Mark Lazar is a “Valley Boy” who studied in San Francisco, lived in Holland and lived in Israel for 23 years. The JCC’s new director of Jewish education and head of its Center for Jewish Life is a professional Jewish educator with more than 40 years’ experience spanning diverse global settings, topics and audiences.
In addition to wanting to come home and spend more time with his 88-year-old mother, Lazar said that the job is “the culmination of everything I’ve ever done to educate people from preschool age to seniors since 1973.” He is excited about the job, the facilities and the chance to build community here.
Lazar, who sports long hair and tie-dyed shirts, hopes to “take things a step higher in regard to Jewish options for education.” He wants to supplement existing programs and/or be a resource.
In terms of teen programs, Lazar thinks the Young Philanthropists program, which starts in October, is a “practical and real way to train leaders.” The program enables 9- to 12-graders to look at nonprofit organizations and decide where to allocate money.
Another teen program, JCC Global Teens, is going to Israel next summer. Orange County partners with Mexico City and Kfar Yona for a week of home hospitality and ten days of touring the respective countries.
Lazar noted that when he taught at Hebrew High, the concept of Israel seemed abstract to students. Now he hopes to “make it a meaningful experience” for the teens and also lead an adult trip that will culminate in the Maccabi. He wants to create a “resource center for Israel trips for all ages for all teen programs to make knowledge more available.” Overall, he wants to offer a community-wide resource for engaging in Jewish activities.
The Jewish Educators Association (JEA) of Orange County is working together, mapping programs and sharing ideas, he said. It includes teachers, preschool teachers, youth directors and youth educators. A recent “day of learning” brought about “a higher level of professionalism and camaraderie,” Lazar commented. He wants to “supplement, not take away” from synagogue religious school programs. He believes that unaffiliated Jews “may tie into an ethnic or cultural identity, Israel or tradition,” so he is planning events like a Tu B’Shevat seder with a top-notch meal, good wines and an introduction to tradition.
“I want to be sensitive to everybody.” Lazar said. “We can bring people in through social causes and common links and build community. We’re hoping for a diverse group.”
For the interfaith community, Lazar wants to have user-friendly holiday celebrations, programs on values and ethics and “programs that enrich life and meaningful.”
He concluded, “My main mission is to work with educators and have an impact on the community. Our destination is more Jewish options and awareness without coercion – to make the Jewish home homier.”