OU Announces Appointment of Rabbi Judah Isaacs as Director of Community Engagement

25 Mar 2011


Dr. Simcha Katz, President of the Orthodox Union and Rabbi Steven Weil, Executive Vice President of the OU, today announced the appointment of Rabbi Judah Isaacs of Teaneck, NJ, a longtime veteran of Jewish organizational work, to the newly created position of “Director of Community Engagement.”

“We look forward with excitement to Judah’s dynamic leadership in developing creative and impactful programs for our member synagogues and communities,” declared Dr. Katz and Rabbi Weil in a statement. “In his more than two decades of service to the Jewish community, he has earned a reputation as an ‘innovative doer’ who works closely with lay people and professionals in getting things done.”

“I believe success starts with planning — having a vision, a strategic plan and a very clear direction of where we want to go,” said Rabbi Isaacs. “Once that direction is in place, my expertise is in helping staff and lay leadership working towards that vision and actualizing it.”

Starting work on Shushan Purim, Rabbi Isaacs came to the OU with the responsibility to oversee the work of three of its departments – Community Services | Jewish Communal Programming, Synagogue Services | Congregation Support Network, and Day School and Educational Services – and thereby to strengthen them through integrating their efforts.

“It’s become clear over time from talking to staff and lay leadership and based on what I’ve learned from Dr. Katz and Rabbi Weil, that the OU is striving to strengthen its interdepartmental program coordination, especially the integration of these departments with Yachad | Jewish Disabilities Integration (for those with disabilities), NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership (the OU’s international program for teenagers,) and IPA | Jewish Political Action (the Washington-based public policy arm of the OU), so that it’s bringing everything the OU does under the community rubric.”

The objective of this arrangement, Rabbi Isaacs emphasized, “is to oversee the work the OU is doing throughout North America, whether by programs or by involvement with individual shuls or schools on their issues – through their rabbis, executive directors, youth directors, directors of development and lay leaders — and thereby to strengthen our community.”

Rabbi Isaacs arrives well-prepared for his task. Coming to the OU from being Director of Leadership and Sustainability in the Day School and Yeshivot Department of the Jewish Education Project (formerly the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York), he was charged with sparking innovative practices and providing what he terms “highly valued resources” to more than 300 schools in the area served by UJA-Federation of New York.

Previously, in a long sojourn in Detroit that began in 1993, he was Director of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s Alliance for Jewish Education; Executive Director of the Agency for Jewish Education of Metropolitan Detroit; and Senior Planning Associate of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Earlier in his career, he was coordinator for five years for the Fair Lawn community of the Jewish Federation of North Jersey.

Rabbi Isaacs is proud of the fact that he is a fifth generation American Orthodox Jew, a descendant of Schachne Isaacs, who came to America in the 1850’s. His five children are the sixth generation. “This heritage is an important part of why I’m excited to be working on behalf of the Orthodox community in North America,” he declared.

He is becoming familiar with the staff he has inherited – Frank Buchweitz, National Director of Community Relations and Special Projects; Laya Pelzner, Penny Pazornick and Yehuda Friedman of Synagogue Services; and Rabbi Saul Zucker and Rabbi Cary Friedman of Day School and Educational Services.

“The staff are topnotch professionals — one of the exciting things Rabbi Weil told me is that there is a fantastic team in place doing the work. I look forward to working with them — they are doing incredible work and they are there to do the job.”

He will work not only with staff but with lay people with the goal of “developing for each of these departments a strong lay leadership from across the country to work with staff and to enhance our goals.” Rabbi Isaacs added, “The way you develop a vision is by putting lay and professionals together; it’s an organic process from a lot of different people. By creating this new position the OU is setting the direction of where we want to go — we must talk to people on the ground, in the synagogues, in the communities — so we continue providing what is essential to them.”

It all goes back to vision, starting at the top. “Dr. Katz and I spent 2 ½ hours together in the interview process. I learned about his vision, what he is expecting the OU to do. We came to an understanding to help bring the OU to another level; by bringing all these positions under one head we can advance the work of the OU in positive ways,” Rabbi Isaacs declared.

“The key is to ensure that we have strong Orthodox communities throughout North America and to determine how we can make certain that this happens. Ultimately, it is how we create leadership in the Orthodox community for the 21st century.”

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