92Y Raises Eyebrows With Appointment of Non-Jewish Henry Timms as New Chief

Manhattan Arts Institution Seeks To Put Scandal Behind

By Uriel Heilman

Published May 06, 2014.
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The 92nd Street Y may be trying to pull that off with its hiring of Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue as the Y’s director of Jewish community – a new full-time position whose announcement was made simultaneously with the Timms announcement. The Y’s news release on Rubinstein focused on his role “nurturing 92Y’s Jewish spirit,” but it overreached in describing him as the Y’s “spiritual leader.” Rubinstein clarified to JTA that serving as spiritual leader is not part of his job description, noting that he would not be leading worship services or conducting any lifecycle observances.

The Y, originally the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, was founded in 1874 in New York by German Jews. It moved to its current location on the Upper East Side in 1900. The Y’s mission statement says: “Founded 140 years ago to serve the Jewish people, 92nd Street Y promotes individual and family development and participation in civic life within the context of Jewish values and American pluralism.”

Fordham University law professor Thane Rosenbaum, a frequent presenter at the Y, says the institution always has been informed by Jewish values but is not limited to the Jewish community, either in target audience or presentation.

“There’s always been an implicit understanding that the place is endowed with Jewish values, but its presentation – what is on stage – has never been focused on that,” Rosenbaum said. “If anything, it’s always tried to reach a wider audience. The decision to elevate Henry Timms to executive director fits into that.”

Rosenbaum credited Timms with greatly expanding the Y’s reach and programming. Where it matters, Rosenbaum says, Timms is Jewish enough.

“This guy has a Jewish soul. It’s not about did he attend yeshiva,” Rosenbaum said. The choice of Timms as executive director, Rosenbaum said, “only reinforces the point that as long as the values and objectives of the place are being both honored and preserved, the leadership of the 92nd Street Y would not be dependent on circumcision.”

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