For the first time in over two decades, there will be a new face in the executive director's office at Birmingham's Levite Jewish Community Center.
Betzy Weinblatt-Lynch, who has been assistant executive director of the Memphis JCC since 2004, will succeed Garth Potts by the end of this year. As part of her current position, Weinblatt-Lynch was director of Memphis' JCC Maccabi Games last month, which welcomed about 1100 Jewish teens from four countries for an Olympics-style competition. Two or three communities are selected as hosts each year; Memphis was where the Games began in 1982.
A Youngstown, Ohio, native, Weinblatt-Lynch graduated from Goucher College where she was active athletically, including being named women's athlete of the month by the Capital Athletic Conference for her tennis skills. She also played basketball for Goucher.
Weinblatt-Lynch planned to go into the professional sports field, and upon graduation got a job with the Baltimore Orioles. That was 1994 -- the year of the baseball strike. "My career was short-lived."
After a short stint in the business world and teaching tennis part-time, she went back to school, earning a Master's in physical education and exercise science at Indiana State, with the idea of getting into coaching. As she finished, her mother suggested that she look at Jewish Community Centers for her career, and her first position was with the physical education department at the JCC in West Palm Beach.
She became physical education director at the JCC in Youngstown, then program director. In 2004, she started at the Memphis JCC.
She admits that a decade ago, the idea that she would be moving to Birmingham would not have entered her mind. "I grew up in the north. What did I know?" Her mother was surprised to learn that Memphis had more Jews than Youngstown. Birmingham does, also.
Now, "we really like the South," Weinblatt-Lynch said. "Our kids are Southerners. They were born (in Memphis)."
In the South, "the people are wonderful, warm and friendly, care about the community, are affiliated and belong," she said.
The opportunity to stay in the South to advance her career was "an ideal set of circumstances." She was looking for a place "where the work I have chosen really has an impact on the community," and where the community is truly a community.
"Birmingham has an excellent reputation," she said, noting the "incredibly committed" lay leadership and staff. During her visits, she saw a desire to refurbish the LJCC, take on big projects and dramatically enhance the fundraising.
She recently completed a big project, the Maccabi Games. While many communities stretch to put the games on, in Memphis the games were profitable. That was part of the plan, she said, because she knew that the JCC could not do its own fundraiser this year after asking so much from the community to help stage the games.
Being the director of the Maccabi Games was "the highlight of my career," she said. "Such a community effort."
The entire Memphis community bought in, including all segments of the Jewish community and the general community. Of the roughly 350 Jewish teens in Memphis who are the right age for participation in the Games, there were 213 in the Memphis delegation. That, she said, will bode well for the teens' future Jewish involvement.
Can Birmingham host the Games? Weinblatt-Lynch says it is possible. With some infrastructure upgrades "it would be an eventual goal. It is not too far out of reach." The key would be cooperation from the entire community.
Her husband, Spencer, was a professional soccer player in Belgium after growing up in England. He was working for the U.S. Major League Soccer development program when they met, as he ran a camp at the Youngstown JCC.
Weinblatt-Lynch will start at the LJCC by the end of the year. She plans several visits between now and then, and will spend time with Potts during those visits to "have a full grasp" of operations.
Potts is retiring after 22 years at the LJCC. The agency did a national search, attracting over 20 applicants. Those were whittled down to finalists for phone interviews; a handful were brought in for two-day interviews, seeing the facility, meeting with staff and board members, and touring the city.
Stephen Dorsky noted the enthusiasm that the search committee had for Weinblatt-Lynch. "Everybody is extremely excited," he said.
With her taking the LJCC's reins, four of Birmingham's five community-wide Jewish agencies will be led by women.