Jewish Long Beach and the Alpert Jewish Community Center CEO Zachary Benjamin has announced his plans to resign when his contract expires at the end of June, meaning the organization is now preparing for a change in leadership.
Benjamin initially announced his resignation in an emailed newsletter on March 10, the Press-Telegram previously reported.
Benjamin first joined Jewish Long Beach in 2019, as the organization was completing a merger with the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County.
Prior to his role as Jewish Long Beach CEO, Benjamin’s career spanned over 10 years in Chicago, based largely in business development with large trade organizations, before he decided he wanted to apply his skills in service of the Jewish community, he told the Business Journal.
Benjamin went on to lead the Jewish Federation of New Mexico in Albuquerque for four years prior to taking on his role in Long Beach.
“Jewish identity and Jewish culture were always central to who I am,” Benjamin said. “And it’s always been critically important to me to do what I can to ensure that Jewish identity continues for generations to come.”
Transitioning into the role of CEO of a newly merged organization was “a fantastic challenge,” Benjamin said.
“My philosophy is that change is always ripe with opportunity,” Benjamin said. “And this was a Jewish community, an organization that committed itself to evolving for the future and for the long term.”
Navigating the challenges of restructuring the organization prepared Benjamin for what was to come—the pandemic, plus a second merger, this time between Jewish Long Beach and Alpert Jewish Community Center.
“There hasn’t been what I would consider a typical day, since Day One in the role, and that’s a good thing,” Benjamin said. “Each day, each month has brought challenges. Some have been predictable. Some have been altogether unexpected—but having now helped guide this agency and community through two mergers and a global pandemic, it’s been a tremendous growth experience and learning opportunity.”
Reflecting on his past four years heading the organization, Benjamin recalled how Jewish Long Beach was able to quickly pivot to address critical needs during the pandemic, from providing remote learning resources to delivering food and basic supplies to vulnerable and isolated community members.
“We have had to be far more nimble and adaptable than I think any of the three precursor agencies had ever needed to be before starting, certainly with the first merger, but then when the pandemic hit, really re-imagining ourselves first as a lifeboat for the Jewish community, in the organizations that we serve,” Benjamin said.
In January 2022, Benjamin was named CEO of the newly-integrated Jewish Long Beach and Alpert JCC. The second merger, which was completed last year, was accomplished in just two-and-a-half years, and involved significant restructuring, a process that normally takes three to seven years, Benjamin added.
“We came out the other end with brand new governance models and structures, and a staffing structure that allows us to address our core functions and mission more directly, more efficiently and with greater impact than ever before,” Benjamin said. “Looking at the landscape of similar organizations around the country that have undergone similar metamorphosis, I firmly believe that we have a model that’s at the very vanguard of what an organization like this can achieve, and I think is going to stand the test of time, long after I step away.”
Over time, as Benjamin was tasked with guiding his organization through a pandemic and through an integration with Alpert Jewish Community Center, he found that his job description had shifted from its initial goal, which was to lead the reimagined Jewish Long Beach while setting long-term goals and visions.
“There came a point starting some months ago and coming to more clarity earlier this year, that … the incredible team of professionals that we’ve assembled here and myself really have created this airplane, theoretically speaking, as we’re flying it,” Benjamin said. “There came a point in recent months, where I felt that my charge here was coming to an end—that we had, in fact, built a strong, innovative, efficient and, most importantly, an impactful structure.”
“I think part of leadership is understanding when it’s time to step back and let others take the mantle of leadership,” Benjamin added. “I came to the conclusion that it was time for me to step back and let someone else fly this incredible, incredible entity that we’ve created.”
Benjamin plans to remain fully involved until his contract expires on June 30, ensuring a smooth transition, he said.
As it will not be feasible to find a permanent replacement by July 1, the organization plans to appoint an interim CEO in the meantime, said board president Richard Marcus. The organization has taken initial steps toward launching that search, and Marcus expects a formal search process is likely to begin next month.
Marcus noted that the newly integrated organization has reached a natural transition point, as it shifts from a creation stage to an implementation stage.
“Zach is brilliant, he really is, and honestly, I’m very sad he’s leaving,” Marcus said. “But I understand that he took a look at this and said, ‘Now is a point where I transition what I will do in my job. Do I want to do that? Or do I want to choose something else?’”
Benjamin has not decided what his next professional endeavor will be, although there are a number of potential opportunities that he is exploring, he said.
“I don’t have my next adventure locked in yet—I think most importantly, the ulterior motive in stepping away was to be a little more present for my family, also to be a little bit kinder to myself, prioritize my own mental and physical health, so those are my short-term priorities,” Benjamin said. “But in the medium-term, I’m committed to staying in the public sector, and at the right time will determine what and where my next role will be.”
As Jewish Long Beach and Alpert Jewish Community Center shifts into its next chapter, Marcus’ hopes for the future will include building upon the organization’s strategic plans and continuing to innovate in ways that will better serve the organization and community.
Future strategy will be guided by a recently-completed comprehensive Long Beach Jewish community study, the first of its kind conducted since the 1950s. Marcus expects that the organization’s next strategic plan will be voted upon in May, and it will allow the organization to accomplish what it couldn’t as three separate organizations, he said.
“The opportunities of a merged organization are just phenomenal,” Marcus said.
Benjamin hopes that the activities, engagement and impact of the organization will continue to extend beyond the walls of its building, while remaining a hub and “heart and core” that can evolve to meet the needs of both the Jewish and broader community, he said.
“I envision an organization that’s the central address for Jewish communal advocacy in the 15 municipalities that we serve, that if a mayor’s office or an elected official or civic leaders, school district needs the temperature of the Jewish community on any item, that phone of whoever sits in this office, that rings,” Benjamin added, “and that we are limited only by our imagination, and that that imagination is able to produce a bold reality that we’ve only begun to dream about currently and over the course of the last few years.”