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Creating Divine Spaces I Shabbat Shalom, 5 Adar II 5784

By Doron Krakow

Creating Divine Spaces

This week’s Torah portion, Pikudei | פְקוּדֵ֤י, finds the people completing work on the Mishkan, the holy Tabernacle, which would house the Divine presence as they continued their journey from Egypt to the Holy Land, promised by God to Abraham. From that moment, the people themselves, by way of the work of their hands, their commitments to one another, and the lives they would lead together, provided the setting for God’s presence among them.

This, in a way, is the essence of our story—the story of the Jewish people. The Jewish people as a whole, of course, long my major preoccupation. But this week in particular, several individuals among them. Jewish people whose commitment to creating a home for the Divine provided an impetus to gather in celebration. Celebration of a career, a life, and a family.

My week began in Pittsburgh for the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh’s annual Big Night, a gala celebration of the community’s preeminent Jewish institution. More than 800 people gathered for an evening of fine food, music, dancing, and to honor Brian Schreiber, a generational leader, on the conclusion of his quarter-century as the JCC’s chief executive officer.

In 25 years, life brings challenges of every description along with countless opportunities for growth, acquisition of knowledge, and perhaps, most importantly, accumulation of wisdom. Wisdom would prove critical to the successful navigation of his final years at the helm. While nearly every JCC was compelled to contend with the global pandemic and burgeoning security crises, the slaughter of 11 innocents at prayer on a Shabbat morning in late October of 2018 in Pittsburgh created an unprecedented rupture in the life of the entire community, a community anchored at the JCC into which he’d poured his passion and his determination.

But on this night of celebration, it was not the hardships or challenges that occupied our thoughts nor were they the subject of our speeches. Rather, it was Brian’s heart, soul, and spirit with which he led this remarkable community—creating within it a space for the Divine—that touched the lives of countless thousands, year after year after year.

Jerome Makowsky, z”l, was a builder. Highly successful in business, he brought a similar commitment to bear as a leader in the Jewish community, founding, serving, and guiding not only the Memphis Jewish Community Center in Tennessee but also nearly every major Jewish organization and institution in town. At his funeral this past Sunday, tribute upon tribute was offered to a man widely considered the community’s patriarch—a model of kindness and compassion, a man of vision and commitment.

Jerome would go on to serve in national and international Jewish leadership roles, eventually chairing the boards of JCC Association of North America and JCC Global. Everywhere, it seems, he left his mark on those around him. It was his work, to be sure, but perhaps more so, it was his way. At the center of his life was his family—four generations of whom were on hand to receive those who came to mourn his passing and celebrate his life. They were his treasure. The center and focus of his world. Over the course of a day I’ll long remember, I came to understand a simple truth: The secret of his resounding success was how he made so many of us who were privileged to have been a part of his life feel like we too were part of his extended family.

On Wednesday evening in a magnificent setting in downtown Tel Aviv, I found myself standing beneath the chuppah | wedding canopy reciting the fourth of seven blessings bestowed upon two beautiful young people beginning a new life together. Though there isn’t a blood relationship between us, Guy and Keren are like my own children—our lives intertwined across distance and years. Having completed their service in the IDF, these two remarkable young Israelis embarked on careers of continuing service to their country and the Jewish people. He as a shaliach | emissary of Maccabi World Union, the world’s largest Jewish sports and education organization, and a major partner of the JCC Movement. And she as chief of staff to Ambassador Asaf Zamir, Israel’s Consul General in New York. Two passionate and dedicated citizens of Israel who found one another as they served the cause of peoplehood at a

time of growing stresses and strains across the Jewish world. With the breaking of the glass that marks the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, they set off on a new chapter in their lives—and in the 4,000-year-long chain of Jewish history.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l, in his reflections on Parashat Pikudei, compares the final chapters of the books of Genesis and Exodus. Both describe the completion of acts of creation in which the Divine plays an essential part. In Genesis, it is the creation of the world at the hand of the Divine. In Exodus, the creation of the Mishkan, in which the Divine will remain among the people. Sacks said that like the children of Israel, “Our potential greatness is that we can create structures, relationships and lives that become homes for the Divine Presence.” This week, I witnessed and took part in three extraordinary celebrations reflective of precisely that.

To Brian Schreiber and to all whose lives and careers are given to leading our institutions and organizations, to Jerome Makowsky, z”l, and to all who make possible the foundations upon which our communities are built and grow, and to Guy and Keren Sela and all those embarking on life’s greatest adventure—the start of a new family, the next link in the chain:

יברכך ה’ וישמרך
May God bless you and protect you.

יאר ה’ פניו אליך ויחנך
May God deal kindly and graciously with you.

ישא ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום
May God bestow God’s favor upon you and grant you peace.

Shabbat shalom | שבת שלום


Doron Krakow
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America

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