Palo Alto JCC head stepping aside, but not right away

Pitching in the small-college World Series, hurler Sandy Blovad watched helplessly as Eastern Illinois University's bullpen experienced a meltdown in a game he'd been pulled from in the eighth inning.

Now, nearly four decades later, the decision on whether to come out of the game is strictly Blovad's. And the executive director of Palo Alto's Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center since 1981 has opted to hang up his spikes — gradually.

The search for Blovad's successor is already under way, with the candidates narrowed down from roughly 30 to "the lower numbers of single-digits," according to search committee chairman Jerry Seelig.

Yet even when a successor is hired — which Blovad expects to happen before the end of the calendar year — the longtime executive director won't exactly be cleaning out his desk. Instead, he'll be phasing into early retirement with a position created especially for him.

"It will be called a 'special employee' and the duties are really not defined. And that was by design," said Carol Saal, the JCC's president. Blovad's new position will most likely focus almost exclusively on the center's imminent move — and the necessary fund-raising — because "Sandy has been in the community for close to 20 years, and he has a network and familiarity with the community."

Blovad plans on being the JCC's "special employee" for at least three more years.

"I want to retire when I'm 62," said Blovad, who turns 59 in September. "That will have marked 40 years for me in Jewish communal service and I feel that's a nice, good run. Hopefully I'll still be young and healthy enough to get on with the rest of my life."

Looking back two decades, Blovad takes pride in the JCC's growth into a large and vibrant community center befitting a large and vibrant community.

When he arrived in Palo Alto, the center was housed in a cramped building on East Meadow Road, roughly one-fifth the size of its current location. The JCC — and the local Jewish community — have grown to fill the larger Arastradero Road digs.

"I think that any day you go into the JCC, you'll see various approaches to Jewish things: Russian fairs, Chabad lecturers, Kabbalah lecturers, schools. Sandy has encouraged every single facet of the Jewish community to get involved," said Rabbi Yosef Levin of Chabad of the Greater South Bay.

"I feel that the purpose of the JCC is to bring diverse people together," Levin, who has spent 21 years in Palo Alto, continued. "I think he does that extremely well. The JCC is flourishing and I think he's very much a part of that."

Blovad strived to make the JCC a "safe haven" for every element of the south Peninsula's Jewish population, he said.

"There's a lot of diversity in this community in terms of intermarriage and alternative lifestyles. We've tried to keep up with social changes."

While he's not going anywhere soon, the Brooklyn native already knows what he'll miss the most.

"The daily contact with people — I'm a big people-person and I'm going to miss that the most," he said. "My favorite part of the job is being able to observe both from up close and afar the people we serve, from the very, very young to the very, very old and everyone in-between. As I walk down any one of our hallways, I see all the vitality of our members and guests. I'm going to miss that."

Blovad doesn't have to stay within the JCC's walls to get a good feeling about his job, however. In the midst of the center's ongoing relocation battle last year, 500 supporters showed up alongside Blovad at a Palo Alto City Council meeting in September — a day the director remembers as his best on the job.

"It was really important to see how many Jews and gentiles were there for 'The J.' That was very satisfying."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.