Amy Tobin spent her early 20s on the road performing a Jewish rock opera that she produced. But when she moved to San Francisco in the mid-’90s, she traded in the rock star dream for another one: becoming a headliner in the Jewish nonprofit world.
Tobin has risen up the charts. She has been named the chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay and will start on July 7. She is taking over for Sally Kauffman Flinchbaugh, who left in early May for a position at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.
“I feel really energized,” Tobin said. “I really love this type of work and I’m really excited to be taking on this new role.”
Born in St. Louis and raised in Boston, Tobin is the daughter of the late Gary Tobin, founder of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco. Her stepmother is Diane Tobin, who has served a number of Jewish organizations, including the JCC of San Francisco as its president from 1986-89.
Amy Tobin graduated with a degree in experimental theater from New York University, then toured around the country performing her Jewish cabaret rock opera, “The Esther Show.”
In 1996, she moved to San Francisco and made her foray into the Jewish nonprofit world.
“People my age didn’t really go to the JCC at the time,” said Tobin, 39.
Noticing a lack of young adult programming in the late ’90s, Tobin decided to do something about it. She worked as a program coordinator at the JCC of San Francisco for three years, and was one of eight fellows selected in 2001 by the Joshua Venture Group for its initial Jewish Social Entrepreneurs cohort.
“Joshua Venture was like getting a mini-nonprofit business degree,” Tobin said. “With coaches, peers and teachers, we could apply what we learned in real time.“
The two-year fellowship provided seed funding and training, which allowed Tobin to combine her love for theater and her passion for Judaism into The Hub, an arts and cultural programming center for young adults she launched at the JCCSF in 2001.
It was the beginning of a national movement, she said, where people were re-examining Jewish life through art and social change.
“One of the reasons I love being Jewish is I get to engage with it on my own terms,” Tobin said. “It’s like jazz: There’s a structure, but you get to innovate in the score.”
With Joshua Venture, she was part of a group of entrepreneurs who brought forth programs such as J-Dub Records, Storahtelling, G-dcast and Heeb magazine.
Tobin has called the East Bay home since 2003, and she now lives in Oakland with her husband, Scott Jacobson, and their 21-month-old daughter, Maayan.
Prior to taking leave to have a baby, Tobin was the executive director of the David Brower Center in Berkeley from 2006 through 2013, helping get the nonprofit off the ground for its 2009 opening.
“I wasn’t the founder,” Tobin said, “but I inherited a very large vision and translated it into an actual place.”
The center is an environmentally sustainable space that hosts community events, has an art gallery and a 180-seat theater. It is also home to Gather restaurant.
So what does Tobin have in mind for the JCC?
“I need to talk to a lot of people first,” she said. “That’s how we can create something that belongs to everyone.”
She said it’s premature to start planning, but pointed to a desire to have “mind-blowing arts” programming and cutting-edge Jewish projects. She said “there’s no shortage of brilliant” artists and musicians in the Bay Area, but doesn’t want to plan anything until she is apprised of the JCC’s budget.
Tobin wants the JCC of the East Bay to be a gathering place where Jews and interfaith families can enjoy programming and connect with one another. However, she said she also recognizes the challenges of serving an expansive East Bay from only two locations, its home base in Berkeley and a 3 1/2-year-old branch in Oakland.
Josh Langenthal, the immediate past president of the JCC of the East Bay, said he is excited to have Tobin on board.
“What is amazing about Amy is that her experience inside and outside of JCCs has really prepared her to take us to the next level,” he said. “It’s gratifying and inspiring to have someone of Amy’s caliber join us in this endeavor.”
Kauffman Flinchbaugh announced in March that she was stepping down after five years as the JCC’s executive director. In May, she took over as the chief operating officer at the Oshman Family JCC.