April 14, 2016
Begin interview. Today is April 14, 2016. This is Ryan Bean from the Kautz Family YMCA Archives interviewing Larry Rosen at the Washington University Night Center participating in the YMCA Leadership Symposium. We’re in St. Louis Missouri. Larry thank you for joining me today.
First question for you is what is your first YMCA experience?
I was a six-year-old YMCA day camper 19, in West Chester, Los Angeles area in 1954. And had a time of my life in a typical YMCA summer camp most of it spent on a bus going places. And I enjoyed it immensely and then that led to other YMCA camping experiences, resident camp which just did, was magical for me.
What was magical about it?
Well, it was first time away from home as it often is for kids who go to Y camps. So I went as a nine-year-old to a residential camp, 100 miles away from downtown Los Angeles in San Bernardino Mountains, Camp Round Meadow with the West Chester Y, the West Chester branch the LA Y. And so, I’m 9 and I’m not going home to mom and dad for eight days. And I was living with seven or eight other boys my age in a cabin with a what I thought was like a God like figure, it was a 18 year old boy who was our cabin counselor, who I idolized, and I was, I remember, being stunned years later looking at the camp photo and the Herculean god I was looking for was this skinny, pimple faced kid, was my hero for that week.
But the entire experience was captivating. Everything from seeing the different colors and the fire at the camp fire after seeing how bright the stars were at night, and seeing animals running across your path on hikes, eating in a dining hall. And then the more emotional experiences of camp which were friendships developed, leaderships skills discovered, because we all had opportunities in that setting, that group setting to share on the leadership of our cabin experience.
And then we had a program then, it's still going on in many Ys, Rags and Leathers, which were opportunities for kids to sit with their cabin counselor one on one, talk about how they would like to improve their lives and then take a pledge to, for some self-improvement objective. I think mine was: don’t hit my brother. I did not keep, but took it in earnest and sincerely back then. And got a leather, a triangle old leather hanging around my neck, that signified the fact that I had that conversation and made that pledge. It was a very emotional moment and I was so proud of myself for doing that and came home far more excited than when I left.
I kind of remember, my mother tells me about it, babbling endlessly for days, about what we did and how we did it. That first camp was the last time, so this was, I was nine '57, was the last time the LA YMCA had visitor days in the middle of the camp week. In those days, camp ran from Wednesday to Wednesday and on Sunday was visitor’s day. And I had been having the time of my life. I couldn’t have been happier. We were standing around the flag pole for noon assembly before lunch and I look over to the parking lot, and here comes mom, dad, my kid brother and my grandparents and I bolted from my cabin group attached myself to my father’s leg and begged him to take me home. I was home sick and I didn’t know it.
Apparently that experience, you’re talking to Y directors later, and apparently that experience was replicated hundreds of times during this visitor’s day thing. The Y staff finally started rethinking the wisdom of doing this because, most kids were like me, they were having the time of their lives and the last thing they needed to see was grandma and grandpa and mom and dad walk into the middle of it. So dad dragged me loose said, “No you’re not going home. We paid 24 bucks for this you’re staying.”
And then I went back to having the time of my life, so and then that was it. The LA Y changed and camp was now Saturday to Saturday, there wasn’t a visitor’s day and that was very smart. It’s kind of amazing; it took them that long to arrive at. Anyway I camped.
Was your involvement as a youth more strictly with camp or did you also have school year involvements?
For me it was camp. Although somewhere in that neighborhood my brother and I did learn to swim at the Y. Probably couple of years later the Y built its buildings a non-facility Y, with its offices in the back of a barbershop. When I signed up for camp that year, and all four years I went to resident camp 9 to 12. We check out cases of peanuts to sell on our way. Dad said he paid 24 bucks. I sold enough peanuts each of the four year to earn my way to camp all four years, which was a very important achievement for me. My folks really encourage that.
So the Y building went from the back of a barbershop to a full facility that took a couple of years to build and I think opened in 1960. My dad was a volunteer campaigner on that. I think they raised three or $400,000 to build a building that would cost $5 million today. When that building was built and had a pool I learned to swim in it. I really wasn’t involved in anything other than camp until high school. I became a high Y club member.
The program director who, the West Chester Y, had a very robust guides and a great Y program, but didn't have much for secondary students and they hired a fellow named John Festler to get the high school program started.
John’s technique was to go into the high school ask around that who were some of the natural leaders in peer groups. Identified two major peer groups in my class and he recruited me and one other kid to be the kind of the gathering pieces for two clubs. We were the first two Hi-Y clubs at that Y. I recruited my friends who were mostly athletes.
Was that the, what they identified in you is your athletic peer group? Or what was it that?
Well, that was my peer group were other athletes. The other group was all the smart kids. Boys only in those days, we didn’t have to try my Y. This was just a boy’s club, but these two boys’ clubs. It was John’s strategy to get the work, were considered by teachers at the high school to be kind of peer influential groups. It was the idea was to use that as a magnet to get other clubs started. So we were their foundation group. It was, actually turned out to be a pretty good organizing strategy.
So I was with this group of athletes who were all well regarded and their circles and the good scholars and the other group. But the two clubs did prove to be a magnet to others and proved to be quiet a large program.
Do you remember why you said yes to their invitation to join a Hi-Y club?
Yeah, John was a very likable guy. He is still living and he’s still a friend. He appealed to my connections to camp and he said, “If you like camp you’re going to love this.” I was at that point in my life I would have believed anything anybody said about the Y, because my camp experiences had been so good. And right about that time I think at age 15, simultaneously he got me engaged as, in the leader of training program, camp leader training, which was another marvelous experience.
Transformational in my life getting to work in the leadership role with younger kids, it was the first time and the Y taught us how to do that. And it quite remarkably, and the leader, our teacher of this CIT counselors in training in a cabin together.
It was a weeklong seminar on group leadership. He was a volunteer, he was a member of the board. He was an insurance sales man and he was a gifted group process guy. With a wonderful ability to listen and to counsel Neil Peterson, very influential guy in a lot of our lives as a volunteer. And the West Chester Y was characterized in those days by a powerhouse group of volunteers at every level.
It owned the town, about 60,000 people lived in this community and everybody who was anybody was involved in the Y.
Did your father ever share with you why he, you mentioned he was a campaign volunteer, they sent you to camp. Did he ever explain why your family was drawn to the Y participated?
They were drawn in by the experiences, the quality of the experience, I had as a day camper and then as a resident camper. Well those two experiences in the first two years of that worked so well, they saw the magic through our eyes, through my eyes and my brothers. My brother didn’t go that often, but he did learn to swim at the Y.
