By Doron Krakow
Fortitude and Resilience
A remarkable event took place in Malibu, California, this past Sunday. The Shalom Institute, one of the extraordinary JCCs of North America, broke ground ahead of its anticipated return to a campsite ravaged in the Woolsey Fire five years ago. That season’s devastating wildfires wreaked havoc across California and tore through the hills and canyons that the Institute called home for decades. Owing to the tireless dedication of CEO Rabbi Bill Kaplan and a board led by Larry Cohen, the camp quickly found its footing, relocating to alternative sites while pursuing the resources needed to rebuild. Sunday’s celebration, however, took place against the backdrop of a new crisis, this one, unlike the fire, a uniquely Jewish one.
Perhaps “triumph over adversity” is becoming our calling card. In Malibu, it was the fire. In Houston, Hurricane Harvey. In Pittsburgh, the Tree of Life massacre. COVID—literally struck everywhere. Sunday’s groundbreaking took place in the shadow of the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Israel is at war with Hamas and other proxies for the malign regime in Iran, inheritors of the horrific ideology of Nazi Germany. And, even as the ceremony was unfolding, elsewhere in California and in cities and towns across the continent we face an explosive rise in vitriolic and increasingly violent antisemitism. It appears that we will be tested once more. So be it.
JCC Association Board Chair David Wax was there to salute the leadership, commitment, and resilience of the Shalom Institute family. In his remarks, he said:
I wanted to be here to be part of the celebration of the vibrancy and determination of this extraordinary institution to the continuing fulfillment of its mandate—to be an engine for greater Jewish community and more vibrant Jewish life. To serve as a beacon of Jewish peoplehood, Jewish teachings, and Jewish values. To providing the space in which ensuing generations will come to embrace that which is so extraordinary about our history and our commitment to one another.
David had planned to be there long before October 7, but since that date, it had become even more important. In the face of those determined to extinguish the Jewish spirit, they’d come together to celebrate it. The Shalom Institute is part of a JCC Movement that, each week, touches more than a million Jewish lives of every age, background, and disposition. Our movement welcomes more than half a million friends and neighbors from beyond the Jewish community every week as well, and more members of the wider community come to know us as Jews by way of our movement than through any other organization, institution, or network.
Up the road a ways that same day, the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto was hosting the 2023 edition of Z3, a conference that drew more than 1,000 people from across the San Francisco Bay Area—more than half of whom not previously connected with the JCC. Oshman has modeled what it means to be the big tent of the Jewish community, a place for thoughtful, serious conversation about the evolving nature of Israel-Diaspora relations and so much more.
Last week in Columbus, Ohio, JCC professionals from nine JCCs across the Midwest convened for several days of professional development and community building. They found strength in coming together and in sharing perspectives and experiences related to the continuing need to build community, even in the face of a new and jarring reality. And next week, a similar conference of JCC professionals from New England will take place in Hartford, Connecticut.
Community is a source of great strength. It is the essence of who we are as a people. Shared history. Shared culture. Shared tradition. An innate understanding that when we come together, we’re so much more than when we’re alone. Irrespective of our individual gifts and talents, by ourselves we are as a driven leaf—aloft in the breeze, subject to its ebbs and flows. Landing wherever the wind decides. But anchored together to our tree of life, rooted in our common past, those leaves provide a canopy under which we find shade and shelter in a complex present—and will for generations to come.
Our community, including friends and allies from around the country, will gather again this Tuesday, November 14, on the Mall in Washington D.C., to proclaim our solidarity with Israel in the face of the slaughter and carnage inflicted upon us by a terrorist entity bent on the elimination of the Jewish state and the annihilation of its people. We will decry the rising tide of antisemitism at home and abroad at the hands of those who have made clear that Jews, alone among the peoples of the world, deserve neither sympathy nor common decency. We will stand and march together for our common cause, our shared humanity, and our defiance in the face of hate. Once more, we will demonstrate that community is the wellspring of our resilience.
Come Tuesday, there’s no more important place for Jews to be. Join us. Take a stand. Add your voice and draw strength from our shared fortitude and resolve.
The crisis of the Jewish world continues. But whether in Israel, Malibu, or Washington D.C., JCCs share a critical mission—perhaps more critical today than at any other moment in our lifetimes: To be the leading instrument for building and strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish community, and Jewish peoplehood.
May we know many more days like the one last Sunday in Malibu. Days on which we gather to celebrate our triumph over adversity and hold fast to the tree of life. Am Yisrael Chai! | עם ישראל חי
Shabbat shalom | שבת שלום
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
P.S. Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the United States when we take time to recognize and honor those who have served bravely and selflessly to protect our many freedoms as Americans. We are especially grateful to our JWB chaplains whose devoted service brings Jewish life to Jewish military personnel, their families, and veterans around the world.
Tomorrow is an important date on the Canadian calendar as well. Remembrance Day honors armed forces members who died in the line of duty. We proudly join in their salute.