(JTA) — When the 92nd Street Y announced last week that it had hired a new executive director, Crain’s New York Business went with an eye-catching headline.
“It’s a goy! 92nd St. Y picks first non-Jewish chief.”
The announcement that Henry Timms would lead the famed Upper East Side cultural center represented the culmination of the Y’s effort to move past the scandal-tainted tenure of its previous director, Sol Adler, who was fired last July. Adler’s dismissal followed revelations that he had a long-term affair with his assistant, Catherine Marto, whose son-in-law was under investigation for allegedly taking part in a kickbacks scheme at the Y.
After Adler’s departure, Timms – at the time the Y’s deputy executive director for innovation, strategy and content – was named interim executive director.
But the move to make Timms’ position permanent is raising some eyebrows in Jewish philanthropic circles.
“Was I disappointed when I read the news? It’s fair to say that I was,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Fund and a former head of the Jewish Funders Network. “I don’t know the process they went through that led to this decision.”
Officials at the 92nd Street Y declined to be interviewed for this story or address questions on the subject by email. Phone calls to numerous Y board members also were not returned.
While it describes itself on its website as a “proudly Jewish organization,” the Y’s programming long has focused far more on the wider community than on Jewish culture. It serves primarily as a cultural center, hosting world-class artists, entertainers and public figures, along with some specifically Jewish programming. It also has many of the elements typical of JCCs and YMCAs: fitness programming, child care, a nursery school and activities for seniors.
The selection of a non-Jew to lead this major New York Jewish institution raises questions both about the character of the Y and about the larger issue of gentiles leading Jewish organizations.