They also became, as they became involved in the community, my folks were involved in the community theater group that they helped found and lots of common connections, community of 60,000. You run into folks so they were in a network where if you said YMCA three or four other people in the group would nod and is the baby boom Los Angeles were it was just gobs and gobs and gobs of families of kids the same age.
All the dads were World War II Vets. All started their families at the same time. The moms were all the same age, so it was about as homogeneous as you could get. And so the little hive activity, the conversation going on among families. It always included are your kids involved in the Y? If they weren’t then they were encouraged to be, and we all were. It was really pretty remarkable how that works and reflectively looking back on it, very instructive about how engagement happens in communities. So I went through this progression from participant to leader. And all was remarkable looking back, understand it at the time, the remarkable intentionality and purpose on the part of these volunteers and the staff people. To move us through this progression of being people who went to things to being people who helped make them happen.
And that just kept getting larger and larger in my young life. So I went from CIT to a cabin counselor to assistant director in the camp setting. The Y board was very internationally focused. These volunteers, and they encouraged the Y staff to get connected up with the burgeoning sister city program with Japan. Mind you this is less than 20 years after the end of the war and they’re already, all these adults who had been through the war experience were visionary enough to think if we’re not going to have another war, it’s going to be because our children and the children of Japan are going to be friends.
They’re going to understand each other as people, so they initiated there at this one branch. Student exchange, summer exchange with Japanese kids coming to stay do home stays with families in West Chester. They brought, 1964 they brought 15 boys who stayed with three families and home stays in West Chester, we hosted one. So I was between my junior and senior year in high school and this fellow stayed with us, Tamucho Muzuno, spoke no English. But he, like I was a high school basketball player. We had basketball and we had the Y and with that shaky foundation we built this deep friendship.
The design of the exchange program was that the next year, Los Angeles would send a delegation of high school boys to Japan for the summer. And I was asked to be part of that delegation. There were five of us Japanese sent 15, we sent five. By then the success of the first exchange in '64 had spread city wide. Other branches asked can we be involved in this, so the five of us who went to Japan to Nagoya the next year were from five different branches in the LA Y. And being in Japan, living in homes of families, I got to live with one of my home stays with Tamucho and his family.
I’m decent with languages and I was picking up Japanese rather quickly which kind of made me the talking dog of the group and the subject of some celebrity in Japan because white kids did not speak Japanese. And for me it was kind of fun. I grew up a lot, it was powerful.
When we were in Japan in 65, I was the designated spokesperson of the group so we visited places and then somebody from the group had to speak, and I would do part, as much as I could of the speech in Japanese. Pretty rudimentary but I could do some things. We were meeting at the Kiguzado High school, which is our sister high school, and it was an assembly of 2,000 kids.
The five of us were up on the stage and there was a moderator and a translator and I was the designated question and answer guy. So instead of the mic with the translator and the students would raise their hands and ask questions.
This was August it was 1965, and one boy stands in the front and asks the question in Japanese, I didn’t understand. The translator says he wants to know, this young man wants to know why your country is killing people in Vietnam. That’s a tough question in '65 for a 17 year old to answer, and I remember trying to defend the country.
Taking something around where the party line was, personally I was, my family and I talked around the dining table all my life around issues like this. And all of us were terribly opposed to the war. So I revealed some of my thoughts but said our country is always trying to do the right thing. I gave the 17-year-old interpretation of our national attempt which didn’t fly well with the Japanese students who seemed a lot better informed on our involvement of Vietnam at that time.
That was during the buildup in '65. But they politely received my explanation, and then the next kid stood up he holds up a paper, and I can’t see it from the stage. I did later, it was a picture of Los Angeles in flames, the Watts riots. I learned about the Watts riots from this kid at Kiguzado High School in front of the auditorium full of 2,000 kids. All five of us the first time because it took a week or 10 days for mail to get there, there were no phone calls we could make. So our parents hadn’t told us anything, we didn’t know and it was breaking news.
And this guy said, “why are the Negros burning your city down?” What? What? And there was a pause. There was a break. The boy who asked the question which is a great question, was scolded by his teachers for being impolite to a visitor. When the meeting ended our YMCA program director who was our chaperon for this, and the Japanese Y director got together broke the news to us. LA is under massive riots and they offered us phones to talk to our folks.
It was an amazing international experience and these things make you grow up. So imagine life without these leadership experiences, without that international experience. I’d be a grown up anyway, but it happened faster and it happened with more quality, more intensity, it’s more powerful.
It seems you, what I hear you say is you saw the world a little differently?
A lot differently.
Can you share a little bit about that? You grew up fast, put some words around that.
Well, from a homogenous suburban community made of people from the same life experience, children of the depression who had kids and went to war, came home and started families. I mean it’s a whole community in West Chester, middle class working load of middle income.
My dad was a plumbing supply guy, blue collar guy. I thought we were keen from that experience highly insular, very supportive. It was a "leave it to beaver community." To go to Japan for crying out loud and all the signs are in Japanese and all the people look different and the things they laugh at, the things they do and how they go about their business in the city. It was like going to Mars.
It was fascinating, it was compelling, it was magical, in a way, that you knew there was so much more to the world than what you had been seeing. And it was exciting. And we became friends with these people.
These were my Japanese parents, my Japanese brothers and sisters. Because of that connection, all five of us, certainly me, we found ourselves caring a lot about the things they cared about which is the classic international experience when you’re not just a tourist.
The wisdom of the program was, don’t just put them on a bus and drive them around to all the sites in Japan. Put them in the homes of families and let them live like Japanese kids do. Let them have a Japanese brother to go places with. Just like the Japanese did when they came to the States. That experience, those two years taught lessons that just ripple through my life today, forever.
You just never see the world the same after you see more of it, than your little insular childhood experience and it opened wide my eyes on the theme of what the Y could do to knit the world together. And what the Y does doing. As you know from our history we were actually doing things like this long time before I went to Japan, but that was my exposure to it. And it was personal and it was dramatic and then of course the five of us, went back to our branches and talked about this with our friends and with our parents. We all went back to newspaper interviews and being invited to the branch board meeting to talk about what it was like and the more I talked about it, the clearer the lessons were to me. And the more articulate I became in explaining it to others.
The more of an advocate I became for all kids having these kinds of experiences. Makes me wonder still to this day what’s it like for kids who grow up without exposure to these experiences, and how much smaller their worlds are? How much more narrow their perspectives are? How little additional influence there is on their values and character?
Not that they grow without character but how many more facets to their character there would be if they had these kinds of experiences. And it made a plain to me in ways I didn’t know how to act on it when I was 17 and 18, but we did start doing, we continued on in camping as I went into college. We started doing sessions not just with West Chester kids, but with kids from other neighborhoods.
