New face at Palo Alto day school no stranger in town

After more than eight years leading the Jewish Community Federation's South Peninsula office in Palo Alto, Al Platt has packed up and moved on.

But he's not traveling far.

He's heading just across the hall at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center, to the Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School. Starting Aug. 1, he'll serve as the school's first development director.

For the 63-year-old Platt, a father of five and grandfather of two, the move caps 25 years in Jewish communal service. He spent more than a decade as executive director and educator at Chicago's North Shore Congregation Israel.

Then, before moving to Northern California, he served as executive director of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where he was also both an administrator and fund-raiser.

The synagogue housed a Jewish day school of 350 kids of all religious backgrounds; it was there Platt became entranced with the Jewish day school concept. "It was just an incredible place," he said.

He joins the Mid-Peninsula Jewish Day School as it prepares for a major expansion.

As enrollment at the school ballooned beyond what can be accommodated at the ALSJCC, parents and school board members forged an $11 million capital campaign to build a bigger campus for the grade school and to open a middle school in the current grade-school location.

In addition, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's Endowment Fund gave the school a $1 million grant.

"I wanted to be close to what I feel is an extension of my work through federation over the years," said Platt, a former teacher of troubled children. "In my position, I've consulted and helped the day school in problems it had regarding planning, allocating.

"I followed the school and watched its growth."

Groundbreaking for the elementary school took place in June 1998 on a newly purchased lot close to the ALSJCC. Both schools are expected to begin instruction in fall 1999.

Platt, a Palo Alto resident, joined the JCF's South Peninsula office at a time when the federation was beginning to experiment with regional sites.

The South Peninsula became the testing ground for another experiment — block grants, which allocate funds regionally. The grants appropriate to four agencies a portion of the total raised in the region during the previous year's campaign, plus 25 percent over and above that amount.

The grants motivate contributors in the region because local leaders can decide how to apportion funds for regional agencies and programs.

Platt "inspired and developed the South Peninsula region through his personal style, which was haimish and very much reflective" of the area," said Carol Saal, a Palo Alto resident and campaign chair for the overall Jewish Community Federation in 1996-1998.

"He was very much a defender and supporter of the South Peninsula and I think it culminated in great success."

Looking back at his years at the federation, Platt said, "If I've left any legacy, it's that I've made people feel good about their sense of belonging to the Jewish community."

He believes he did that by keeping his door open and leading by example. "I'm part of the community. That's the only way it would have worked for me."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.