Staff and lay leaders for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles say they were taken by surprise March 14 when executive vice president Jeffrey L. Rouss handed in his resignation. Rouss, 52, has a 20-year history with the organization, working his way up from director of teen services at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. He will leave his current post as overseer of the L.A.-area's seven JCCs in late April to become head of development for the western regional fundraising arm of the American Friends of Hebrew University.
"His resignation really came as a surprise, although we knew he had turned down other offers over the years," said Rouss' second-in-command, associate director Nina Lieberman Giladi. "He will be sorely missed."
"We're in a different place than when Jeff took over," said Lee S. Smith, president of the JCC board. "We have the community center in the Conejo Valley, which never would have happened without him. We have the Emma Stern Senior Adult Camp, which also never would have existed without his help; he took a dormant if not dead plan and made it happen. We have a much-changed Zimmer Discovery Children's Museum with a state grant and a new home at 6505 in large part because Jeff supported and helped that program grow."
Along with the JCCs, Rouss oversaw JCC Teen Services, SOVA, the Shalom Institute and the Israel Levin Senior Center. He managed an operating budget of $15 million annually.
Not all Rouss' moves were universally applauded, Smith acknowledged. Rouss' handling of the aborted sale of the Westside JCC to Shalhevet High School in 1998 bitterly divided the area's Jewish community. Some community leaders were also distressed by comments Rouss gave to the media following last summer's shooting at the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills.
"Some people did not support the revitalization of the Westside JCC, but now we have close to a $4 million campaign, and Jeff was the person who [obtained] the lead gift. That's one of reasons why the American Friends wanted him," Smith said.
As for the shooting, Smith said he thought Rouss "handled things in the best possible manner, especially in light of the horrendous nature of the event and the pressures that were faced by everyone."
JCC leaders have already begun the search for Rouss' replacement, as well as for an interim director, according to Giladi.
"The board has put together a search committee which will work closely with the Jewish Community Centers Association in New York to find someone," she said. "We are also looking for an interim director, as we expect the search to take several months."