JCC’s Balkin makes arts and talks her latest adventure

Balkin started at the JCC of Mid-Westchester as director of arts and talks in July.

Stephanie Balkin’s 3-year-old daughter paraded into her mother’s office pointing to her tie-dye shirt.

Balkin scooted around her desk to wrap her daughter in a hug. “I always see her around noon,” she said.

Not an hour prior, Balkin spotted her twin boys, 5, schlepping through the hallway of the JCC of Mid-Westchester in their swimming gear on the way to the pool. Balkin offered them high fives.

The Edgemont resident, who’s lived in the hamlet for more than six years with her husband, Sandy, and four children — the oldest of whom is her 12-year-old stepdaughter — was a JCC mom long before she became director of arts and talks at the center in July. Three of her four children attend the JCC nursery school and Camp Gadol, and have participated in the center’s gymnastics, swim and dance classes.

“That’s really part of why I love this place,” she said. “It’s personal for me.”

Even in that role, director of arts and talks was a position Balkin always kept her eye on.

“As a parent, I would … [say] to my husband, if that job is ever available, that’s what I want to be doing,” she said. “It just happened that way, and it’s really been remarkable. It’s only been a month but I’m absolutely in love with what I’m doing.”

So far, that’s been meeting with JCC faculty, learning the ropes of adult programming at the center and sculpting this year’s arts and talks schedule, which runs through June 2019. Normally, the yearlong schedule would be completed by now, according to Director of Marketing Rika Levin, but Balkin came in under the clock to replace her predecessor, Liat Altman, who has remained active in the center’s Film Committee.

The center offers up to 250 programs at any given time for children through seniors. Balkin’s charge as director is helming the adult departments, deciding on everything from pricing to scheduling, and planning special events like dance performances, author talks, headlining musicians and comedy nights.

Balkin has slated dozens of events through December, including a night with Jamie Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s daughter and an author, narrator and filmmaker in her own right, in December, celebrating what would have been her father’s 100th birthday. A live orchestra will join Bernstein playing selections from the late composer’s most prolific works.

Balkin’s qualifications for the position are threefold. For years, she worked in the fundraising and nonprofit spheres, helping pair high-net-worth crowds with valuable charities.

She also studied dance from age 3 through her college years at Cornell University, where she double majored in government and near eastern studies with a concentration in dance choreography. Her specialty is in modern dance, which she still loves.

Balkin also spent years pursuing her interest in theater. She was a member of the prestigious M.T.B. Actors Studio in New York City for five years and acted in several independent films.

Her third, and perhaps greatest passion, is for Israeli culture.

At 16, Balkin went on a teen tour of Israel that “absolutely changed the trajectory of my entire life,” she said, “and it was just ongoing. Every chance I got, I was looking [at], ‘How can I get to Israel?’”

She went on to study abroad at Tel Aviv University, and later volunteered in the Israeli army for two months, returning the following summer to study Hebrew and eventually living in Tel Aviv for five years, where she owned her own consulting company.

“I really just fell in love with the place,” she said, “the joie de vivre and the pace, and living on the beach wasn’t bad.”

Balkin now has dual citizenship in Israel and the U.S.

While she developed many close-knit international friendships in Tel Aviv, she eventually began to miss her family, and, after a health scare, she moved back to New York City to be closer to her parents, brother and his family in 2010.

Two weeks later, she met her husband. “So it was really bashert as they say; meant to be,” she said.

Now, Balkin is focused on expanding the solid foundation Altman, who built the arts and talks program from the ground up four years ago, created. Specifically, she’s looking to appeal to younger demographics and pair more disciplines into each entertainment experience.

“[I’m] really thinking about ways … to broaden the scope of what we do here — photography, art appreciation, music, all these things — and tie them together,” she said.

She is currently working with several committees to determine ways in which to make film screenings and other arts and talks events more multisensory experiences.

“Should we bring the author and the musician together? Should we bring the photographer and the playwright together?,” she said. “[We’re] thinking of ways to really enhance the programming and bring up the level of arts and culture in Scarsdale, in New Rochelle and in the local communities.”

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