After serving Jews abroad, activist takes Peninsula post

Marcia Mintz keeps the door propped open as a sign of welcome at the Peninsula office at the Jewish Community Federation — even if the visitors are only seeking directions.

"I want to meet as many people as possible," said Mintz, the new executive director of the branch office, in Palo Alto's Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center. "Whether they are in the right place or not, I say, `You are' and I tell them what we do."

Mintz arrived from New York to start her new job last month. She was drawn to the S.F.-based JCF branch because of its "informal" set-up and its access to the resources of a major city.

Hoping visitors will often tread the path to her doorway, Mintz said she wants to hear what people's needs are.

"It's not my community, it's the people's community," she said.

She already has plans to bolster the federation's outreach to young adults and is currently searching for an assistant to increase programming for that age group.

Also on the agenda are events for young parents, incorporating activities for the entire family.

The federation will also continue its primary programming, as well as social activities for high-tech workers, and lectures for doctors and professors in the Stanford area.

Before arriving in Palo Alto, Mintz, 30, traveled through many countries, working for six years with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. She was assigned to help build up the Jewish communities in Latin America, Cuba and the Baltic states.

She visited Argentina several times after the Jewish community there suffered two bombings in the early 1990s. The country was sliding into a recession then and many Jews found themselves unemployed and without skills to re-enter the market.

Mintz worked to offer social services, set up food banks and organize clothing drives. In recent years, the unemployment rate has dropped and the Jewish community has fared a little better.

"It's quite frightening that the situation in Argentina could happen to any middle class community in America," she said.

Weary from the traveling, Mintz left the organization to settle down here. She replaces Al Platt, who left the position this summer after eight years to become development director at the Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School.

Mintz said she finds many similarities between her new Jewish community job and her work helping foreign Jewish groups.

"There are basic principles and needs of every Jewish community," she said. "I'm trying to build on those issues one at a time. I want to find out what excites people here" to get involved in their community.

Her task is also to mediate her community's agencies with the JCF's home base in San Francisco.

The best partnership with the umbrella agency, Mintz said, would be one that would help Peninsula Jewish groups grow at their own pace.

So far, feedback from people she's met reveals a desire to have a thriving local calendar of events.

Mintz promises to meet that demand. The federation, she said, "should be synonymous with community. I want people to know it's there to respond to community needs. We are there for agencies in not just a financial relationship."

No federation could survive, Mintz added, without continuous fund-raising drives. She wants to make the federation's events so enjoyable that financial support comes almost automatically.

"It would be great if the annual campaign could…run itself because of the community support for the programming," she said.

For that to happen, Mintz said, she needs to be in tune with all the issues and aspects of her area. "I've done it in Cuba, so I can do it here," she said.

Each day, as she walks into her office, she hears music. Next door, children are singing as part of their daily activities.

"It sounds like they are welcoming me, even though it's not directed at me," Mintz said. "But the most pleasant part so far is the welcome I've gotten from the whole community."