Today, a group of 32 JCC Association professionals, led by Allan Finkelstein, met at JCC Association’s Israel office in Jerusalem, to discuss “our connections to the Land of Israel.” JCC Association’s connections with the Land of Israel have never been stronger, deeper, and more significant than they are these days. The fact that we are all here in Israel this week, together, committed to our mission is just one of many proofs.
Our staff seminar is partly funded by the Lenny Rubin Memorial Fund, which was set up when JCC Association Vice President Lenny Rubin passed away. This fund, set up by Lenny’s wife, Laura, and their daughter Michelle, is to support staff training in Israel, in keeping with Lenny’s deep commitment to Israel.
Israel and its relationship to JCCs and overseas Jewish communities is one of JCC Association’s top five priorities. The JCC Vision and Statement of Principles for the 21st Century states that “Israel is an eternal birthright of the Jewish people, linking us to our past and to Jews around the world today.”
Earlier this week our group visited communities in southern Israel. We were privileged to learn first-hand about their determination to remain rooted in this land brutally scarred by ongoing attempts to destroy their peaceful existence. We not only admired their courage during the recent operation Pillar of Defense, but also their commitment to Jewish peoplehood and partnerships with some of our JCCs in North America.
We then visited one of Israel’s student villages, part of the Ayalim project, where young Israelis continue to give back to the State after their army service by living in and improving underprivileged communities. David Ben Gurion’s dream of a flourishing Negev and a restored belief in Zionism is a powerful reality.
Exactly 90 years ago, on Hanukkah of 1922, Eliezer Ben Yehuda died at the age of 64 in Jerusalem. Ben Yehuda fought so that we, the Hebrew nation, would have a living language. His death on Hanukkah, the holiday that most emphasizes pride in our own Jewish culture, language, religion and heritage, is remarkable.
Today, almost 2200 years after that first Hanukkah, Tel Aviv, Israel’s first Hebrew city, is Israel’s cultural capital. Is Tel Aviv Ben Yehuda’s success story? Is it living proof that the Maccabees won over the Greeks or is it evidence that this tolerant, cosmopolitan city celebrates the Hellenic influences that the Maccabees despised? Tel Aviv offers the best of Israeli and worldwide theater, literature, music, art, dance and so much more. Are we aping the rest of the world, or are we growing a mature, sophisticated culture?
Last night, our group traveled to Tel Aviv to enjoy one of Israel’s cultural highlights- the Batsheva Dance Company. Batsheva has been acclaimed as one of the most exciting contemporary dance companies in the world, touring the globe extensively. Being able to enjoy an Israeli performing group that has developed an international revolutionary movement language, the Gaga, filled me with pride.
Batsheva knows how to balance preserving our Israeli heritage and creating a new, modern international one, without losing its identity. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel with my New York colleagues demonstrates the movement’s commitment to Jewish values, and proves that Israel is, and must remain, central to our understanding of Jewish identity and peoplehood.
Shabbat shalom and Happy Hanukkah
Leah Garber, director, JCC Association Israel office