JCC’s Big Night Honors the Visionary Leadership of JCC’s Former President and CEO Brian Schreiber

From left to right: Debra Caplan, Karen Feinstein, and Brian Schreiber pose together at the JCC’s Big Night. JHF was a partner sponsor of the event.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh's (JCC) 18th Annual Big Night celebration, held Saturday, March 9 at the JCC, honored its former President and CEO Brian Schreiber.

Schreiber joined the JCC in 1999 as President and CEO, overseeing the $9.5 million organization serving 15,000 people for 24 years until 2023 when he stepped down. It now serves 30,000 with an operating budget of over $26 million.

Schreiber said the success of the Greater Pittsburgh JCC has come with the mindset of leading the legacy institution with the drive and the passion of a startup. This foundational commitment to drive impact and performance has ultimately led to the JCC being recognized as a model for JCC's nationwide.

"When I started here a little over 25 years ago, I did key informant interviews. Needless to say, Karen (Feinstein) and Nancy (Zionts) were both in those 60 interviews. Karen said something to me that really stuck with me my entire time here. She always loved the JCC, she always believed in the JCC, but her words were 'The agency is indifferent to excellence.'"

Reflecting on those words led Schreiber to evaluate the building blocks and framework of the organization which created meaning to/for the community and were keys to the organization's impact on the community at large. This contemplation also led to a deep dive to identify its shortcomings and gaps in service. "I didn't rise up through the system, so I was able to look at it with a fresh lens," Schreiber said.

Early on in his tenure, the roadblocks to the organization's success were largely financial. Schreiber said it took a significant period of time to work toward financial stability, but it was important to him to get there without sacrificing program excellence.

"We are both a tremendous resource to the Jewish community, but we're also a tremendous community resource. It took time getting a culture comfortable with it not being a binary choice. We have deep roots and commitment to the Jewish community, but we're a community asset at the same time," Schreiber said.

Schreiber said the organization ran profitably for 18 years in a row before being tested by a rapid-fire progression of crises.

During his time as president and CEO, the synagogue shooting at the Tree of Life facility was a defining moment for the Jewish community and the JCC. Due to its geographic proximity to the synagogue, the JCC played a critical role in the first moments after the incident and after as the community processed, rebuilt, and began the healing process.

"This had never happened in the Jewish community, and we put a unique lens on that work and what it meant to support a community in all its various concentric circles – from the most immediate victims, all the way to the community that was traumatized by the event," Schreiber said. "It is an incredible privilege to house the 10.27 Healing Partnership and being a space of healing and resilience after a mass casualty event."

On March 1, 2020, the JCC paid off its last debt payment, and on March 14 it shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schreiber recalls that overnight, and with no time to prepare, 80 percent of the JCC's earned revenue disappeared. He noted JHF's $2.5 million grant helped bolster the organization to maintain financial stability it had worked 20 years to build.

"We had to really pivot, but also we never stopped serving the community. Again, our most difficult moment became our defining moment," said Schreiber, listing that the JCC offered grab and go lunches for seniors, assisted with setting up COVID testing and vaccines, getting licensed to become a family campground per West Virginia rules so families could come to the JCC's Emma Kaufmann Overnight Camp for respite.

Brian Schreiber stepped down from the position and the JCC's new President and CEO Jason Kunzman taking the helm September 1, 2023. Schreiber continues to remain full-time at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh at its Chief External Affairs Officer, that includes a portion of his time serving as Special Adviser to the JCC Association of North America's CEO, a position he began in 2018.

At the national level, Schreiber works to assess the impact and future of the 170 JCCs, bringing with him the lessons he's learned from Pittsburgh.

"Our aggregate impact looks very different from our local impact, and we can start to think about that in terms of building a movement that's working toward collective outcomes. That's what I think the next chapter is in our field," Schreiber said. "And that excites me, as you can tell." 

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