East Bay federation ready for new, more open era in Berkeley

After calling Oakland home for nearly 25 years, the East Bay federation is leaving its longtime neighborhood near Lake Merritt and relocating to the heart of downtown Berkeley, in a hub of culture and only steps from a BART station.

The firm that designed the Magnes helped create the federation space. photo/courtesy pfau long architecture

The new office at 2121 Allston Way is on the second floor of the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, and a handful of federation partner organizations — such as Lehrhaus Judaica and the JCC of the East Bay — are within close proximity.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s a really contemporary space,” said Rabbi James Brandt, CEO of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay. “We are moving from a pretty traditional office environment to a completely open office design where none of the staff will have an office door.”

A community celebration featuring an office dedication with local dignitaries and a mezuzah hanging will take place at noon Sunday, May 18, followed by lunch and a tour of the new facility. The space will be ready for occupancy on June 11.

The federation has been in Oakland for nearly a quarter-century, occupying 401 Grand Ave. for 14 years before moving to 300 Grand Ave. a decade ago.

As the federation entered the homestretch on its 10-year lease, officials began scouring the East Bay for a new home. The search included high-rises in Oakland and Berkeley.

Nathan Petrowsky, federation treasurer, said the Magnes building turned out to be the most appealing choice. “We had several options, and this was not the cheapest, but it was ultimately closest to creating a campus environment,” he said.

Federation president Claudia Felson (left), dedication chair Jean Colen and CEO Rabbi James Brandt

In addition to the federation’s 26 employees, staff from the East Bay JCRC and the Jewish Coalition for Literacy will share the new office space.

At about 7,400 square feet, the Berkeley location is considerably smaller than the 13,000 square feet occupied on Grand Avenue. But the layout and open floor plan will allow “ideas to flow much easier,” Brandt said.

In working with Pfau Long Architecture, a local firm that helped to design the museum, “we wanted to continue some of the elements [of the Magnes] so that the building would feel like an integrated design,” Brandt said.

An architect by training prior to becoming a Jewish professional, Brandt said helping to design the new space “was a wonderful way to blend two interests.”

With exposed heating and air conditioning, the office “feels like a warehouse space,” he said.

Because of the reduced square footage, the federation has been forced to lose some weight in recent months — literally. “We shredded about 8,000 pounds of paper,” Petrowsky noted. “We did an amazing amount of housecleaning.”

Brandt hopes the environment will be conducive for sharing ideas and be used as a resource for informal Jewish learning. One goal of the open design, he said, was to make it possible for Jewish professionals to come in and share the space for the day.

“We hope to be an incubator of Jewish ideas,” Brandt said. “And we always have great coffee and free Wi-Fi.”