What are we feeling? We’re eight weeks into the shutdown. Eight weeks since our lives were turned upside down. With our doors closed to most of what defines us as our community’s town square, we’ve retreated into our homes to shelter from the COVID-19 storm. We’ve lost friends, family, members of our community. We’ve known lay-offs and sudden doubt about a future that seemed as certain as the changing of the seasons. But community building doesn’t stop just because our buildings are closed.
So, we’ve changed course. One step at a time. Online programming and engagement make it possible for us to maintain our connections and to begin new ones. Building community means reaching out. So, we’re serving meals—for curbside pickup. We’re bringing food to those in need, in the tens of thousands. Where hospitals are overrun, we’ve volunteered our facilities for patient overflow. Where supplies run short, we’ve organized blood drives and food drives. We’re providing safe childcare programs for the children of the men and women caring for the sick, the people who stock the shelves and check us out at the market, who deliver packages, who keep the lights and the power on, who drive the buses and keep the subways running—the healthcare workers, first-responders, and other essential employees—so they can rush toward danger even as the rest of us remain largely at home.
And still, the storm rages on. How long will it last? The school year ended early and now the summer is far from certain. Camp, if it happens, will be unlike any season we’ve ever known. When the crisis began, the summer seemed so far away. Now, it’s almost upon us, and the next school year, too, feels increasingly near at hand. Where will we be then? What will be the state of our communities? What will we be permitted to do and how will we manage?
Uncertainty can be crippling, compromising our sense of direction, undermining our confidence. But, it can also bring opportunity. The mission isn’t the programs. It isn’t the buildings. It isn’t the business. The mission is the community. In the face of uncertainty, creativity can be king. This is a crisis we share. And there are potential partners and allies around every corner: those whose mission is akin to ours. The community builders. The helpers. The givers. The teachers.
Yesterday, JCC Association hosted a party in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week. We were joined by JCC leaders and early childhood staff members, by family members, and by friends. Most of all, we were joined by hundreds of our more than 5,000 early childhood educators. Our teachers. The ones who take families with young children into the loving embrace of our Jewish community. Teachers, whose success depends on creativity and on collaboration. Teachers, whose dedication to our children transcends the limitations of our ability to compensate them for the outsized, invaluable role they play in the lives of us all. Teachers, who provide our kids with a safe space and who fill their minds and hearts with ideas and ideals. Teachers, who are there for our children—and for us—in good times and in times of crisis. They honor us with their service, and especially amidst this crisis, we were incredibly proud to honor them.
A few days earlier at a gathering of her peers, one of those remarkable teachers, Linda Tompkins, of the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula in Newport News, shared these words: “We’re scared of going back. We’re afraid of not going back. But we’re not quitting.” Fifteen words. Fifteen words that beautifully capture both our fears and our determination. We’re not quitting. We’ll be back.
“Teach me to embody those ideals I would want for my children to learn from me. Let me communicate with my children wisely—in ways that will draw their hearts to kindness, decency and to true wisdom…let them find in me the values and the behavior I hope to see in them.”
– Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
Shabbat shalom שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America