Harel Turkel, 40, the new president of Jewish Community Services’ board of directors as of July 1, has a simple message: JCS is here for everyone, is inclusive, is diverse and constitutes an open tent for the whole community.
Turkel was named president after a unanimous vote from the board of directors.
In addition to his role at JCS, Turkel is the CEO of SOS Technology Group, an 18-year-old, Baltimore-based IT consulting firm. He is a resident of Pikesville and a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
Growing up, Judaism and Israeli culture had a strong presence in his home. His mother is Israeli and a recently retired Hebrew school teacher. Turkel attended religious school at Beth Israel up to bar mitzvah age, then spent his evenings studying at what was then the Baltimore Hebrew College’s Judaic Academy through high school.
Turkel attended Pikesville High and then Towson University, where he received a degree in international business.
In 2008, JCS was formed from the convergence of several organizations including Jewish Vocational Services and Jewish Family Services. Around the same time, Turkel was serving as a member of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s young leadership program, where he had the opportunity to spend a year observing the board of the newly created JCS, he said. A year later, the then-executive director of JCS, the late Barbara Gradet, asked him to become a member of the JCS board.
“I really wanted to find out how the most vulnerable in the community are being served, and how I can make a difference, and JCS seemed like the agency where I could make the most impact,” Turkel said.
Since joining the board, and before his current role, Turkel served as JCS’s vice president for two years, and chaired JCS’s planning and resource development committee.
Nominations for the role of president of JCS’s board typically come from past presidents, current presidents, the director and other officers, Turkel said. A nominee has to receive a unanimous vote from the board to be named president, and then serves for a two-year term. Past presidents are not permitted to serve as president again.
For the past eight or nine years, JCS has been crucial in providing the community with vital services, such as career and mental health services, Turkel said. “But the past year in particular, the way that they were able to pivot during the pandemic, to move [the] majority of programs virtual while still giving the same breadth of services and programs to the end users, was spectacular,” he said. “I believe we’ve actually galvanized some future
successes that will carry on.”
Turkel explained that the community has long perceived JCS as existing for the most
This “is still very critical,” Turkel said, “but I really want to focus and change the messaging or the branding around it being the Jewish Community Services for the entire community. All spectrums of it, all ages, all demographics, the most vulnerable to the most affluent and everything in between.”
As an example, Turkel said that in addition to providing guidance to the unemployed, JCS’s career services staff can also assist a C-level executive who feels they are in the wrong position to move to a different C-level position within the community.
“I want to help change the messaging and position ourselves to help individuals across the community, regardless of their backgrounds, and really get the word out that we exist for everyone,” Turkel said.