Shep Englander, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, focused on growth and community
Shep Englander was looking for a new challenge when he was hired as CEO of the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation. There is so much going on with the organization that the board has asked him to start his work a little earlier.
As the Hebrew calendar turns to a new year this month, the federation has embarked on a major renovation and transformation of its sprawling campus on McIntosh Avenue in Sarasota and has raised funds to support construction and future operations.
It’s the kind of active operation, construction and growth that drew Englander to Sarasota after spending 16 years as head of the Cincinnati Jewish Federation.
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The 58-year-old was hired to replace Howard Tevlowitz, who has become a voice of the Jewish community on a variety of issues from support for Israel to anti-Semitic attacks on local religious institutions during his more than 20 years as CEO. Tevlowitz announced his intention to retire almost a year ago, shortly after Englander began to think about a change.
“Shortly before the pandemic, I started to realize what I loved the most was seeing something that needs to be fixed, that needs to be revamped, and that needs to figure out how to do it,” Englander said. in a Zoom interview from his new home. “The reorganization must be done by bringing together different components of the community, different points of view and demographics and by proposing a win-win solution. “
In Cincinnati, he helped bring together people who had been separated for years after the closure of the local Jewish community center, located in what was considered a dangerous neighborhood.
At the time Englander was hired, he said his job was to “understand certain parts of the community and figure out what the new solution would be.” It meant building a new community campus, bringing individuals and families together, and having a gathering place for events and practices.
The Sarasota Federation doesn’t really need the same kind of repair, but its campus suffered the loss of its own Flanzer Jewish Community Center, which closed in 2007, about four years after it merged with the Sarasota Family YMCA. .
After years of discussion and planning, the federation set out to rebuild its campus for a variety of programs.
“The opportunity to bring people together around a shared campus has been a big draw to me and will be a top priority,” Englander said.
He said the end result would be a unique Sarasota campus, eschewing the traditional Jewish community center pillar of an indoor fitness center around which programs are built.
“The board has done a fair amount of market research, focus groups and community meetings to get thoughts and ideas,” Englander said. The federation also raised more than $ 19 million for the project, although costs have increased due to the pandemic.
The Jewish community has doubled
A recent Brandeis University study indicated that Sarasota’s Jewish community has doubled in size over the past 20 years, with more than 35,000 people living in Jewish households.
Englander said that does not mean that all “identify as Jewish. A Jewish household is a household where one of the adults identifies as a Jew and we think of the community as everyone in a household.
Unlike some other religions, there is a distinction between Jewish identity and Jewish faith, belief and observance, he said.
“A significant percentage of American Jews will tell you that they are proud to be Jewish but are either agnostic or atheist,” Englander said. “In most religions, I don’t think that would make sense. Jews have a religious tradition that is part of a larger cultural tradition that includes language, food, literature, drama, and humor. Religion is only one aspect. This aspect was emphasized in America because America was founded around the idea of religious freedom.
The Jewish Federation is intended “to be a place where anyone who considers themselves Jewish or part of a Jewish household and wants to connect with Jewish things is welcome, regardless of their view of theology,” said Englander said.
That is why, in addition to providing links between other Jewish organizations and synagogues in the area and publishing the monthly newspaper The Jewish News, many of the federation’s programs focus on culture, education and gathering. , did he declare.
“We have a very active Jewish community and the federation is known to be part of a strong cultural tradition here and is very involved in the cultural and artistic life of Sarasota. It was a real strength.
Englander said the idea of community “is sacred and improves all of our lives immeasurably. There are many types of communities. One of the great treasures of Jewish tradition is how we build inclusive communities. The federations have become the modern framework and the support of the Jewish communities.
But that doesn’t mean they always speak with one voice.
“Jews are people of the book and people of ideas and we have always been diverse in our views and opinions,” he said. “Debates and disagreements are not only nothing new to Jews, but are really at the very heart of our culture. There is an old joke that says if you have two Jews together you have three opinions. What is of concern is not the breadth of opinion, but the ability to listen to and respect different opinions. I think all of us Americans need to work harder to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.
Englander moved to Florida with his wife, Hayley, a psychotherapist, who continued to work with patients in Ohio until she obtained her license in Florida. They have three children. His son Gabriel and daughter Lila graduated from college and started their careers, while their youngest son, Jake, attends Beacon College in Leesburg.