presence into the community in a high-profile way. The federation is already present in Wayne, she added, explaining that JFNNJ funds many programs in that area. “But our profile is low,” she said. “We want the Jewish community of Wayne to see us and feel us.”