So we started having black kids and Asian kids from other branches at our session at camp and because I had been through this international experience it made, it seem, so natural that we’d be doing that. Anyway it was very, very influential, very powerful, very emotionally satisfying.
So you said you came back with this greater world view and you maintained your engagement to the Y when you enrolled into college. What did you study in college?
Well, I was good in languages and bad in Math. So I went to UCLA as a French major. It lasted a year and dropped out, thought maybe I just wouldn’t go to college at all. Went to work in a factory and after six weeks, decided I should go to college. So I reapplied to a smaller school when I went to Fresno State which at that time in 1966 had 7,000 undergraduates.
Resume interview. So you did a short stint in the factory and decided –
Yeah the six weeks of real work persuaded me that the best path was to get a college education. My folks of course Jewish family, you go to college. It was not a choice in life. It wasn’t an option, it was what you did and they hadn’t, of course my folks, products of the depression and children of immigrants, they didn’t get to college. But they were determined that my brother and I would and when I dropped out at UCLA it was a family crisis of epic proportions.
Yeah, you know I was really, really lost at UCLA, huge school, going from being a big man on campus on West Chester High, to being a flea, at UCLA and I was intimidated and lost. It was the right thing to drop out; my French teacher helped me get out. So I transferred where again I decided to go back to school and applied on her advice. You don’t have to go to a giant school, just because you can get in. Why don’t you go to a smaller one? So I picked Fresno State, away from home and 7,000 undergrads. I worked my way through college.
I went to school at night and the other reason UCLA didn’t have, I might have survived there I don’t know. If, I have gotten past that this psychosis. It was actually a syndrome in Psychology I think it's Sophomore Psychosis or something, where kids drop out commonly at that age. Her advice, go to a smaller place, where you feel more in control of your life and your world. And UCLA didn’t have any night classes.
So had to go to school at night because I would work in the day. So Fresno was perfect my, one of my uncles, he owned a bunch of restaurant supply outlets around the state and he had one in Fresno and they hired me as a janitor. I would do janitorial work until three o' clock in the afternoon, and then I'd go to classes at night, and I rediscovered my equilibrium. I got good grades, decided I'd had quite enough of Fresno after a year and transferred to Cal State, Long Beach.
So when I was at Fresno I started again in French, because I’d been doing that and couldn’t figure out what in the world I would do with French after I graduated, so I switched to political science. Couldn’t figure out what I was going to do with that and by the time I left Fresno I knew I was not going to major in political science when I got to Long beach. I did a little bit with English at Long Beach and then started in social work. And here again at Long Beach, I'm also working during the day; now I’m working as an instructional aide in special ed. classes.
I enjoyed working with distressed populations, but three years working as an aide in public school system convinced me that I did not want to be in public education. It was fun working with them and I was kind of developing this view that I wanted or I had it all along I suppose but it was really becoming clear to me that I wanted to spend my life doing something that was socially significant. And I really thought that education might be it until I worked at the schools for three years. But the fact it took me five years to graduate after dropping out. I’d had enough of school and I wanted to work.
By the time I got through Long Beach, completed my social work degree, social welfare, I was also taking a lot of psych classes and there was one statistics class, short of a second bachelor’s degree. I piled up units just taking things; piled up enough units and my guidance counselor warned me that, “If you take this one more stat class you can have two bachelor’s degrees.” And I said “What good is that going to do me? Who cares? I wanted out.” And besides I had already gotten a D in stat for social work and it was the same stat class. Thinking of taking it again was unthinkable, so I walked out of there with a social work degree.
Did you, in your education, psychology, social work, did your previous experiences in the Y, did you call them up, did you use them? Did you lean on them? Did you write on them? Or did you see something else growing beyond that?
There, there is no question that my childhood, teenage and young adult experiences in the Y made social work and psychology make a ton of sense to me. So I grasped those subjects in college with embarrassing ease because of my exposure to the practical applications of social work and psychology, that I've been exposed to in the Y. Just seemed like, a lot of it seemed like affirmation of what I had learned by experience, and then add some book learning to that, so I had a deeper understanding of the roots of these things, you know behavior modification and how to listen for more than subject content in conversation, all of that stuff was very powerful and they were very well connected, looking back, see the connections more clearly, than I did at the time.
There’s something about night school, you don’t spend a lot of time reflecting. You’re just tired all the time, and I don’t know how I did that, supporting myself through those years. From social security they give you your statement of what you contributed to social security from the first time you had a job that paid up to it.
My peak earning years during those four years in Fresno State in Long beach was $3,300 bucks. That was my top year, the others were worse, and, I fed myself, I often shared an apartment with other guys. I had a car. I paid for insurance. I paid for my books and my tuition which in public schools are very cheap and affordable. And I got out of all those years in school without any student debt. You can’t do that today and frankly, as tired as I feel now at 69. I get exhausted thinking about what those four years must have been like. I couldn’t do one day of that today, but as a youngster I had the energy for it and just did it. I was bound and determined to do it myself, I wanted to be self-sufficient. It was part of my affirmation of my adulthood and my growth to that. So I was proud of the achievement and bone-tired when I walked out.
So you are bone-tired and you have social welfare?
Yeah, actually some social work; whatever good that is.
So what did you do? Staying in these steps?
Well I’m still of the mind that I’m going to do something socially significant and I interned as part of my social work degree as a parole officer for the California youth authority. In 1969 which is four years after the Watts riots. I’m driving around Watts, I was working in the Compton office, Watts-Willow Brook in Compton which were very distressed neighborhoods and then you know, they were essentially ground zero for Watts riots and for a white guy in a coat and tie in a grey dodge that everybody knew it was a state car driving around the streets of Watts to visit with my case load of parolees, was another surreal experience and I wasn’t street dumb because I had played basketball in high school in all over the city, but I wasn’t anything closer to street smart. I got an education that was useful and a little frightening and I got in on the job.
I did that for six months, had a case load of 80 kids, and it was painfully and distressingly clear that by the time kids got themselves in to the criminal justice system, however, well-meaning all the parties were about their welfare and rehabilitation; by the time a kid was incarcerated, paroled, incarcerated again, paroled again, by the time they got in to that hamster wheel, there was so little that probation and parole could do. You could make a difference in some lives here and there, but the case load of 80 kids, then you had to see the 80 kids a month.
