After 10 years working to reinforce and strengthen Jewish identity in Pittsburgh, David Katz, assistant director of Hillel-Jewish University Center, will soon be California-bound to head up Hillel-818, which serves three college campuses in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.
Katz began his career in Pittsburgh as the youth director of Congregation Beth Shalom before stepping into his leadership roles in Oakland seven years ago. From 2008 to 2013 he was the director of J’Burgh, a project of the Hillel-JUC that works to engage Jewish young adults between the ages of 21 and 30 who live, work and study in the Greater Pittsburgh area. In 2013, he assumed the role of assistant director of Hillel-JUC, focusing his work on college students from University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and surrounding campuses.
“David was a key creative force behind the formation and accomplishments of J’Burgh,” said Dan Marcus, director and CEO of Hillel-JUC of Pittsburgh. “And David has served as a role model to young adults and students in terms of his commitment to Jewish identity and peoplehood.”
Katz worked as a “strategic thought partner” in considering the best methods to develop Jewish campus life, ensuring that it remains both meaningful and effective, according to Marcus.
“And David has showed himself to be open to learning and developing his skill set to benefit not only Hillel-JUC, but also the wider Jewish community,” Marcus added, noting Katz’s involvement with other local institutions, such as Beth Shalom.
While Katz said he is going to miss the Pittsburgh Jewish community, he is pleased with the work he has done here and with the fact that J’Burgh has played its part in helping to create a “vibrant, young community, so young people would want to move here and stay here. And we are seeing more and more young people moving to Pittsburgh.”
When Katz took the helm of J’Burgh seven years ago, he said, the organization was serving only about 250 to 300 young Jewish adults. Now, there are more than 850 participants in J’Burgh events.
On Katz’s watch, J’Burgh was included in the 2012-13 “Slingshot Guide,” an annual list of 50 forward-thinking organizations published by the Slingshot Fund, a New York-based nonprofit.
The increase in young Jewish engagement in Pittsburgh has engendered additional organizations serving that population, Katz noted, including Repair the World and Moishe House.
“It’s exciting to see how it’s played out,” he remarked. “And I know this is only the tip of the iceberg.”
His new endeavor will have him serving about 8,000 Jewish students, about three times the population with which he has been working in Pittsburgh, he said.
But although there are many more students at Hillel-818, its budget is only about a quarter of the budget at Hillel-JUC, according to Katz. And whereas Hillel-JUC employs seven full-time programming staffers, Hillel-818 has only two.
The Hillel in the Valley — which serves California State University, Northridge Pierce College, and Los Angeles Valley College — has been undergoing a lot of changes in the last couple of years, Katz said.
“It needs a little TLC,” he said. “It serves a commuter community with a lot of first generation Americans, mostly Russians, Israelis and Persians. They are a different type of student and will require a different type of engagement.”
Katz sees his move to heading up Hillel-818 as his “next professional step,” and he is eager to “take this project and build it from the ground up.”
Although he is excited to be starting his work in L.A., his departure from Pittsburgh is “bittersweet,” he said.
“But I will be watching Pittsburgh from afar,” Katz remarked. “And one of the things I am comforted by is the state I am leaving Hillel-JUC. I can leave Hillel, and know it is in very good hands. And now, I get to do it again.”
Katz will be leaving Pittsburgh on April 17 and will begin work at Hillel-818 on April 20.
Hillel-JUC will be commencing its search process for Katz’s successor soon.
“Hillel JUC is about to undergo a national search for a new assistant director,” said Marcus. “We will be working with the international Hillel office in Washington, D.C. to be sure to spread our net as far and wide as possible. This will be a tremendous opportunity for somebody to become a part of an excellent local Hillel.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.