As the JCC’s new chief arts officer, Sara Shalva aims to inspire Baltimore Jews about their community and its cultural offerings.
From its earliest days as the Hebrew Young Men’s Literary Association in 1854 to today, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore has always been a prime venue for arts and culture. With the hiring of Sara Shalva as the JCC’s chief arts officer, the center seems poised to take its arts and cultural programming to the next level.
With her strong background in nonprofit management and Jewish communal service, as well as a love of Israel and passion for the arts, Shalva is uniquely suited to the new position.
“I am so excited about this opportunity,” she says. “I’m inspired by the innovative work of the JCC, its inclusive community and the professionalism of the team. We want the JCC to be a national model for innovative programming and inclusive community.”
Shalva’s tenure correlates to a new strategic plan dividing the JCC into three programming areas — sports and wellness; youth and families; and arts and culture. The latter now includes oversight of the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, as well as the JCC’s arts and cultural programming.
Shalva says her responsibilities include creating strategic partnerships, focusing on Israel as a platform for arts and culture programming, expanding adult enrichment opportunities and designing arts, culture and history-oriented trips for adults.
“We are very excited about Sara’s energy, enthusiasm and ability to inspire lay people,” says Barak Hermann, the JCC’s chief executive officer. “Sara will be looking beyond the Gordon Center to bring its programs to other locations. We plan to expand programs, such as the [Baltimore Jewish] film festival, to emerging Jewish neighborhoods around Baltimore. …
“By identifying the new position of chief arts and culture officer, we’ll have a senior person looking holistically at our entire program and creating new opportunities that support our mission and grow our arts and cultural programming,” he says.
A classically trained ballerina and Bikram yoga instructor, Shalva says she is excited about “providing opportunities for people to be moved by music, dance and theater. What could be better than that? I’ve been drawn to the arts all my life.”
Before coming to the JCC, Shalva, 41, who was born in Nicaragua and raised in Northern Virginia, served as assistant director at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown.
“It was an incredible experience,” she says. “I oversaw our theory of change and evaluation plan, all educational programs and some aspects of our hospitality work, summer camps, all immersive retreat and holiday retreats and [human relations].”
Shalva also served as director of Jewish innovation and chief program officer for Jewish life and learning at the Edlavitch JCC of Washington, D.C., also known as the DC JCC. “My time at the [DC JCC] was wonderful because every day was different,” she says.
Shalva headed the DC JCC’s Jewish Literary Festival; Hebrew and Introduction to Judaism classes; young adult, interfaith and LGBTQ programs, as well as a lunch program for seniors.
“What I love about JCCs is that they have dual identities,” she says. “They serve the Jewish community and are distinctly Jewish, but they also serve the rest of the community. Part of who we are as Jews is about creating spaces for the community to gather.”
Shalva’s passion for Judaism and Israel blossomed in college at the University of Mary Washington while spending a year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She says that was where she “was awakened to the power of Jewish wisdom.” Later, Shalva attended the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and earned master’s degrees in nonprofit management and Jewish studies from New York University.
Shalva, who lives in Pikesville with her husband, Rabbi Benjamin Shalva, and their children, Lev and Avital, says she loves being part of Baltimore’s Jewish community.
“People in Baltimore, natives and transplants, have a kind of informal warmth,” she says. “There’s an open-heartedness and down-to-earth quality that I’m drawn to, yet people here are also super smart and intellectual and interested in ideas.”