You had to drive around to see them because they didn’t have cars to come to you, so you'd travel, meet, then you had a requirement to record your interview with these kids. 60 of the 80, you could see them once in a month, 20 of the 80 were called special services cases and you had to see them once a week. You meet with a kid for half an hour and you spend 20 minutes to 30 minutes with a recording device; we call it a Dictaphone that was operated by a foot pedal and there was a band on it. It was the most primitive possible machine. You would dictate your meeting and then secretary would type it up.
So essentially I spent four hours a day recording or either driving to or recording the four hours of meetings you had, and you do that for a while you think, it’s very clear that you are not changing anybody’s life. Kids who’ve been through as much as they’ve been through and facing hurdles they were facing, a thirty-minute conversation with you once a month and even the ones who wanted to talk to you which wasn’t all of them, I was like “Okay, I guess that’s over now. Thank you 30 minutes, see you next month.”
In the meantime, these kids are living on streets filled with gang members, they are living in communities where there wasn’t even a job; pumping gas or bagging groceries because there were no gas stations and there were no grocery stores. The lawns were all dead and anybody who had a lawn couldn’t pay a kid to mow it, so you know the only job you could get was stealing things and that’s what they did. The smart kids figured out a way to steal things; I watched smart kids with no other options just going back into crime because what the hell else they could do?
I was deeply depressed by that and it became clear to me that if I wanted to make a difference in kid’s lives I had to get them before they were broken which is why I started to think about the Y again, you know. So I ruled out public education and I ruled out corrections and there other elements in social welfare that just were not appealing to me. But I, as I was considering the Y, I was also rejecting it because I’m a Jew and the story I didn’t tell you about camp, was even though the majority of people in the camp were very accepting of every child as they found them, some of these volunteers particularly the older men, were involved in the Y because they were committed and sometimes evangelical Christians.
This is the 50’s, their faith is very important to them and some of them just stopped operating with the presumption “Well if you’ve come to the Y, if you’ve come to the Young Men’s Christian Association, you must either be a Christian or either be interested in becoming one.” and at my blue rag ceremony at age 12; so I stepped through the three leathers and I’m in my fourth year and I take this rag and there’s a ceremony and there’s a lot of Bible verses in the ceremony; we go through it blindfolded and at that time, very comfortable with camp environment, feeling confident and I was one of the older kids, experienced and I knew my way around, a leader in my cabin group and well known to some of the directing staff.
So, I remember this directing staff; he was a father of a couple of the kids in the camp with me, fireman and I knew him to be a lovely man later. In later years I knew him all his life, for the rest of his life, I'm friends with his sons, and he’s at my blue rag ceremony. Clearing in the woods for the tying, the ceremony of tying on this rag and he whispers in my ears, I'm blindfolded, “I am so glad that you’ve come to Christ, that you have seen, that you’ve been saved, that you’ve accepted Jesus in to your heart.”
Well, I dissolved in a heap of tears. He thought it was an alter call, he thought I was dissolving in tears of joy. I thought “I just sold out 5,700 years of my family history and didn’t know it. I have abandoned my faith without having to sign a document and I’ve switched teams and what am I going to say to my mom and dad and grandparents?” I was desolated, I was crushed. Little Joe’s father was hugging me, it was, in his mind this is the most loving moment you know, what he prays for and miracles happening.
My cabin counselor knew otherwise and spent a long time putting me back together, but that memory burned in my head in all kinds of ways you know and I saw past it as I continued to be myself, a leader at camp and subsequent years, because most of the people that I encountered in the Y were not of that conviction and they were, their Christianity; most of them were Christians actively, their Christianity was of this inclusive, welcoming, involving type and their idea of being Christians is hug everybody and accept them as you find them and that was the majority lesson that I learned from my years in camp, but I still rejected the idea of a Y’s career because yeah lot of the people I met were welcoming and warm like that, but it’s the Young Men’s Christian Association and I am a young Jewish boy.
Was your family religious?
No, we went to a religious school; I went to six years of Hebrew school, I could read and speak Hebrew, had a bar mitzvah, I was classically trained to be a Jewish man and my folks saw to that.
Neither of my folks had been through that religious training; they wanted me to have it, but my extended family, my 19 cousins on my father’s side, 14 of whom were boys, all of them, had gone through the bar mitzvah experience, all of them were religiously trained. We were Jews. It was just, we weren’t ambivalent about it, we were Jewish and I would talk when I was a camp leader. I would talk with my peers and with others about being Jewish and I was offered the agent to help other Jewish little camper kids who were Jewish come to terms with it.
In those days it was maybe even easier to be a Jew at Y camp than it was to be a Catholic, because before the second Vatican council, it was a sin for Catholics to go to Y camp and so 1960-61-62-63 was the Vatican council. When we had catholic kids, they couldn’t go to chapel because they couldn’t go somebody else’s religious service and there was a chapel every morning which I would grip my teeth through, sit there as a good soldier but they couldn’t go at all. So they were allowed to stay in their cabins, sit on their bunks for an hour while everybody else was at chapel, and then on Sunday, we would put them in a state bed truck and drive them to mass.
They were really separate citizens, they were segregated and they were treated differently. It looked like children going to the concentration camp, leaving camp, hanging out of the sides of the state bed truck driving into the nearest parish, where they could go to church. I guess the thing that kept me there was this perception that almost everybody I met was of such good will and so loving and inclusive that I saw past that, the structural problems and I didn’t have a repeat of the experience with this father and I was more secure as a young adult than I was as a kid, but I still didn’t think “Why would the Young Men’s Christian Association hire a Jew and openly Jewish?” Absolutely I didn’t think it was possible, but after dropping out the parole experience I began to talk to Y directors and friends in the Y from Jim de Boom who just recently passed away, was program director at the West Chester Y and others that I knew and I’d ask them about it and they said, “Sure the Y will take you, no problem.”
He got me on a path to interview with YMCA Los Angeles and Glen Allen was the HR guy and he would do intake interviews on career candidates and referred me to job interviews for program director jobs and then Y in San Bernardino interviewed me before I actually graduated from college and offered me a job as a high school program director, but I decided I didn’t want to work in San Bernardino. A couple of the interviews that I went on; interviewed with a fellow in the North Valley branch in 1970, who was horrified to have a Jew sitting in front of him. He kept saying “Why are you here? Why are you here?” I said “I love the Y.” He says, “But you are not Christian. You don’t belong here.”
For some reason he didn’t strike me as, so out of place. I knew I was an outsider knocking on the door to a club I didn't belong to. So really, when he called me on it, I felt, “Maybe it really is true.” I sent an application to a YMCA in Lancaster California. It's not part of the LA Association, it's as an independent Y but they had an opening for a program job. In those days you had to fill out an application form with all of your personal data on it “What church do you attend?” I wrote down Temple Israel of Westchester. And what’s your religion; Jewish. And they wanted everything in those days height, weight, everything. So, we just, in those days we didn’t think about it, we just filled those damn things out and sent them.
