Martin Pear

Martin Pear, former Phoenix JCC executive director, at the JCC of Binghamton in Binghamton, New York. On Dec. 20 at 4 p.m., the VOSJCC will be renamed to The Martin Pear JCC in the Valley of the Sun as recognition of Pear’s service to the community. 

“He would be horrified if he was still living, I think.

Jonathan Hoffer,  a partner at SMS Financial and Martin Pear’s son-in-law, was trying to imagine what his humble father-in-law’s reaction would be to learning that the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center is going to be named in his honor. “But I think he’d be so pleased for the community to honor him in this way and to see the impression he left on those who knew him.”

Pear was the executive director of the Phoenix Jewish Community Center when it was located on Maryland Avenue, before it moved to the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus and was renamed the Valley of the Sun JCC in 2002. His work ethic and compassion were legendary in an industrious community known for its empathy. 

“It would be hard for him,” said Pear’s daughter, Rachel Hoffer, of the building name. “But at the same time, I think he would also be extremely proud and honored because he believed so deeply in the Jewish Community Center and peoplehood.”

The renaming coincides with the VOSJCC’s new capital campaign to support multiple improvements to the facility. Called “More J on the Way — Are You In?,” the campaign has already raised $2.5 million out of its total $10 million goal. The Hoffers were one of the many families in the community that the JCC approached about investing in its future. They agreed to gift a contribution to the campaign, and in the process worked to honor Pear’s selflessness. 

“He wasn’t a leader who wanted to be the center of attention. He just wanted to make a difference in community,” Rachel said. “He had a passion for being with people and inspiring people, and having them put their best foot forward and highlighting their strengths.” 

To VOSJCC CEO Jay Jacobs, Pear’s name is associated with excellence, passion and service connected to the center. “And family is the Center,” Jacobs added. So a tireless family man like Pear “exemplifies the spirit of the JCC.”

The facility will be renamed The Martin Pear JCC in the Valley of the Sun on Dec. 20 at 4 p.m. “This is about honoring Martin and the JCC staff at these tireless agencies,” Jonathan Hoffer said.

In many ways, Pear’s legacy at The J was already established even without a building name, as he spent so much time at the JCC. 

“I used to run the basketball league and I’d go home at 9:30 at night and he’d still be there,” said Jonathan Hoffer, who worked for Pear at the JCC. “He just made time for everyone and everything. He embodied what the JCC is all about. He was a true mensch. A true community guy.”

Others who worked with Pear felt the same way. 

“He was just a mensch,” recalled Gary Weiss, VOSJCC board chair. “He was an unbelievably nice man, a simple guy. You’d ask him his name and he’d say, ‘Marty Pear, like the fruit.’ He was super friendly, loved everybody. He always had a smile and a great attitude.”

Pear worked tirelessly to see the JCC serve as a hub for Phoenix’s Jewish community. Now, with membership at an all-time high and more than 2,000 visitors a day, The J is closer than ever to fulfilling Pear’s expectations.

“When I first got here, he was long retired,” Jacobs said. “But when we finally met, he told me what he thought was missing from The J, and he was spot on. He was an amazingly passionate, bright individual with terrific vision.”

Jacobs said the renaming is as much about the community at large as it is about Pear. “What we want people to take away from this is that every generation in a JCC creates the success of the next generation — and has the responsibility to.”

Now Rachel and Jonathan Hoffer are celebrating the generation that preceded them — and honoring the centrality of the JCC in their lives.

“I grew up as the daughter of a JCC executive moving city to city,” Rachel Hoffer said. “It became our family when we moved to these new cities. It was the same for Jonathan; he played basketball and met his future business partners at the JCC. This is about honoring my father and all professional staff in the Jewish nonprofit sector. They’re the ones that really make everything happen.”

Jonathan agrees. “This is to show that you can do all this behind the scenes and still have families and friends who are proud of you.”

Weiss was the one who suggested a capital campaign after he attended a JCC conference in 2018. “It was very ingrained in me that in order to maintain success we need to invest in people, programs and facilities. The board decided we wanted to make this facility relevant for the next 15 to 20 years and really invest in our future.” 

Honoring Pear and kicking off the campaign felt like a perfect marriage. “It’s about a guy who gave his life and service to the JCC, how community is always No. 1,” Weiss said. “What we are trying to do in this campaign is show that those who have carried the community on their back for many years — the Bill Levines, the Sheila Schwartzs, the Grossmans —  we wanted to show that the next generation is ready to step up and follow their lead.”

Youthful giving seems to be part of a larger pattern. 

“Ninety-eight percent of the money we’ve raised so far has been donated by people 55 and under,” said Weiss, who’s truly pleased Pear will receive his due this way. 

“He was a super man — he always put a smile on my face,” Weiss said. “When I attended his funeral, the way that his grandchildren and children spoke about him makes me want to be a little bit more like Marty Pear every day.”

“His life’s work was to give back to the Jewish community,” Rachel Hoffer said. “He was an unbelievable dad and mentor. He was an inspiration for how we live our lives and how we teach our children.” JN

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