FEBRUARY 8, 2018 – Come July, when Rabbi Marc Baker takes the helm at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston after leading Gann Academy, he’ll be trading in a sea of student backpacks, lacrosse sticks, and musical instruments for the more corporate atmosphere at the federation’s headquarters in downtown Boston.
The lively scene of teenage chatter and high energy that pulses through the halls and classrooms of Gann, a pioneering, pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham, has been a source of joy for Baker for the last 11 years.
“That is probably what I will miss the most,” Baker told the Journal. “I have had the sacred privilege of bearing witness to the birth of [students’] souls every day. That is the blessing of being a high school educator.”
But without missing a beat, the 42-year-old Baker added that while he’ll miss the teens at Gann, he’s eager to join forces with the “engaging and dynamic” folks at CJP, where he serves as scholar-in-residence.
He will succeed Barry Shrage, who is retiring as head of the CJP after three decades marked by raising more than $1 billion for the local Jewish community.
Baker, a graduate of Yale, was ordained as a rabbi at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He and his wife, Jill, live in Brookline, where they are raising four children, including one who is a student at Gann.
For Baker, who grew up in Lynnfield, Jewish community was the family business. His father, Steve, who died 2 ½ years ago, served as president of both the North Shore Jewish Federation and the North Suburban Jewish Community Center, which he helped found. Marc Baker attended Camp Bauercrest during summers, a Jewish sports camp for boys in Amesbury, and the family belonged to Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody.
Baker’s mother, Shelley, was the other half of the dynamic husband-wife team that took part in the Jewish community’s many organizations and activities. “They were inseparable,” Marc said. “They modeled for me what it is to be part of a community, to be committed, to step up as leaders.”
In his new role at CJP, Baker will draw on his two decades of experience as an educator. “First and foremost, my life is dedicated to helping our next generation find meaning and purpose in Jewish life and Jewish learning,” he said.
He has honed his skills in building community out of diversity, he said. At Gann, this comes to life in the Shabbat experience, where students come together with peers who have different religious practices and attitudes about what it means to be Jewish.
“In that process, they come to understand themselves more deeply and have to find ways to build community with people who are different from themselves,” Baker said.
The missions of Gann and CJP are well aligned, as both seek to create a vibrant Jewish community and, at the same time, build a better world, Baker observed.
Off the bat, Baker anticipates spending time listening, learning, and building relationships with CJP staff, leaders, volunteers, and those associated with the wide array of CJP’s partner organizations. He also will seek opportunities to engage with those not yet connected with CJP. He will also take a deep dive into CJP’s strategic plan to develop goals for the future.
While the size of Gann’s annual budget is much smaller than CJP’s $64 million, he’s confident that the fund-raising success Gann has achieved under his leadership will serve as a guidepost. As head of school, he helped secure a $12.5 million donation that eliminated the school’s debt and recently raised over $6 million for the school’s Campaign for Gann.
“I have learned over the years that … development is about an inspiring vision and about mobilizing people around a compelling picture of where we are headed,” Baker said. “I look forward to working with the leadership of the community to clarify that vision and to fire people up about what is possible.”
His kids have been excited to see him embark on a new challenge, Baker observed. “I have been inspired by how encouraging they have been.”
Reflecting back, Baker said that in a way, he has come full circle to the Jewish leadership model set by his parents. “There is something special about this, the opportunity to serve the community you grew up with, while at the same time broadening and strengthening it. It’s an incredible blessing.”