New CCJCC director feels energized by his environment

The Contra Costa Jewish Community Center's new director combines indefatigable energy with a hint of hyperbole when he describes his new job.

"Moving to the Bay Area is a quantum leap in quality of life," Bruce Landgarten says. "Maybe it's something in the air, but I feel energized just by being here."

Prior to assuming his new position in Walnut Creek last month, Landgarten served for 12 years as the assistant executive director of the JCC of Greater Detroit, one of the largest JCCs in the country.

"Bigger isn't always better," Landgarten said. "I really appreciate the intimacy and warmth of this community."

In addressing the direction he hopes to take the 1,000-member CCJCC, Landgarten issued a disclaimer that what he was doing was preparing the "conceptual bricks and mortar of future programs."

"It's gap analysis of where we need growth," Landgarten said. Then, the new director paused and reconsidered his riff. "Let's ditch the techno-speak. What I really would like to see this center do is reach out to other organizations."

Asked for examples, Landgarten said he could envision pairing up the CCJCC with synagogues, women's groups and even a pharmaceutical company such as Upjohn. The CCJCC is also just outside the large Rossmoor retirement community.

"We have a lot of different populations with varying needs," he said. "There are members of our community that have arthritis, or Parkinson's, or have children with special needs. I can see us developing a special educational program, partnering with Upjohn , for example, to serve the members of our community with Parkinson's. It would be a room for exercise and education. All you'd have to have is four walls, a mirror and a dynamic leader."

Commenting that the CCJCC already has a great children's program, Landgarten said he'd like to bolster it by developing a "discovery room" with a different theme every month.

"For example, one month the Israel Center could sponsor an event which featured a sandbox with an miniature El Al plane. Children could crawl up in the plane and see movies about Israel. Or there could be a couple of sandboxes that kids could use as digs for buried Israeli artifacts."

The CCJCC shares a gymnasium with the city of Walnut Creek. But at the top of the new director's list is creating a work-out center.

"A great health facility is the nexus to a really vibrant, healthy community. Not only does it foster well-being, but it can be a community focal point. It's something that's important to have here."

Two other ideas Landgarten is working on include "Flick 'n' Float" evenings and "Dinner with George." The first idea involves getting family members of the local synagogues together for a night in the pool, followed by a movie.

"We've got an excellent pool and a huge auditorium. There's no reason why we couldn't incorporate those things into a great family evening. Just toss in the popcorn and you've completed the picture."

The last concept involves a June appearance by Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" fame.

"Who doesn't love 'Seinfeld'?" Landgarten said. "He's going to be the first featured guest at our annual entertainment gala. And a few premium-ticket holders will be able to have a sit-down dinner with 'George.'"

Flick 'n' Float is one thing. But knishes with the king of kvetching?

"It's a new era here in Contra Costa," Landgarten said, laughing.