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How Lessons From the Pandemic Inspired a Better Professional Development Model

By Sue Gelsey

During the last two years, we’ve all learned to conduct our work differently. We flipped to virtual platforms for programming, Zoom for in-person meetings, and other online forums for multi-day, multi-faceted conferences we previously traveled to attend. Along the way, we came to appreciate the ease of interacting with colleagues across time zones, the similarity of encounters among communities, and the expertise born of experience.

When the pandemic struck and JCC Association of North America staff went in search of resources to advise JCC executives about how to shutter their facilities, the answer was easy: Consult with the first three execs who did it. That action reinforced the value of the expertise that exists throughout our own field. Moving forward and in nearly every area of operations, we continued to rely on JCC professionals’ experiences and know-how to inform, lead, and guide their colleagues through challenges and toward greater success.

Even when JCCs reopened and online offerings waned, JCC Association remained committed to this model, optimizing the greatest strength of the JCC Movement—the solid network of professionals and the ever-expanding expertise they possess from doing their jobs. The success of this model resounded in the field and served as the guiding principle as we prepared for the recent Mifgash: Executive Leadership Seminar, our first foray back into in-person gatherings in more than two years.

Hebrew for “encounter,” Mifgash is JCC Association’s long-established, multi-day assembly of executives from across the field. It’s the one time each year they can focus solely on their own personal and professional growth without competition from day-to-day responsibilities or other distractions. After weighing the known challenges of tight finances, limited time, and COVID concerns along with input from the field, we decided to move forward with our gathering this year. An overwhelming desire among execs to reconnect and learn from one another, as well as the need to refill their personal energy tanks, ignite new thinking, and come away motivated and revitalized for what lies ahead were clear reasons to gather and provided the foundation of the content.

More than 20 execs, busy juggling their own complex operations and ongoing challenges, also expressed interest in participating as members of the Mifgash Steering Committee to help plan the gathering. Ultimately, the committee included 13 execs and eight JCC Association professionals who all worked together to create a Mifgash to match the moment by recognizing and meeting participants’ unique needs. Given the state of the world, the steering committee planned a different type of gathering than we had held in the past. In this extremely different moment, we created a framework and content “by executives and for executives” that would enable attendees to:

  • Reconnect by establishing and reestablishing relationships and personal bonds of communication
  • Rejuvenate through personal enrichment that offered new energy or vigor
  • Reignite by highlighting experiences and expertise that spurred passion, motivation, and strategic thinking and, in turn, refreshed and inspired the execs

With executives guiding the structure and content, as well as serving as the majority of the conference’s speakers, panelists, and facilitators, Mifgash 2022 attracted more execs and CEOs than any other Mifgash in recent JCC Association history.

By leaning on what we learned during the pandemic, planning in partnership with executives, and empowering them to share their expertise, we created an invaluable, much needed event. Perhaps more importantly, we confirmed the foundation of the JCC Experience: The best people to lead and educate JCC professionals are other JCC professionals—the heroes, teachers, thinkers, and experts who do the work of the JCC Movement across the field every day. Creating this successful gathering with and for JCC execs also demonstrates JCC Association’s dedication to providing personal and professional development opportunities to all JCC professionals as part of an expanding, comprehensive talent strategy that not only leverages existing talent offerings and resources but also creates new ones in response to current and anticipated opportunities. These and other valuable lessons from the pandemic inspire different thinking and better models. Although we long to move past many of our pandemic practices, these are some that can—and should—remain in the “keepers column.”


Sue Gelsey is the chief program and talent officer at JCC Association of North America.


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