Robin Mencher is the new executive director of Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay.
Robin Mencher is the new executive director of Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay.

New JFCS East Bay head ready for the challenge, with an eye on equity

Given that Robin Mencher describes herself as “fairly low-risk and conservative in making decisions,” one might assume that she’d never choose to leave a job she’s had for 14 years, and in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

But the new executive director of Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay doesn’t quite see it that way.

“This is an organization that, even in the midst of this crisis, is in a place of strength,” said Mencher. “It has solid bones thanks to Avi’s leadership and long-term vision and the growth he brought to it.”

Mencher feels fortunate to be stepping into the shoes of outgoing executive director Avi Rose, who served for 15 years.

“His legacy is one of community impact through people, including building a dedicated and effective staff, a committed board of directors, meaningful community partnerships, and the strengths of the people we serve,” she said. “The agency’s powerful foundation will allow us to continue to serve the East Bay during the Covid-19 pandemic and, in the long term, moving from strength to strength through this leadership transition.”

Mencher, 48, lives in North Berkeley with her husband, Matthew Dimond, and their daughter, Marnina. The family belongs to Congregation Netivot Shalom, where Mencher has served on a variety of committees (they belonged to Beth El for several years, too, where Marnina attended preschool). Mencher has worked with the New Israel Fund, serving on its New Generations and regional boards.

A native of Brea in Orange County, Mencher is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, has a teaching credential and a master’s degree in education from Oakland’s Mills College, and spent several years teaching at San Lorenzo High School. Her formative Jewish experiences included SoCal NFTY, Camp Swig and a junior year abroad at Hebrew University. Before graduate school, Mencher studied at Pardes Institute, an egalitarian yeshiva in Jerusalem, and spent two years in New York City, working as a Jewish professional for the first time as a program assistant for the Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education.

Most recently, and for the majority of her career, Mencher was the executive director of the educational arm of KQED, the San Francisco-based public radio and television station. KQED Education trains educators in using the media effectively with students, and how to teach them to be media literate, as well as able to look at the media through a critical lens.

This is an organization that, even in the midst of this crisis, is in a place of strength.

One of the things that spoke to Mencher most about KQED Education’s mission was that it was increasing access and amplifying the voices of young people, something that is vital in a democracy, and she sees a similar mission at JFCS East Bay.

“I wanted to move out of policy and closer to the action, into community-based work, as I think that that’s where the real change and transformation happens,” she said. Ultimately, she’ll be drawing on her years of experience in nonprofit management.

What drew her to the work of JFCS East Bay specifically, she said, is that it is a Jewish organization serving the broader community, especially at a pivotal time in this country when there is a reckoning taking place over racial justice.

“I wanted to focus on questions of equity that are motivated by my Jewish values, and JFCS as an organization fits right into that space,” she said.

Immigrants and refugees make up a large portion of the population that the organization serves. “Immigrants and refugees are part of the richness of democratic life, and JFCS is a social services organization that supports people to build themselves up and live their best lives,” said Mencher. “In order to participate in public life, you have to have a firm grounding in your sense of self and who you are. These kinds of services are foundational for strong communities.”

Mencher also pointed to the important work that JFCS East Bay has done in resettling refugees. Early on, those who needed help were more commonly Jews from Russia; now they are more likely to be Muslim, perhaps, or come from countries such as Syria or Afghanistan, or belong to the LGBTQ community.

Katherine Haynes, board chair of JFCS East Bay, said Mencher stood out from a strong pool of candidates.

“Not only does she have strong leadership skills, but she has also had the experience of building, transforming and adapting programming and operations as times have changed,” said Haynes. “We feel confident that Robin will meet the challenges of the post-Covid world with thoughtfulness, clarity of purpose and genuine care for JFCS East Bay’s staff, supporters and clients.”

While Mencher doesn’t know when she’ll be able to go into the Berkeley office, she admitted that not having to commute into San Francisco will be a nice change. “I’m looking forward to riding my bike to work,” she said.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."