That one came back and I still have it somewhere; that application came back with red crayon circles around Jewish and Temple Israel of Westchester. In a big not interested sniped across the application form. That was the Y in 1970, but it’s also the Y that offered me two jobs, the LA two branches and the LA Y offered me jobs. And I took one in Torrance and found there a family of staff and volunteers and it was very much like the people I grew up with in West Chester.
It just began to dawn on me that the Y in that time and by the experience of its volunteer and staff leadership was migrating to a very different understanding of what it is to be Christian and what it is to be part of a Christian organization. And it was very compatible with my Jewish faith and there was no call on me to compromise. It was a very supportive, inclusive, welcoming environment. It then allowed me to devote my erratic energies to learning how to be a Y director. My boss in that first job is in the YMCA hall of fame, Gary Kuenzli who was an extraordinary teacher.
I learned how to work, how to be a professional from Gary. I was ragged, probably wasn’t dumb but I was terrible at work habits. Given so used to the kind of work habits I developed working all day going to school at night, it's just, slap, dash, get it done get it out you know. Get it out the door. Don’t worry too much about anything else. So I knew how to work long hours but I didn’t know how to work well. Gary taught me how to be efficient, how to manage, how to think through tasks, how to plan. And he himself was a master model of these things, he was extraordinary and an excellent writer.
And my colleagues on it, one of my colleagues on that staff was Steve Burns; my contemporary preceded me there by six months so we were both program directors lifelong friends. We worked in the LA Y together for years; we worked on the metropolitan staff together later on when I became president of the LA Y many, many years later. In '94 Steve was our executive VP for financial development before he then went out to the Y-USA staff. In the company of these people who behaved their Christian values in these welcoming and loving ways, I really got a sense of what the YMCA was capable of. I was unaware in those early years at Torrance of what the rest of the Y was like. I knew there were Ys like the one in Lancaster. There had to be others. I thought because of West Chester and Torrance, I imputed from that experience probably most of them are like West Chester and Torrance.
If I traveled around the country I would expect to find a whole bunch of West Chesters and Torrances and if that’s what was going to find, this is an environment where I could thrive, make a contribution, do meaningful work, be accepted. We did some pretty progressive things in those first three and a half years and I became known for some of my work.
I began writing a little bit, so I would get invited to do things for metropolitan staff level. The Y has always hungry for leadership. So if somebody actually knows how to do something they don’t care if you’ve been there for two years or 10 years you get invited to say some more about it, which was nice. That morphed into being invited to go to some other Ys in other parts of the country to speak at conferences and train them about some of the things we were doing well and it was there that I began to see that not all Ys were like Torrance and West Chester. And that some associations were far more rigid in their interpretation of what it meant to be Christian and what their obligations as Christians were. I began to see a more well-rounded picture of what was going on, but I never lost that sense of what was happening in LA at that time was somehow correct, that they had gotten it right. If the call of Christianity was inclusion and love and charity and acceptance that they got it right.
Didn’t stop any of them from being church going Christians, saved in faith. But they didn’t feel the need to pose that on a Jew or somebody of no faith; they didn’t feel the need to evangelize, whereas otherwise I began visiting mid to late 70s and then extensively beyond that as I became a little better known. I saw a lot of people I thought might have proven embarrassing to Jesus. And in some ways arrogant of me to say that and yet I think it’s correct that, I could never reconcile exclusion with the declaration of Christianity. I couldn’t put the two together in any way that I could understand it.
Nothing I understood about the teachings of Jesus and I must tell you that's a lot. You don’t be a Jew in a Christian organization without learning a lot about Christianity on your own, so you can be conversant in the language of the culture. Plus my religious training was broad. Nothing I learned about, the messages of Christianity excused, exclusion, discrimination, cruelty, thoughtlessness, inconsideration. It just was incompatible and Jesus as a Rabbi was known for exactly the opposite, the things that drew everybody to him and the evidence of his divinity wasn’t so much the miracles although it is to some, it's certainly theologically that’s the hard proof.
The evidence of his virtue, of his divinity, was how he treated his fellow man. And that was a, I saw the Y, in those early years and every year since migrating aggressively and sometimes with good speed toward an understanding that this behavioral understanding of Christianity acting it out on a daily basis was far more dominant in cultural importance to the Y than the strictly theological interpretations of doctrine. And it certainly had nothing to do with demeaning somebody of another faith or forcing somebody into a box they didn’t belong in.
The argument that well you don’t have to be here was just about the most anti-Christian thought I could conceive of. How can you say all are welcome except people who don’t believe like us? That is not Christian and so there are these great inconsistencies and I met throughout my career, I run into people that I otherwise had great affection for and respect who in their worst moments would default to these positions thinking that that’s what they were called to do as Christians. I can see it as nothing less than a very deep misunderstanding of what Christianity was trying to teach. So I know people feel very differently about that than I do, but the perspective of only the few Jews roaming around the Movement during those years, so that was the clear message.
Going back on your, the Ys you came up in and the Ys you're working at and how that shapes your expectation of what you thought all Ys were and realizing that wasn't the case, but you felt that the YMCA as an organization as a Movement was going in that direction. Do you have thoughts on what was moving it in that direction? Why you felt there was momentum?
Awesome, resume interview, so the question I asked was, you described that you had seen growing up in a Y that if you found out was progressive and you what the Y should be but then you saw Ys were going in that direction. The question is what do you think now then looking back was influencing that shift in the religious nature, the religious emphasis within the YMCA?
The first evidence of that in my head was how wildly the behavior of those around me and LA Y spoke. People behaved in inclusive welcoming ways. Their language in front of the room and I'm not talking just about Torrance and West Chester, this is now after I'm working for the YMCA Metropolitan Los Angeles branch, and I'm in staff meetings and I am all over the city as all of the staff were, and I went on camps. Everywhere I went, there was consistency of language, intent and behavior that supported this idea of an inclusive practical Christianity and it was, “Love and Acceptance and Action”, and it was welcoming without reserve everywhere.
So I thought that can't be isolated. This is the dialect of this particular institution, which happens to be one of the largest Ys in the country. So that was persuasive, and not only to the idea that perhaps, we are going to find other inhabitable planets out there, you know with the same ethos but that it was infectious. I thought this would work lots of places, because it doesn’t require anyone, Christians or otherwise to give up their faith, it doesn’t require anybody to compromise or step back unless their desire is to turn somebody into something else. And there was their purpose in life was to save me from my Judaism and cause me to switch teams that their lives would be meaningless unless I change teams.
