Meet Sara Shalva

September 12, 2019

New Chief Arts Officer at the JCC

Sara Shalva’s enthusiasm about her new position as the JCC’s Chief Arts Officer is palpable and contagious. In fact, it’s impossible to speak with Shalva for more than a few minutes without getting excited about the future of the J’s already excellent arts and culture programming.

“What could be better than a job that allows me to provide opportunities for people to be moved by music, dance, theater, learning and visual arts? It’s totally inspiring,” says Sara, whose plans for her new position 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.

Born in Managua, Nicaragua, Sara grew up in Northern Virginia. She was always drawn to the performing arts and as a youngster she studied classical ballet. It was during a year abroad in Israel, that Sara, a student at Virginia’s Mary Washington College, discovered “the wisdom of Judaism” and fell in love with Israel. Sara studied at Hebrew University as well the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Later, she earned master’s degrees in Nonprofit Management and Jewish studies from New York University.

I am so inspired by the innovative work of the JCC, its stellar staff, and the inclusive community that exists here

Throughout her career, Sara has successfully merged her love of the arts with profound and heartfelt connections to Judaism and to Israel. Most recently, she served as Assistant Director at the Pearlstone Center where she focused on strategy, program management and systems. “It was an incredible experience,” says Sara. “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 HR.”

Before coming to Pearlstone, Sara was Director of Jewish Innovation and Chief Program Officer at the Edlavitch JCC in Washington D.C. There, she helped to build Jewish community through arts and cultural programming and Jewish learning. Her responsibilities included overseeing the JCC D.C.’s Jewish Literary Festival, Hebrew and Intro to Judaism classes, interfaith programs for new couples and its young adult and LGBTQ programs. Additionally, Sara collaborated on the JCC’s film and music festivals and worked with the staff of Theater J, helping them to infuse Jewish content into their shows including a partnership with the Holocaust Museum to borrow artifacts for productions.

Sara sees Baltimore’s JCC as an ideal venue for arts and cultural experiences — both for members of the Jewish community and the community at large. The Gordon Center, says Sara is “an amazing venue for live music and dance as well as family programs.” 

“I am so inspired by the innovative work of the JCC, its stellar staff, and the inclusive community that exists here,” says Sara. “The JCCs in Owings Mills and Park Heights serve their surrounding communities and they also serve the Jewish community. I love that when I go into the [JCC] preschools, they’re diverse, but they’re also clearly, distinctly Jewish.”

Sara’s also a big fan of Baltimore’s broader Jewish community. “I like that Baltimoreans (natives and transplants) have a kind of informal warmth. There’s an open-heartedness and a down-to-earth quality that I’m drawn to, yet people here are also super-smart and intellectual and interested in ideas,” she says.

Sara lives in Pikesville with her husband Rabbi Benjamin Shalva and children, Avital, 10 and Lev, 13 who both attend Krieger Schechter Day School. The family belongs to Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Sara is also active at Beth El Congregation’s Soul Center.

When she’s not working, Sara, a certified Bikram Yoga instructor, practices yoga, cooks, dances and — of course — attends dance, arts and theater performances.

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