The “J” Walker

Todd Rockoff, President and CEO of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, says the facility was designed to facilitate a sense of community. Photo by James Patrick.

“If my office door is open, you’re welcome to come on in.” So says affable Todd Rockoff … but odds are pretty good he won’t be there.  Rockoff, President of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, explains, “I roam around the entire facility three or four times a day to see how things are going and to talk to staff and members.” The facility at Dodge and River, is big any way you slice it (110,000 square feet) but Rockoff says, “It’s designed in a way to facilitate a sense of community, with open expanses to encourage members and guests alike to enjoy each other’s company and to make new friends.”

With his salt-and-pepper hair closely trimmed, Rockoff sports professorial glasses, a tweed sports coat, fashionable goatee and always a welcoming smile. At 54 years of age, he looks too youthful to have a quartet of kids with his wife Jenni, three of whom are in their 20s: Ariella, Jacob and Jonathan— the youngest, Benjamin 19, is still here in Tucson.

Early July marked Rockoff’s fifth year at his post as President and CEO at this nationally renowned Jewish Community Center. Never one to take all the credit, Rockoff attributes the acclaim to his dedicated staff and board, as well as the J’s expansive offerings, including early childhood programs, and activities for children and individuals with special needs. “It’s always a group effort, and we try to utilize the adage of ‘looking at the possibilities’ and not ‘that’s the way it’s always been done.’” The facility, fresh from a capital campaign expansion and improvements, is almost like a living creature on its own — ever-growing, with art exhibits changing, denizens morphing from parades of giggling summer campers in the morning to grandmas gathered in the afternoon for mahjong or bridge. “I think the noise of the J is one of the beautiful elements”.

As a kid in Rochester New York, Rockoff’s first job was summer camp counselor at the local JCC, an inauguration into a satisfying life of giving back, innovating and guiding.  He was hired as youth director at the Scranton, Pennsylvania, JCC fresh from college. In 1995 he found an opportunity to move to the JCC in Calgary, Alberta, first as the Assistant Director then as Executive Director.  A decade-long tenure as CEO in Akron, Ohio, ignited his passion for the Cleveland Indians. “Maybe that was the magical force that drew me to Tucson,” Rockoff says with a laugh, acknowledging he’s more than aware of Cleveland Skipper Terry Francona and former Indian outfielder Kenny Lofton’s ties to the Old Pueblo as UA alums. “I love it; it’s a progressive, growing city … on the verge of being discovered.”

A sports fan, yes, and a musical theater enthusiast, Rockoff says he takes advantage of Tucson’s many arts companies including Arizona Theatre Company, Broadway in Tucson, and UA Presents. He even has been known to get theatrical at the JCC, portraying the Pharaoh in the live story-telling of Passover, where kids take part in the experiential learning.

Moving from the stage to the screen, this January will mark the 28th year of the J’s International Jewish Film Festival. Twenty select films will be screened over 10 days at the Loft Cinema and JCC. Films are reviewed and chosen for the festival for their educational and artistic content. “The selection committee has a high standard for what they show,” according to Rockoff. “We look for films with a residual benefit to the viewer. Film is a beautiful teaching tool and art form, and the 2019 festival really is going to be something special.”

It may sound like a cliché, but the Tucson JCC really does have something for everyone. “We consider ourselves to be a wellness center,” Rockoff notes. “Wellness is not just about diet and fitness. There are 14 different elements including artistic, intellectual and spiritual. The key is to offer programs and events that combine as many of those elements as possible.” So, if you decide to venture down to the fabulous Tucson JCC to check out the fun, and Todd Rockoff really is nowhere to be found…see if there’s an Indians game on.

Betsy Bruce

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