This article was originally published in The Boston Globe. Caricature done by Chris Morris.
Lily Rabinoff-Goldman had barely settled into her then-new job as CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston when she had to start raising money. Such is the life of a nonprofit executive.
That was in the summer of 2022, and Rabinoff-Goldman was recruited from her administrative job at the Gann Academy to take over for the Newton-based organization following the retirement of longtime chief executive Mark Sokoll. One of the first items on her to-do list: raise $5 million to renovate and update the lobby areas of the JCC’s complex in Newton.
With the help of chief development officer Jillian Kohl, Rabinoff-Goldman got to work. Many donors stepped up, led by three seven-figure gifts from developer Arthur Winn and his family, the Paul & Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation (cofounded by former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman), and the Chleck Family Foundation.
They pulled it off, and construction finally is set to begin this week on the 11,000-square-foot project. The remodeling of the 1980s-era lobby includes a new “J-Cafe” and teen lounge as well as new communal seating areas. Rabinoff-Goldman hopes contractor Elaine Construction Co. will have the bulk of the work done in time for a gala honoring former JCC chair Lou Grossman in April.
The project represents the last phase of a series of upgrades to the facility that began in 2015 but were put on hold early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has felt really exciting that people wanted to be part of the next phase,” Rabinoff-Goldman said. “It gives people a sense of community. That’s the thing that we emerged from COVID wanting filled. … Essentially, we are creating new ways to gather for informal and more formal programming within the building.”
She also has had to help the JCC navigate a much larger project next door, the construction of a 174-unit senior living complex by 2Life Communities, a project that required the JCC to use its emergency back entrance as its main front gate.
Remodeling aside, it’s been “an amazing learning curve” getting up to speed on the organization and its various services, including its fitness center and summer camps, she said. The JCC employs about 450 people year-round (and many more in the summer), brings in about $26 million a year in revenue, and has about 2,500 members. “This is a JCC that’s not afraid to try new things,” Rabinoff-Goldman said. “This is a super-creative and innovative organization.”