September 23, 2019

A Man for All Seasons

Not many people get to be celebrated in their own time. Most of us pass from this earth and never know the effect we have had on others’ lives.

This makes the celebration held Nov. 5 for Arthur Pinchev particularly poignant. Pinchev, 49, has spent the past three decades at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute’s (BBI) Camp Alonim, first as sports director in the summer of 1970, then moving up the chain of command over subsequent summers until he joined the BBI staff full time as director of Alonim in 1979. Recently, for reasons unpublicized, he decided it was time to move on. So on a chilly Sunday afternoon, an estimated 150 people of all ages gathered at the Simi Valley site to reminisce with, poke fond fun at, hug and show their appreciation for a man who has dedicated his life to helping young people connect with Judaism.

Pinchev’s retirement came as something of a shock to the vast yet close-knit network of “BBI’ers,” many of whom grew up spending summers with Pinchev as their counselor and now send their children to benefit from his wisdom.

Former camper Larry Gill said he counts himself as one of the lucky legacy who had Pinchev as a role model.

“People feel like they have a very personal link with him,” Gill explained. “No person I’ve ever known exemplifies humility and integrity like Arthur.”

“There are two people who have had the most impact on Brandeis: Shlomo Bardin, who created the vision, and Arthur Pinchev, who for the last 30 years carried the flame,” said Helen Zukin, chair of the BBI board of directors.

Pinchev was vague about his reasons for leaving and his future plans, but he admits that the thought of “not being here” will take some adjustment. The unassuming man with short gray hair and soulful brown eyes has spent the majority of his life on this sprawling rural campus. He most recently served as interim director for the entire institute in the last year before the hiring of Rabbi Lee Bycel last May. When asked if he had aspired to remaining on as full-time director, however, Pinchev said no.

“The uniqueness of my position is that I’ve been able to be very hands-on,” he said. “I’ve always loved my work here. I think sometimes the tendency is to believe it is more important in an organization to move up to a more prominent position, but I cannot imagine a position more important than what I’ve been doing all these years.”

Pinchev said he would miss many things, but especially the people, both staff and guests of BBI.”There’s an energy and dynamic here that is very unusual,” he said. “I used to think it was the physical property, all the beautiful land, but over the last few years I’ve realized it is the people that make this place home.”