By Doron Krakow
Also and Also | גם וגם | Gam V’Gam
What a strange phrase. But I suppose it’s not unusual for idioms specific to a single culture or language to be less than easily understood by another. I’m not sure Yogi Berra’s “It ain’t over till it’s over” would be readily understood by Israelis. Gam v’gam essentially means this and that—and is used to convey a juxtaposition of disparate elements. In other words, not like peanut butter and jelly but for combinations in which “and” is insufficient.
Of late, as the Jewish world reels from the horrors of October 7, from the historic wave of antisemitism that ensued across the globe, and from the sacrifices born of Israel’s brave citizen-soldiers and their families laying down their lives to bring our captive sons and daughters home from the dungeons of Gaza and the perpetrators to justice, this simple phrase has found increasing application.
In this blog post, Leah Garber, JCC Association senior vice president, Israel Engagement, and director general at our Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem, shared the story of Rabbi Doron Perez, head of World Mizrachi, and his two sons, Daniel and Yonatan, both of whom are IDF reservists. Daniel is being held captive in Gaza, and Yonatan was due to be married in early November.
How could they possibly proceed with the wedding? A family in anguish. The wedding planned in anticipation of a celebration together. A son and a brother, the extent of his wounds unknown, and in the hands of merciless butchers. And yet, Rabbi Perez told me the wedding took place, and it was glorious. For a few short hours, family and friends, drawing upon a measure of personal fortitude they’d doubted they’d find, celebrated. They celebrated. They celebrated the way Daniel would have wanted them to. They celebrated the gift of a beautiful addition to their family. They celebrated their freedom and the prospect of the new generation to come. Amidst the tears and torment, they celebrated.
This unimaginable juxtaposition is anticipated in the words of the biblical book Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), traditionally read on Sukkot, reminding us that “[t]o everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven… A time to be born and a time to die… A time to kill and a time to heal… A time to dance and a time to mourn.” I have long believed that these couplets are, of necessity, sequential. But on reflection, it’s clear that while they can be, they can also happen at the same time, even in the same moment. Gam v’gam. A time for heartbreak and a time for celebration.
Returning from an extraordinary two-day gathering of Jewish community leaders in Denver, I am reflecting, once more, on the story of Rabbi Perez and his sons and the words of Kohelet. This is quite a time to be a leader—bearing enormous responsibilities for community institutions, organizations, and agencies, charged with broad and diverse obligations to programs and people, products and performance, all the while adhering to the constraints of the bottom line. These august enterprises exist along a continuum of growth and evolution, near-term agendas embedded in medium and longer-term trajectories intended to achieve more durable impact and outcomes. In all but the most extreme circumstances, this wider context remains, even in the face of confrontation with dramatic developments around us—natural disasters, pandemics, war.
For Jewish leaders, the confrontation today between ongoing responsibilities and the rising tide of Jew hatred is particularly challenging as is the need for heightened particularism in communities in which a Jewish commitment to more universalist ideals has long been a cornerstone.
Forty-eight hours is far too short a time to cover the landscape of issues necessitating engagement, dialogue, and debate. Far too short. In contrast to conferences past, this one felt less like a pep rally, less focused on eliciting good feelings and strengthening our esprit-de-corps. Less likely to leave us on a high note. This one left us unsettled. Uneasy. It’s one thing to fancy oneself a leader in good times but something altogether different when the path is less clear. The ground beneath our feet less firm. The juxtaposition of “the work” and emerging community needs in a state of growing friction. The nature of Jewish leadership at issue. Particularistic? Zionist? Progressivist? In reach or outreach? Safe space or brave space?
I’ve long fancied myself a retail community builder and a capable motivational speaker and always looked forward to the opportunity to stand before this extraordinary gathering and leave my colleagues and partners energized to return to their communities impassioned in pursuit of our common course, our commitment to greater Jewish community and more vibrant Jewish life. To bring them to their feet in a surge of positivity and enthusiasm for the work that lies ahead.
But not this year.
This year’s conference was less about boosting the field’s sense of self than it was about confronting ourselves with the need to reassess our responsibilities as a platform—as a movement. On Tuesday afternoon I set aside my prepared remarks to talk about my views on the moment and to call for us to become more than what we’ve been. Such leaps are not achieved with a momentary roar of the crowd but only by way of a durable commitment to moving together through the challenges born of the prospect of change, of the assertion of affirmative leadership, of a willingness to step out of our comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory.
Not all such processes will be successful. But the kind of success demanded of the moment in which we are now obliged to live and lead can’t happen without it. It is time for us to raise the level of substantive discourse about Jewish leadership and Jewish responsibility across and beyond our movement. That’s going to mean more uncomfortable moments if we are to be ready and willing to row together.
Run the business. And light the way for a Jewish community in the cross-hairs. Honor our commitment to being the Jewish community’s town square—its largest and most diverse gathering place—while establishing responsible boundaries. Stand by our principles while providing opportunities to broaden the conversation and raise consciousness. Be true to ourselves and engage others with integrity and grace. Not sequentially but side by side. Maybe at the same time. Gam v’gam. Not simple. We sent our colleagues home in a state of unease. So be it.
Sometimes leaders make history. More often, history makes leaders. And this moment in our history can be the impetus for ours.
As Betzy Lynch, CEO of the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla, California, eloquently shared in the closing session of our gathering, this is the work we do, and we are honored and blessed to do it at this moment. It is not only our responsibility; it is our privilege.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Shabbat shalom | שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America