May 16, 2013
The Life of a Jewish Communal Professional and LA Jewish Population Change
Charles Mesnick was instrumental in the development of the Los Angeles Jewish community. He was among the newly trained social work professionals whose voice and training demanded accurate demographic information and directly resulted in Los Angeles’ Jewish Community Council undertaking in 1952 the first major local Jewish Population study in the United States by Fred Massarik which incorporated random sampled telephone surveys.
The Jewish Centers Association of Los Angeles was for a sixty year period, from the World War II era to 2001 the largest single provider of direct services to the Jewish community of Los Angeles as well as the largest employer of unionized employees in Jewish communal service among which Charles Mesnick was central, initially as a worker, then management and then as founder and first president the the Jewish Communal Retirees Association which actively negotiated retirement benefits for it’s members among it’s other rich educational and communal activities.
Charles Mesnick, in early 1943, had his first position with the Soto Michigan Jewish Community Center in Boyle Heights (which was razed without warning six years ago) as the Center Director. From 1946 to 1952, he worked as Assistant Director of JCA
He saw the emerging need for resident camping. In 1949, he encouraged JCA to acquire the property of what became Camp JCA in the early 1950’s. In 1952, he became the Beverly Fairfax Jewish Community Center Director, located at 8008 Beverly Boulevard. The timing was to tie in with the transition of closing that facility and moving to the new Westside Jewish Community Center which started in March 1954 and is now the last remaining Los Angeles JCC. Charles Mesnick was its Center Director for ten years he led the Westside Jewish Community Center it served as a model to spur and spark additional facilities and programs throughout Greater Los Angeles.
Charles Mesnick was a major proponent of planning based on demographic research and was confronted with with continued population increases during his career until he retired in 1975 as Executive Director of the Jewish Centers Association of Los Angeles. His son, Michael, related to me that he retired at age 61, as he had been informed by his physician that he suffered from a heart condition and could not expect to live very much longer. Charles Mesnick proceeded to enjoy life for another 38 years and passed away last month at age 99.
While Charles Mesnick’s career was blessed with robust Jewish population growth and Jewish communal purpose, he represented a generation of communal builders, followed by a generation of communal maintainers and refiners blessed with a moderated growing Jewish population and Jewish communal purpose.
The most recent generation of communal leaders wish, imagine and herald a growing Jewish population that may, in actuality, be stagnant or significantly declining and cling to slogans of communal purpose and vitality where the reality may be very different. It’s clear from the sad decline of the Los Angeles Jewish Centers system, from eleven vital centers and camp to just a single actual multi-activity Jewish center and camp left in the past decade of decline.
The passing of Charles Mesnick does not mean that active planning that was at the core of his philosophy has also passed, but it underscores the need for the community to embrace it again if it wants to deal with problems of rapid population change that Mesnick experienced in his life and that are now upon us again, whether we want to recognize and deal with it or not.
Pini Herman, PhD. specializes in demographics, big data and predictive analysis, has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography, Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work, Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position and is a past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: firstname.lastname@example.org To follow Pini on Twitter: Follow @pinih