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Celebrating Our Diverse Communities and Our Shared Stories

By Randy Ellen Lutterman and Isabel Mares

The first months of the Jewish New Year coincide with the final months of the Western year and are filled with many holiday celebrations—evoking many images, many stories. This season is a time to gather, to be with family and friends, to give thanks and remember pieces of our collective history and myths. Although American Thanksgiving is a secular celebration, there is something surprisingly familiar and Jewish about it. We invite loved ones to feast with us, offer bounty to those in need, and recall that we were once strangers in a foreign land. Not long after millions of families and communities celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah invites us to revel once again in the miracle of our own resilience. We light candles, spin dreidels, eat latkes and celebrate religious freedom, making memories we carry forward with us. As we enjoy these annual holidays in our homes and JCCs, we recall the people, rituals, flavors, and objects that keep them alive in memory and practice.

What if the entire JCC Movement, comprising hundreds of unique communities across North America and globally, had a central location to share stories? What if the memories of family and friends could be captured in a place that we could access easily and enjoy collectively? What if there was an online tool that inspired storytelling with your family and friends during the holidays and year-round? What if we told you such a place already exists?

JFest StoryMachine is that place.

The JFest StoryMachine is our custom-designed, whimsical engagement tool created for people of all ages. Inspired by the remarkable Jewish visionary Rube Goldberg, inventor of the eponymous Rube Goldberg machine, the JFest StoryMachine is a creative space where you can share stories and capture important pieces of your own unexpected journey. From anywhere in the world—on laptops desktops, and tablets—people can enjoy the StoryMachine, especially during this season when we gather and share the memories that make us stronger. Each week, stories from across the JCC Movement are being shared on the JFest StoryMachine—and we encourage you to check it out. Our growing and easily accessible Digital Library of stories can inspire you and prompt you to engage. Particularly during the holidays, when the days are short, the nights are long, and fun abounds, you and your JCC can easily spread the light of family and community by sharing stories through the JFest StoryMachine.

JFest, a signature program of JCC Association of North America, amplifies and connects the diverse stories that make up our vibrant communities—and by telling our individual and family stories we can bolster our own resilience and build resilient communities. In addition to the JFest StoryMachine, you can participate in JFest by viewing Virtual J events and others—from home or with your JCC community. All of them live on the JFest channel, are accessible year-round, and will inspire you and those around you to think deeply about Jewish values, themes, and storytelling.

We have learned a great deal about the strength and spirit of both the Jewish people and the world at large over the last few years. We achieved this resilience largely by sharing stories and pushing ourselves to connect in innovative ways. For many unforgettable months we gathered online, and when we reopened our homes—personal and communal—we were transformed. In 5783, especially in this season of giving thanks, bringing our inner light to the fore, and telling our stories, take time to harness and play in the JFest StoryMachine. It’s a powerful way to preserve our collective memory.

Join us—and invite your extended family or JCC community, too—on the last night of Hanukkah, December 25, at 6 p.m. ET when Latin Grammy Award-winning musician Mister G, Jewish music-makers, and global collaborators will stream a special, ruach (spirit)-filled family-friendly concert. This joyful celebration will bring light into our lives through music and, most importantly, will include you in our Jewish communal story.

Randy Ellen Lutterman is vice president, Development and Arts & Culture, at JCC Association of North America. Isabel Mares is program manager, Development and Arts & Culture, at JCC Association of North America.

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