Unless you ran into those folks, everybody else could have 100 % of their values or their faith affirmed and not compromised, and I thought this kind of co-existence really speaks to the need of the planet, not just Los Angeles. So I assumed in the beginning, that if it is working here in this very large Y in one of the more diverse cities in the country, there's probably other examples out there. So I was a program director at Torrance for three to four years and I took a job at the Palo Alto Y and I went to work for Jerry who was another great leader in Palo Alto and while there as was a senior program director and associate exec, I had to hire other program directors and one of my hires was Dave Thornton who was a Baptist minister and coming out of a difficult experience and leaving the ministry and yet Dave you know and everyone knows, never stopped being reverend Dave, he was always a minister and a very religious fellow.
Dave and I shared an office smaller than this tiny room we are sitting in for nearly three years. He had one desk and we had another and we talked about everything and then we talked a lot about religion and his ordination and his faith and my Jewish experience and he said, 1975 he said, “You should write this up, you should write about being a Jew in the Y and your take on it and send that to prospective magazine.”
So I did, I wrote a piece called “Abraham-Jesus and Me” about a Jews experience in a Christian organization. Dave edited it and he gave me good critical comments, he told me where I was giving in too much and then conceding too much territory and encouraged me. Dave certainly, he was my senior and I not only enjoyed working with him, I looked up to him and respected him and learnt a lot from him. I sent that it and it became kind of a wildfire in a language of today it went viral.
What it was back then was an article in print, but it got copied and sent everywhere and I started getting letters from around the country about it. These were in the main affirming and a lot of them were in the field from Christians, Christian Y directors. A lot of them under the heading of, “Thank God somebody finally said this.” And I was doing this, saying that my experience in the Y affirmed that a Jew could work in it, if our interpretation of Christianity was these values of love, inclusion and charity and acceptance. A lot of thanks for saying it, I felt that way for years and you're making it easier for me to say it out loud in my Y.
Probably 5% of the mail I got was, what I call Christian hate mail from the people that Jesus would embarrass or who would embarrass Jesus and who vilified me for thinking I belonged, who demanded that I leave. Many of them quoting one Bible verse after another in support for their hatred of me and my article. It's always sobering when people use scripture to justify intolerance and hate, but many didn’t hesitate to do so, saw me as an enemy of God, a blasphemer, someone who didn’t belong and shouldn’t be here.
But that was 5%. 95% of the mail bags were full, it was amazing really, and then I got asked to go speak because of that. People wanted to hear from the guy who wrote this. So I gave speeches and had conferences at other places around this theme. It was the same kind of 95% – 5% response to these. People who came up to me afterwards with tears in their eyes hugging me and people who came up shaking their heads and wagging their fingers and saying, “You need to repent and find God.” But I did the math. Everywhere I went most people were in this place of inclusion and acceptance and I just reinforced my presumption in LA, that this idea has a lot more weight than the other idea. And I see it as a variation on that theme that “came off.” The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. The weight of love and of those values of love and inclusion and tolerance, acceptance, charity, the weight of that is more powerful than the counterweight of exclusion and parochialism.
I saw it as a, you know, there's no way over time that this were inclusive, you can't win. But I also began to see that I had a role to play out front, openly and declaring, not as a broadcast, but just openly acknowledging that I was a Jew and that when you're talking in a room, remember that there are people of other faiths here and I am one of them. I don’t need you to be a different person or to meet your faith. I want you to just be aware that in addition to those of like mind, there are other people who are invited into this warm family, whose presence should be respected as well.
So my very, this is true, and I don’t think it’s over-inflating my existence here, but there weren't other Jews. There were a handful around the country in program positions and nobody had an executive position. And people began asking me, I became the go-to expert on, “What do the Jews think?” Well, I don't know what the Jews think? I am a Jew, I'm not all Jews. So, for 10 or 15 years I would give that answers, I don't know, I'm just Larry Rosen the Jew, I'm not every Jew you ever met.
After a while I decided to just answer the question. Well, here's what the Jews think: the Jews are looking for inclusion and acceptance just like all other people, that kind of thing. And I kind of became the visible spokesperson for that segment of our diversity. We obviously had people of color, people with different sexual orientation; we had the gender question of should women be included fully in an enterprise? So there are lots of other segments that we were coming to terms with in the mid-70s.
We were not fully inclusive of all these groups, people of other religions and races and we were edging up to it, getting better at it. And I thought it, just as with our African-American staff who formed a band wise as a group that was meant to give comfort to the very few African-American staff. That helped raise consciousness around all sectors of the Y. We not only have people who are different from us in this enterprise, but they care about it as much as we do, and we need more of those voices.
You know the great sin as you know of segregation and exclusion, at least in an enterprise sense, is how much talent you can sign to the bench, you're not in the game. It’s absurd, if you have brilliant, talented, committed people who can contribute to the work in the mission of your organization, why wouldn’t we welcome them in the room. It’s just stupid. You know it’s a damn use, it’s something, it’s a waste of resources at the very least and it’s immoral, at worst and inconsistent with every tenant of Christianity, at the end of the day.
So, I saw the Y, during my time and clearly, it must have happened well before my time, for the West Chesters and Torrances to be created. So, certainly by no means was I a creator of these ethos, but I saw it accelerating, and I saw that there was a virtue to me being open about who I was, about women being open about their aspirations to leadership, about blacks and Latinos coming together to support one another in their careers. All of that raised consciousness until it became lightly evident that we were better because all those people were in the house. And I think that's what, ultimately, that's what's tipped it.
Now I think we are accelerating. So from kind of slower and halting beginnings in the 60s and 70s, I think what you see now, you look at the LA Y now it’s diversity is equal to the diversity of city of Los Angeles. This is as Y is ought to be. I mean, in every way, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, immigrant status. It’s as diverse as that very messy world setting. Well, what could make us happier than that? I mean that, to me it’s one of the great signatures of a successful enterprise in our work and I see more and more of that happening around the country. Some outliers, but I think overtime they will disappear. You can't sustain them. This other stuff weighs more.
A couple of, I'll kind of form questions for you that you hit on in many different ways and I just want to package this for the benefit of the YMCA listener is. What is something new staff should know about the YMCA?
I think that, it’s something they should know about the Y, it’s something they should know about themselves. I mean there's two parts to this and they go together. So, whenever I interviewed people who were interested in a career, or interested in another step in their existing career, my first question was always was, “Why are you here?” and don’t tell me you think it’s a good job. I don’t care about that, why are you here? Why aren’t you looking for a better job someplace else and what makes you think that working for the Los Angeles Y or the YMCA of the USA, is something you need to do?
