Southern New England News

Pam Ehrenkranz celebrates 25 years at the helm of Greenwich UJA-JCC

By Stacey Dresner

GREENWICH – Pam Ehrenkranz remembers the day she began working for the UJA-JCC of Greenwich in 1996.

“The day I started was the day after Yom Kippur. I remember stopping in the supermarket on the way home and people were whispering in the produce section, ‘Shana Tova, Shana Tova.’ In Stamford, people yell ‘Shana Tovah!’ I was like, ‘That’s so interesting that they lower their voices when they say that.’ Not 10 years later, wherever you might go in Greenwich people now yell, ‘Shana Tovah!’”

Ehrenkranz credits that to a “huge influx” of Jewish residents who moved into town.

“I think the community is very multifaceted today,” she says. “There’s a tremendous amount of Jewish options in Greenwich right now. And I think there’s an enormous amount of Jewish pride that exists today. I don’t think it’s unique to Greenwich – but I think Jewish community members are realizing Jewish pride is a key thing right now, especially with all the antisemitism that’s growing. It was a quieter Jewish community 25 years ago. Today, it’s active and it’s public and it’s vibrant – more in the forefront.”

Pam Ehrenkranz

One major reason for the vibrancy of the Greenwich Jewish community is no doubt Ehrenkranz herself, who is now celebrating her 25th anniversary leading the combined UJA-JCC of Greenwich.

“It takes something special to be with a community for so long,” says Christine Toback, president of the UJA-JCC’s Women’s Philanthropy. ““She is so committed to growing Jewish values and establishing Jewish Greenwich as a place to be. She’s strong, wise and resourceful. She knows the community intimately and she always has something in mind to make the community stronger.” 

“She is the keeper of the history and the evolution of our Jewish community over the past 25 years,” says Bryanna Kallman, co-president of the UJA-JCC. “She has such a grand perspective and her depth of understanding of the community and the people is a gift. The community is very fortunate to have her longstanding commitment.”

That commitment is in Ehrenkranz’s DNA. She comes from a religious family devoted to Judaism, Israel and Jewish education. She is the granddaughter of Rabbi Max Ehrenkranz, z”l, and the niece of Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, z”l, the longtime spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford. 

“My family and extended family – my grandfather’s kids and his grandchildren and Rabbi Ehrenkranz’s family and my cousins’ families – everybody who came from that family are lifelong learners. And I’m still learning.

“The truth is my parents gave me my Jewish education and they gave me my love for Israel, which came from their parents. I think my father’s father was one of the few Orthodox rabbis who was a Zionist in his time.”

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Pam Ehrenkranz’s family moved to White Plains in New York’s Westchester County when she was just a child. Her father, Lou, z”l, was a money manager. Her mother Eleanor is a retired English teacher. Pam attended Westchester Day School. 

“I was raised Modern Orthodox; I identify as Modern Orthodox. Once I moved to Westchester, I had a phenomenal Jewish education. But I will say that a very precious Jewish influence on my life came from my adult Jewish education as well,” Ehrenkranz says, referring the masters in Jewish Studies she received from Gratz College five years ago.

But back in the early 1980s, she majored in psychology at New York University and minored in religion, “because there was an interest within me, not just about the Jewish religion, but other religions as well.” 

Ehrenkranz didn’t consider a career in the Jewish communal world, she says, because she really wasn’t aware that such jobs existed. Modern Orthodox women could not be rabbis at that time and, she notes, “I was not exposed to the idea that there were 1,000 other ways to serve the Jewish community as a Jewish communal professional. I just didn’t know.”

After college she went into the diamond business. A few years later, she and her now ex-husband founded a wholesale jewelry business in the city while raising their three daughters in Stamford, where she has resided since 1985. 

All the while, she found the diamond business unfulfilling.

“I couldn’t name it, but what I was doing on a day to day basis was lacking meaning, she says.

“On the sidelines, I was volunteering for the Stamford Jewish community running the program ‘Turn Friday night into Shabbos’ and women’s educational conferences,” she recalls. “One day, a member of the community said to me, ‘Did you know you could get paid for doing this kind of work? I said, ‘Wait, what?’ I was floored. He said, ‘Yeah, who do you think runs all these Jewish organizations like Amit and Hadassah?’ That was the turning point.”

Soon after that, a friend who was a member of the Greenwich Jewish community asked Ehrenkranz to volunteer on some committees for the UJA in Greenwich. At a Shabbat dinner with Nan and Peter Levy of Greenwich, who told her that the Greenwich UJA needed an assistant director. They suggested she interview for the position.

“I said, ‘Ok, I’ve got nothing to lose.’”

