New position brings new inspiration to Peninsula JCC

When Tamar Malino was young, she knew she wanted to do something in the Jewish community, but wasn’t sure exactly what.

Should she follow in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and attend rabbinical school, or should she make aliyah and work for peace in Israel?

She decided to stay stateside and study at Hebrew Union College in New York. After graduating and spending seven years as the rabbi at a San Diego congregation, she moved north this summer to become the Peninsula JCC’s associate executive director for Jewish life.

She is the first person to hold such a position.

“I think she has a real organic sense of how to make Judaism and Jewish values accessible,” said Deborah Pinsky, PJCC executive director. “And that’s important, because what the JCC can be is a place that has fewer barriers” than a more religious institution, like a synagogue.

“We weren’t specifically looking for a rabbi,” Pinsky added, “just someone who could infuse the JCC with a lens through which to look at the many flavors of Judaism.”

Malino seemed the ideal person — she was enthusiastic, down to earth, and experienced with Jewish education as both a teacher and student. She has studied Judaism at Pardes Institute, Oberlin College and at HUC, and while the rabbi of Temple Adat Shalom in San Diego, she directed the synagogue’s award-winning high school program.

“It’s been a dream of mine to coordinate serious cross-denominational adult learning,” she said. “I like the idea of working across the denominations. I like being in a position to reach out to those who might not be affiliated in any way, to be that first spark or excitement to Judaism.”

Malino has moved to San Mateo with her partner, Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein, and their 2-year-old twins, Aviel and Coby. When she’s not working, she said she’s usually doing something family-related.

She has already instituted some new programs at the PJCC in Foster City. One of the first was a meet-the-rabbis day, during which two Reform rabbis, two Conservative rabbis and a Chabad rabbi spoke to 40 mostly unaffiliated but curious individuals at the JCC.

She’s also working on a number of others, including a “tikkun olam family chavurah” that will bring together parents and children for service projects and Jewish learning.

She intends to bring a national program called Grandparents Circle to the PJCC. It’s a five-week course that empowers Jewish grandparents with interfaith grandchildren to pass on Jewish history and tradition without forcing it upon the grandchildren or their parents.

“We want to reach out to families who are not otherwise connected to the Jewish community and provide a lot of accessible programming for them,” Malino said.

“My hope is that we inspire people to connect out of a sense of joy and commitment to Jewish life, rather than obligation.”

Stacey Palevsky