Jerry Rubin has had a stellar run in his 15 years at the helm of Jewish Vocational Service. When he was hired as its president and chief operating officer in 2007, the agency had a budget of $7 million with 60 to 70 employees who delivered workforce training – English language classes and vocational counseling – to some 5,000 immigrants and refugees. Fifteen years later, JVS has tripled in size, with a $23 million budget and a staff of 214 people who assist 16,000 adult immigrants in improving their lives.
Now Rubin, who is 65, is set to retire in the summer, and will be replaced by Newton Superintendent David Fleishman. Fleishman will step down in June after serving as NPS superintendent for 12 years. Fleishman oversaw a much larger organization: the Newton school system has a budget of $252 million and a staff of 2,500 employees.
“I see JVS as a natural extension of my previous work and passion for developing, supporting and amplifying innovative programs to address issues of equity and social justice,” said Fleishman. “As a public school leader, I always sought to lift all learners and their families to ensure that they had the support and skills to succeed. I was drawn to JVS for its adaptability and innovation, which are essential in achieving equitable outcomes for clients. I am excited to begin this new chapter and work with a great team.”
JVS Board Chair Joe Zeff said he knew the board couldn’t “clone Jerry” – nor did they try – but in Fleishman, they believe they’ve found someone who can “articulate a great, grand strategic vision for JVS, somebody who is passionate about our mission,” for furthering the cause of social justice and equity, said Zeff.
Reflecting on his decade and a half at JVS during an interview with the Journal, Rubin said, “I knew it was a great organization when I came and I thought it could grow because the need for the services is so enormous.
“From the beginning, when JVS was founded in 1938, we have always been involved in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) – blending English language learning with vocational skills,” Rubin said, acknowledging that the workforce model has only taken off in about the last five years. Before that, most adult educational institutions strictly focused on teaching the English language without the workforce component. [The workforce model] “has not always been popular. The field has moved. We can take some credit for that,” Rubin said.
Before coming to JVS, Rubin was vice president at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit national workforce development group. He learned what worked on a policy level, so when he came to JVS he was able to put it into practice. At JVS, he thought, “Let’s grow this. Let’s get better at it. I went from researching to doing.”
Having toggled between policy and practice, Rubin calls himself a “reflective practitioner,” one who reflects and draws experience from hands-on work. It is what he’ll be imparting to his students when he becomes a visiting fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government in the fall.
In an impressive career that includes founding two nonprofits and leading housing and economic development initiatives in the administration of Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, Rubin counts his years at JVS as his best job. “It allowed me to become a much better leader,” he said. “I’m glad I was here during the COVID pandemic. It was like a postdoctoral program in leadership. We completely reinvented the organization. I never felt alone while working with staff. We shared the leadership.”
JVS had a technology plan in place but COVID accelerated it. All in-person classes went remote with instructors having to learn the new technology almost overnight. “It’s revolutionary,” said Rubin.
Is there still room to innovate? “Oh my God, yes,” said Rubin. “We need talent. We’re short on talent, and that’s JVS’s business. The Uber driver, the at-home mom, the disabled person – this is the untapped workforce. Massachusetts is desperate for it. We cannot grow without it. People in Massachusetts have potential and they’re not reaching it. JVS’s job is to help them learn more to earn more.”
With its genesis in employing Jewish refugees fleeing wartime Europe in 1938, JVS has continued to give English language and job training to individuals from across the globe. And still, 84 years after its inception, JVS continues to beat with a Jewish heart.
As our constituents “climb the economic ladder, as immigrants do, the organization will always be committed to serving the Jewish community and giving back to the broader community. Tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tzedakah (charity) is in our DNA,” said Rubin.
Rubin posted on his Twitter account that he believes there are two Americas. “One inclusive, diverse and loving. The other exclusive, resentful and hateful. The rest is detail.” He elaborated, saying the U.S. has struggled its entire history with being a multinational democracy.
“We have never fully overcome the tension between those that have and those that haven’t. Our economy was founded on slavery – one of the most extreme versions of the incredible damage of racial discrimination. We are in a bad moment with the politics of ‘othering.’ I got mine and I want to keep it,” said Rubin.
A New Jersey native, Rubin grew up with politically active parents who were involved in political campaigns, and the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.
In retirement this summer, Rubin intends to travel with his wife, Carol Steinberg, to Atlanta for a civil rights tour. In August they’ll go on a cruise along the Norwegian coastline before he assumes his role at the Kennedy School.