Nancy Zisson was on the committee that interviewed Ehrenkranz for the job as assistant director.

“[Pam] didn’t have any professional Jewish communal experience, but we liked her and we liked what she had to say, so we hired her,” says Zisson.

“My goal was to learn the community at that point,” says Ehrenkranz. “Quite honestly, I was terrified.”

Her appointment three years later to the position of executive director was for the UJA board a no-brainer.

“She has wonderful ideas and is able to implement them,” says Zisson. “She’s smart and expresses herself very well, but it’s also her connection to people. This is a people business. The UJA is all about connecting with people to promote it and she connects with people.”

Greenwich has grown a lot since Ehrenkranz became head of the UJA-JCC. She estimates that there were 1,700 Jewish households in the town 25 years ago; now there are 2,200 households on the agency’s mailing list.

It was in sometime in the early 2000s that the growing community considered building a Jewish community center.

“We did a strategic plan and the most overwhelming response that we could read from that plan was that the Jewish community in Greenwich wanted a JCC – overwhelmingly for educational and cultural programming,” says Ehrenkranz. “They would have supported a building…a facility with great audio-visual and sports, but that strategic plan came out right around the time of the financial collapse, followed by the Madoff issue, and we realized that raising $30 million at that point in time was not going to be necessary. But we also realized we could deliver to the community what they really wanted, which actually was each other. We wanted to gather together over shared interests. I would say that is this Federation’s biggest strength.”

While there is no brick and mortar JCC in Greenwich, Ehrenkranz said that 

Greenwich has enjoyed a wealth of Jewish programming for some time.

“We have a JCC Without Walls,” Ehrenkranz said. “I took a look at every invitation for every program we had in the five years prior to having a JCC without Walls, and the truth is, we were already running one. We just didn’t know it.” 

Today, under Ehrenkranz’s leadership, the UJA – JCC runs vibrant family programming like PJ Library and J-Babies. The community has an annual Jewish Film Festival; a weekly Lunch and Learn program with renowned scholars; and is launching its second “Confronting Antisemitism” through the arts program. 

All outside the walls of a JCC.

“Tomorrow night we will have 200 people in person and hundreds more online with an author coming in. We called the Greenwich Library and said, ‘Hey, do you want to partner on this?’” Ehrenkranz says. “We found that not having a building has allowed us to partner with really important local agencies – the YWCA, the library, our synagogues.”

One of the things Ehrenkranz has loved most about her job is organizing missions to Israel for the community.

“Going to Israel was always so exciting for me. The first time I went I was 18 years old and I counted each trip for many years,” she says. “I am filled with gratitude to admit that I have had the blessing of going to Israel so many times, that I can no longer keep count. I have gone on JFNA Israel missions—and done the work of crafting missions for teens, people who wanted to see Israel through Jewish text, community service, and even had one or two private trips in between. There is nothing that recharges my soul and spirit like a trip to Israel!”

Hoping to pass that love of Israel on to future generations, Ehrenkranz planned two missions solely for teens from Greenwich.

“We had gotten involved in creating an Israel club at Greenwich High School…When we had Young Israeli Emissaries, they would go to the high school twice a week to meet with the club,” she recalls. “I went to one of the meetings and just found myself saying to the kids, ‘If you guys want to go to Israel, I’ll take you to Israel.’ We did two missions — mostly Jewish kids, but some non-Jewish kids too. If you really want to help create educated Zionists, who really can speak about the reality of Israel, one of the only ways to do it is to take them there.” 

Ehrenkranz says that even after 25 years of leading the UJA-JCC, it would be a mistake to “get too comfortable with what we’re doing.”

“The world changes around us at an unbelievable pace,” she says. “We need to believe that we can’t do tomorrow what we did yesterday. It is a constant reevaluation, constant checking in with people, watching and listening. If you listen and you watch, you’ll know what the changes are before they are articulated – where people are gathering, how they’re gathering, if they even want to gather at all, what they’re opting into and what they’re opting out of.” 

Asked if she and her husband, Matt Greenberg, president and CEO of Jewish Family Services in Stamford, are a Jewish “super couple,” Ehrenkranz laughs.

“We do spend a lot of time talking about Jewish communal meetings,” she says. “We both have a commitment beyond a job to do what we do. We live and breathe these agencies, and that’s what we have in common, for starters. We have that same kind of commitment to see that the Jewish world is well taken care of.”

And she plans to continue taking care of the Greenwich Jewish community into the future.

“I will stay here as long as they will allow me to have the privilege of doing this work.”

Main Photo: Pam Ehrenkranz, 3rd from right, and her husband, Matt Greenberg, far left, on the Greenwich UJA-JCC Teen Mission to Israel in 2013.

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