Rabbi David Gedzelman, the creative and rabbinic director at Makor, is leaving the Upper West Side cultural center founded by Michael Steinhardt to lead another of the mega-philanthropist’s Jewish communal ventures.
In January, Rabbi Gedzelman, 43, will become executive director of the New York-based Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation. He’ll assume the post previously held by Jonathan Joseph (J.J.) Greenberg, who died in September at age 36 in a traffic accident in northern Israel.
“This move was completely precipitated by unfortunate circumstances,” Rabbi Gedzelman said in a telephone interview.
“This is bittersweet for me,” he added. “I love this place.”
Rabbi Gedzelman was recruited by JLN in 1995 to develop and launch Makor, originally conceived as a meeting place for unaffiliated young Jews. Earlier that year, Greenberg joined JLN as its founding director, and since then helped create some of its most talked about initiatives, including birthright israel and Makor.
It was Mr. Greenberg who approached Gedzelman, then a rabbi-in-residence at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and the director of Hillel chapters at two San Fernando Valley colleges.
The two men worked closely to create a center, “we called it then a drop-in center, to reach out to Jewish New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s,” Gedzelman said. He said he found the double brownstone on West 67th St., the former home of the Swiss Benevolent Society.
The $11-million building opened in October 1999, housing a kosher café, a movie theater, space for live performances and facilities for classes in subjects from Hebrew to Tai Chi. Gedzelman has been an active presence there, performing original music in the café and hosting Shabbat dinners, something he plans to continue.
Makor has successfully attracted crowds: between 1,500 and 2,000 visitors pass through its doors each week, according to Gedzelman.
But Steinhardt reportedly could not find financial partners to support the center. In early 2001, he handed the building, reportedly valued at $16 million, to the 92nd Street Y, along with responsibility for Makor’s operating budget, which Gedzelman puts at “around $3 million.”
Since then, the Y has established daytime programming for older adults at the West Side building, now called the Makor/Steinhardt Center of the 92nd Street Y.
Shortly after Greenberg died, Gedzelman says he spoke to Steinhardt, JLN’s chairman, and J.J. Greenberg’s father, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, who is JLN’s president, “I said to both [of them]: In anyway I can be helpful, I’m here,” Gedzelman said. “And we began having talks about a month after that.”
Gedzelman, who was married in June, says of his move to the foundation, “It made lot of sense.”
In his new role, Gedzelman will work directly with Steinhardt and Rabbi Greenberg to expand the existing programmatic lineup, which includes the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education and Synagogue Transformation and Renewal (STAR).
Gedzelman says he has ideas brewing for ways JLN can deal “with the macro issues of the Jewish community,” but he declines to elaborate. “It’s premature to talk about,” he says.
A search to replace Gedzelman is not yet underway, a spokesperson for the 92nd Street Y said Tuesday.