If you’re the JCC and your middle name is literally “Community,” how do you define yourself in a post-COVID world? It’s a question that’s top of mind for Mike Sophir, the new chief executive officer of Denver’s Staenberg-Loup Jewish Community Center.
“COVID has reignited a sense of needing to belong,” he said, and now that we are learning to manage the pandemic, Sophir is focused on how the JCC can help with the reconnection process—and how the organization can communicate its relevance and value proposition.
That is not an intangible goal; it is taking shape against the backdrop of the JCC’s 100th anniversary. “I really do hope,” he said, “that at the 100-year mark, people will recognize that this organization is about the generations of Jewish families who, starting in 1922, had a vision about why a JCC matters. It matters because people need community and relationships as much now as ever before.” At the same time, he says, JCCs are organizations that must respond to the times. “I’ve never seen any JCC as a static organization. Our task is to help each element or aspect of the Jewish community and beyond come together to define who are they in this puzzle and how we are connected and for each to do what they do best without duplicating efforts.”
No stranger to Colorado, Sophir returns to the city he lived in for 22 years. While traffic is heavier and home prices are higher, he said that the Colorado community that welcomed him back has preserved its hometown feel. Evidence of that, said Sophir, was a phone call he received on January 10, his first day on the job, from JEWISHcolorado President and CEO Rabbi Jay Strear. “It meant something special that he reached out on the very first day and said, ‘I want to come over and meet you.’”
Sophir emerged as the candidate of choice after a year-long search on the part of the JCC Board. He comes to the organization after working as a senior consultant at Columns, a strategic business and organizational development firm. Prior to that, he served as CEO of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon International Headquarters in Chicago. His previous stint in Denver saw Sophir working for Peri Marketing & Public Relations and the Children’s Hospital Foundation.
In returning to Colorado, Sophir becomes part of his own target market, made up of huge numbers of people moving to the area. “We’re certainly having conversations about the greater Denver area and the number of people moving here. One of the things on my mind is individuals, couples, and families who are new to Denver and finding ways to let them know we are here.”
Sophir said that part of his own orientation as head of the JCC will involve inquiry. “I tend to be a person who asks a lot of questions. I’m digging through the layers of a story that I want to understand and trying to home in on a plan that will reach the community and provide the services that benefit it. I’m pleased to have this opportunity and the chance to be part of the future the JCC has as an important component in Jewish life in Denver.”