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‘The J is Thriving:’ Leaders Discuss Broad Impact of JCC at Annual Meeting

Jen Stein at the annual meeting

Another day at the Mayerson JCC is coming to a close. Parents pick up their children from After Crew after an exciting afternoon of swimming, playing games, and creating artistic masterpieces. Others are wrapping up their personal training sessions in the gym or making their final remarks in a discussion group before heading home for dinner.

While the day is winding down for members of the J, the JCC Annual Meeting is just beginning. The annual event highlights what is happening inside these walls and throughout the community every day: connections forming within the community through sports, senior programming, our Early Childhood School, and so much more.

“For several years, I came to these meetings and shared statistics from every department at the J,” Mayerson JCC CEO Marc Fisher said at the 2023 Mayerson JCC Annual Meeting on September 7. “Over time, I came to realize there is no way those stats were giving you a real sense of our J’s impact. It was impossible to capture what we do just by the numbers of people we serve. It’s about how we live our mission of connecting people so that they can live happier and fuller lives, creating a more vibrant Jewish community.”

Fisher went on to talk about how the J is thriving—that the depth and breadth of the work the J is doing every day is quite amazing. The J serves a diverse community and allows people of varying ages, beliefs, and interests to connect with each other, ultimately making our community much stronger. And it’s a place that people want to be a part of.

Camp at the J, our Early Childhood School, and Senior Field Trips continue to have waitlists. Our membership is within striking distance of the J’s all-time high; this is a huge recovery post COVID-19 and something JCCs in other cities are still not seeing consistently. This year, our Meals on Wheels team of staff and volunteers delivered the greatest number of meals in its history, and the Fall Market had more than 100 vendors. The men’s softball league continues to be full, and the players are very committed.

“You’ve heard a lot tonight about how the J is thriving – our ranks are growing, our programs are plentiful and well utilized, and we are serving more people than we ever have,” new JCC President Jen Stein said. “In large part, this is thanks to Marc Fisher and his talented group of managers and staff who work to make your JCC engaging, relevant, and inclusive. As we enter the second year of our strategic plan, they are working diligently to bring even more exciting programs and plans to fruition, all of which will have a positive impact for our members and continue to keep the J a vibrant hub of Jewish life in Cincinnati.”

Outgoing President, Ronnen Isakov, took the stage to reflect more on the strategic plan, which was launched this time last year. Isakov noted that because of the staff and leadership at the J, the strategic plan will set the stage to create positive impact for the community.

“I believe one of the most important roles of a board president is to ensure when your tenure is up, you are leaving your position in a better place,” Isakov said. “I am confident that is true in my case. We have a fantastic and dedicated board who are fully invested in the success of this JCC.”

At the Annual Meeting, the J recognized staff and volunteer leaders who have made outstanding contributions to the organization. Pam Barnett was awarded this year’s Kovod Award, for her selfless, committed service to the JCC over a long period of time. Barnett is deeply involved in the J community; she has chaired the canasta event at the J Classic for the last five years and has joined Meals on Wheels as a volunteer, delivering fresh kosher meals to home-bound seniors. Barnett is also the first person to be a second-generation Kovod Award winner, with her father, Bob Barnett, winning it in 1963.

The JCC Community Partner Award went to Katz Teller for their unwavering support of the Mayerson JCC over the years, including being the Course of Caterers Sponsor at the 2023 J Classic, and generous supporters of the Jewish & Israeli Film Festival and the Oy Vey 5K.

Ronnen Isakov was awarded the Sigmund M. Cohen Memorial Award, which recognizes someone who has rendered distinguished service to the J in a selfless and quiet manner over the course of their lifetime. Isakov is involved in numerous community organizations, including the Mayerson JCC, Shaarei Torah Congregation, Rockwern Academy, and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. In addition to serving as President of the J, he and his wife Lara co-chaired the Oy Vey 5K event.

The final award of the night recognized a beloved member of the community who passed away earlier this year —Jeff Elkus. Jeff was awarded the Nadiv Award, given to those who have played a significant role in the transformation of the JCC through unusual acts of kindness, generosity and hard work. This is only the fourth time in history it has been given—a testament to Jeff’s character and contribution to the community.

Jeff worked at the J for the last 14 years as a Membership Concierge and Development Assistant and was well-known throughout the community. He could always be found hanging out at big community events like the J Classic or Jewish Community Night at the Reds because it was an opportunity for him to meet people and have great conversations. He was regarded as a renaissance man —talking pop culture, sports, music, and theatre to anyone, young or old.

His parents, Steve and Nancy, accepted the award on his behalf and shared a moving tribute. In addition, a memorial has been installed at the JCC that shares Jeff’s spirit and wisdom.

“We were always the last to leave an event because Jeff was so social with everyone,” Nancy Elkus said, reflecting on Jeff’s involvement and love for the community.

Interestingly, his parents were still the last to leave that night, staying to look on as staff members carefully installed the permanent memorial in the lobby of the J and admiring a life well lived.

Outgoing president Ronnen Isakov and incoming president Jen Stein.
Outgoing president Ronnen Isakov and incoming president Jen Stein.
Cross training. Young woman exercising with dumbbells.

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