And if the answer is about a career opportunity and the usual, “I'm ready for an executive job now, I would, well this interview is over and I don’t think I can help you. I have told people from the beginning, whenever I first start hiring staff in the early 70s, that if you haven’t got a fire in your belly for what we are trying to make happen in the world, there's not enough money in the world to make it worth your while, it’s going to be too demanding, it’s going to be too hard and it ultimately won't be very fulfilling.
So then, what that person needs to know at a more refined level on the other side is, “Why are we here?” What are we trying to, what is the YMCA trying to get done in the world, not what is it doing. It’s the next question. What are we aiming to create with this enterprise? What kind of a world are we trying to create? Where are we now relative to that ambition? Which would begin to give you and all of us some idea of how steep the trail is and how hard it’s going to be to get there and how much we have to do. But, this commitment to socially significant, a life of socially significant work began in my childhood, if I can take you back there, it was my family’s custom to have dinner together.
Dad being a blue collar guy was always home for dinner. And we would sit around the dinner table, my brother and my parents four of us, for hours every night. My brother and I were expected to read the newspapers. We got two every day. When dad came home and dinner was on the table, we would eat. Then we would talk about what was going on in the world. We were doing this in the 50s, my brother and I were 8, 9, 10 years old, we're doing this. If we hadn’t read the papers, if we weren’t up on what was going on in the world and take a little break. Maybe you want to read the paper, be ready for our conversation tonight. We would calmly sit while the leftover food crusted on our plates for an hour or two, talking about social justice.
If you’re a Jew you cannot be disinterested in all the struggles for civil rights. The whole history of Jewish people is being denied civil rights, and being persecuted and the worst case is slaughter for being different. And so we were very interested at an early age in the struggle for civil rights, African American struggle. Then that morphed into conversations about the war, about our role in South East Asia and military service. But for my whole childhood at home till I left home in 17 that was our dinner conversation.
So my idea of going to work, when I ultimately ended up in socially significant work was, the world needs our help. It is not nearly what it ought to be or could be. And the only way it gets there is if people of good will pick up the rope and pull. What I saw in the Y was more capacity for that pulling, the better rope to pull with, and more tools. It's wide spread connection to communities, its long history.
It's as I saw in West Chester and Torrance is the excellent example of knitting communities together, bringing people together. And so I could see the possibilities. So what do people need to know is understanding their motivations. And then understanding the ambitions of the organization and why they're so important. I don’t think they need to know anything else other than it's really hard to do. We'll train them on everything else but if they understand those two things, the rest of it is just orientation and experience.
Go off to training, learn how to balance a budget. But the rest of it is peripherally important, those two things are essential. I can't fix your world outlook. You know, if you care about making a lot of money, I can't help you there. If you don’t care about reaching out to people who are less advantaged or knitting the world together in some way to create more peace. Yeah, it's your choice, I mean your life, you look at it the way you want it, but I don’t need you. And if you don’t care about what we're trying to get done, you don't understand the importance of it and the reason for it. You're not going to be very good even if you want to change the world, you're not going to be very good at helping us. So I need to tell you that you need to be honest with yourself about the other thing. And then we can start. That’s what they need to know. Long answer to your simple question.
Great answer. How about leaders? Any change, anything leaders, YMCA leadership should know, be aware of, think, criticize.
The same two things.
The same two things, but I mean in a more amplified scale. They need to think about these issues through your layers of responsibility in the organization. So for example how, if you’re a branch executive, how do you bring these two aspects of the intake and orientation into being in your setting. How do you make sure that this is part of the culture? How do you influence vision and commitment from your chair at some distance from others in the organization? How do you help members understand that they're partners and enterprise to improve the world not just lap swimmers or parents with child care kids? So what's the path? How do you help people travel that path so that in the aggregate your organization has got enough arms, hands and feet to get there?
It becomes a resource acquisition and resource deployment question, which has to do more with the alignment of the heart than it does with talent. Often a lot of what we do with volunteers and members, if we're really doing our job is this business of aligning the heart and then finding the right attachments for them on their journey from user to co-owner. And they come in wanting to lose 10 pounds and if we've done our job, they're helping drive the work 10 years later. And that’s the challenge before us and it's so difficult to do well. But you can't do it at all, unless you have it in your head all the time.
You've been very transparent about this next question throughout the interview but I want to give you an opportunity to not come at it sideways, to attack it head on, what does the YMCA mean to you?
It's hope for the world. It’s a vehicle to show how we can be together, how we can live in peace, how we can build caring societies around the world, how we can visit our better selves and it is realizing a fraction of that promise at any given moment, but you can see it.
Is there anything else you would like to share that we haven't talked about?
I would say, so much time I've spend rattling on about little pieces of the last 64 years. There's a lot more but, illustrations out of pieces of the work in terms of the importance of the work. All the other stuff would be examples of how in different positions those were manifest and how, actually you know maybe one of them were useful aspects of my career history is, what it illustrates, can be possible for people who see the Y in that way.
Who see the Y for its potential to transform the communities and people and the planet. That my whole career has been a very gratifying opportunities, series of opportunities to influence that I hope for some good.
I mean the emphasis on membership, the idea that our work in healthy living should be reaching the people who had not yet succeeded at it instead of those who already fit. And there's a whole, I've been fortunate to be, in awful lot of rooms when we emerged with a new direction sign. We came out of the room with, here is where we need to go and here is why we need to go there and here's some ways we can get there. I had been so fortunate to have been in so many of those rooms on so many issues over my career. And I got to believe that anybody with their lights on and with their passion and heart properly aligned can have the same experience. And in fact the Dave Thornton’s and Neil Nicoll’s and John Ferrell’s and many, many others of the world and our career cohorts, are echoes of that same experience. I had it, they had it.
The only thing different about me is I come from way outside the norm at least during that period. Someday there will be another Jewish CEO out there in some big Y. But it won't take as long for the next one to show up as it did for the first one to show up. I don’t think that it will be such an alien concept the next time. Yeah there's, I suppose there's instruction in some of these micro cosmic examples of how the work is done. You know the detachment from the affiliation with Pepsi was a defining moment of really you think of, some would think of it as a silly and inconsequential issue. But it was a test of the institution soul and ethics. I saw it as a bright line in examination of organizational character. And it ended up being that.
Why did you care about that? What was important about fighting that?
