Many synagogues, especially larger ones, tend to be dominated by male executive directors. In the case of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, a woman – Jennifer Levin-Tavares – serves as its executive director with the aim of being a good role model for the entire congregation, including children, adults and staff.
Levin-Tavares, 54, lives in Coconut Creek and is also active in the National Association for Temple Administration, a professional network of Reform Jewish synagogue executive directors where she is on the Membership Committee and co-chair of its mentoring program. She attained senior status in 2013 and became a Fellow in Temple Administration in 2014.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be serving as a leader at Congregation Kol Tikvah and in NATA and I do hope I inspire and have a positive impact on those whose lives I touch,” she said.
Levin-Tavares grew up in a small Jewish community in Knoxville, Tennessee and most recently served as executive director at Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden, Connecticut.
“One thing I had come to realize is that growing up in a small Jewish community can really strengthen your Jewish identity and that can lead toward Jewish communal service,” she said. “For instance, I had seven people in my religious school class when I was growing up. We had a very small synagogue. There was one other girl in my class and she became a rabbi. I think there’s something about growing up in that kind of environment that draws you into wanting to be in the Jewish world.”
Levin-Tavares became Kol Tikvah’s executive director on Feb. 1, 2016. In addition to overseeing this Reform synagogue’s operations, she serves as a resource to facilitate members’ integration into congregational life as she believes strongly that a synagogue is more than a place, it’s also a community where everyone feels at home.
“I have always been drawn to smaller to mid-sized congregations because my goal is to try to really know each congregant individually,” she said. “That is a difficult enough task in a medium sized institution and practically impossible in a large one.”
Levin-Tavares believes the synagogue is a second home for most people.
“Choosing a synagogue is very much like choosing a home. You walk into a place and it either feels like home to you or it doesn’t,” she said. “Every synagogue has its own personality and its own culture and it’s important that people find the synagogue that feels the most comfortable for them. I speak to perspective members about that and I try to talk with them about what their interests are, what they’re looking for in a synagogue and have they been affiliated in a synagogue before, because I’m trying to figure out how I can best connect them with activities or people here and help them feel that sense of home and community.”
She continued, “People are looking to find a place where they can meet other similarly-situated individuals with whom they will have things in common with while developing friendships,” she said. “It’s not often that they’re going to do that by going to services. They’re going to do that by participating in a social action project together or getting involved in sisterhood, or book club, or education class. It’s in those smaller group settings where they’re going to find other people who have the same interests as them and other similar characteristics.”
She concluded, “I believe that a synagogue is sort of like “Cheers,” where everyone comes in and knows your name. That for me is the goal.”
Levin-Tavares said she’s been very fortunate to be working with a really incredible staff these past 13 months at Kol Tikvah.
Rabbi Bradd Boxman, the synagogue’s spiritual leader, complimented Levin-Tavares, saying, “She is a tremendous asset to our synagogue, not just as an executive director in terms of administrating the day-to-day operations of the synagogue, but also because of her passion to Judaism and her attention to detail.”