We were selling an invaluable asset which was our institutional reputation for a million and half bucks to a company whose fortune was derived by selling us stuff that poisoned our children. Nice people work with Pepsi Cola, they're generous, but on no planet in this solar system, should an organization whose fortune comes from junk food, ought to occupy the same space as a logo of YMCA calling for people to live healthy lives. It just was so jarringly inconsistent with our reason for being. That it was stunning to me that others couldn’t see it so plainly. Eventually they did, but there was a steep hill to climb to get that flag visible on the horizon to enough people who finally said, "Oh, oh yeah." But in an organization that is willing to examine itself open to be confronted with a compelling question.
Change is possible and constructive change and realignment of heart and purpose is possible. But somebody is got to be willing to stand up and do things like that. The good news is that if someone is, they're not just blowing hot air but actually have defensible case and facts then the organization will move in the right direction.
What are some examples of the push back you said, you know that was harder than showing up as a Jew in some ways?
Well some people over value the one million and half bucks. That was big gift in some people's mind. And Pepsi home, hats off to Pepsi, for their skills. They out maneuvered the Y out flank, YMCA leadership on every turn on that one. Million and half dollars looks like a lot. I pointed out in my argument by looking up what Pepsi spends annually on advertising which at the time was 1.2 billion dollars.
Million and half is what they spill on the way to the water cooler and inconsequential and that the Y's brand on the other hand. The reason they wanted it and the reason we didn’t understand it, the Y's brand was 150 some years of, the Y means healthy living. We codified it, we invented the concept, and we’ve been promoting it and presenting it. Healthy children and healthy living was what that logo stood for in the public mind.
It was to us because we didn’t understand value, we didn’t do the math. And that some things particularly reputational things are priceless.
Were you saying these publicly or internally with your colleagues?
Internally, there is no public push back, because we didn’t get very far down the road on the public connections, thankfully. I think I slowed that up. Eventually they were abandoned, but others quickly joined me, in some quarters quickly. So after the first salvo, I was seen as kind of the agitating point person, but I wasn’t alone. And then more people added themselves to it as they thought about it. So it's kind of, but the kind, of thought leadership in that enterprise that we were trying to encourage our symposium graduates to be capable of doing.
I don’t have to pick, whatever version I pick. Be the person in the room who can say, hey wait a minute and back it up. And be able to offer a thoughtful rejoinder to things that really don’t fit or make sense or are off course from this why are we here business. Yeah that was, I walked out of an urban group meeting. I remember in the middle of that battle. I asked the urban group to take a stand on this and put the facts out, lay out a passionate case. And I waited for one of my colleagues to second it.
Not one of the other 29 top 30 CEOs raised their hand. That was a low moment in that. I walked out of that meeting and some of my very, very good friends were sitting in the other chairs. It's the only time I've walked out of a meeting. I forget what city we were in, it was in some hotel. I just went in a seat in the back of a lobby somewhere and sat try to fight this through. A couple of hours later two of them came up to find me and came up and apologized for not having the courage to join me which was okay, it's not too late, we're just starting and we gathered it up from there. But that was a low moment I thought it was, to me, and today I think it was so obvious, it was so obviously wrong. It was just an act of immorality to make this, to form this attachment. Not just because it was for chump change, but at any price it would have been an immorality. If they had offered us a half a billion a year, it would have been wrong. Some things you should say no to in life.
And it was stunning to me that, and those who didn’t join me and then later did said that the reason largely, was out of deference to our colleagues and leaders who had made the decision. These are our friends, we have to support them, we've worked together for decades all of us, and these guys made the best call they could make, they, did the best job they could.
And there's a weakness to that inherently, especially on moral issues and ethical issues. Sometimes best effort isn’t good enough and has to be called out and this was one of those cases. But there instincts we're to be supportive, good soldiers, not embarrass friends. In a large collegial organizations and these are strong impulses, I understand that loyalty is important and I'm a loyal guy. But there are moral and ethical issues that trump the value of loyalty in certain situations. Sometimes you have to say no and I'm not going to leave that kid on the railroad track just because I know the engineer of the train, you know. I'm going to do something about this.
But I always felt that our calling was to do the right thing as best we can understand that at any given moment. Do the right thing even if it costs more than you're willing to pay. That's the heart of good character and I aspire to do that and we don’t always hit that mark but that’s the litmus test I apply to these things. Sometimes the price can be extraordinary.
There were times in my career when I thought if the board says, yes to this or no to this or I'm going to have to resign. I never took a job that I couldn’t resign from if I was going to be morally or ethically compromised. Thank God it never got to that but there were times when I thought it could.
That there is a question I've wanted to ask is there seems to be a theme running through the story you shared on speaking out and not just speaking out of calling people out, but also speaking out and sharing your story, raising you voice. And these are just a handful of examples but you seem to lock the fear of speaking out and that you benefited by virtue of standing out either raising a national prominence, gathering circles. Is that dig into that a little bit in that? How much of that is true of my understanding of it not having enough examples and maybe a little bit of times where.
From those early experiences of being asked to speak out on what had been you know the unusual circumstances of being a Jew in a Christian organization. It occurred to me there was a value to others, to the organization if a voice was raised that wouldn’t otherwise be heard and for much of this, particularly on that theme, if I wasn't going to talk about this stuff who was, there wasn’t anybody else.
So I felt an obligation in that sense. I think doing it on that issue which was you know, a lot of what I spoke out about earlier, everything else I spoke out about I was teaching. And so we had done lots of things that were new and were working in program development and in fundraising and in board development and a whole variety of things.
And people in the Y always want to hear about what works and we applauded that. So I was commonly invited to talk about our successes so that others could model it, you know, copy it apply it in their own setting. That made me a credible person in a lot of eyes and they trusted my accomplishments and they trusted my judgment.
And so when controversial issues came up I didn’t feel constrained or out of place. I was already quite public, quite well known, and I think decently regarded for the work, you got more raising more money, you got more volunteers. We invented school age child care, which was spread all over the country. We did all kinds of things that were ground breaking in directions that everybody wanted to go anyway. So when somebody who has done that which I've been part of all of it, also has something to say about whether we get in bed with Pepsi or some other issue, it wasn’t seen as an unusual thing or an unwelcomed thing.
The notoriety from those oppositional things got me nothing, career wise. So when I spoke out about Pepsi I was already the CEO of the LA Y. I wasn’t going to get a bigger job. And when I raised, the risky things are raising issues about being a Jew while I was still a program director, I mean that could have been the end of my career I suppose. But I didn’t care, I wouldn't have liked being run out, but I would have understood, you know. It wasn’t my organization. I got nothing except I think in the end that the overwhelming reviews were positive and when I was speaking out on oppositional issues.
Thank you Larry for sharing you time and your story.