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Of all of the stars of rock and pop, David Bowie is the king of chameleons — voices, faces, names and musical styles morphing station to station. It’s fitting that his signature song is “Changes.” He stutters a refrain like a latter day Moses, another voice of days-to-come, who preached despite what the Bible calls a “heavy tongue.” A chorus of thin white Bowies join in a crystal clear response to the hesitation of “ch-ch-ch-ch-changes”:

Turn and face the strange

Changes and change agents are all the rage in Jewish life today. There’s a sense that the great ship of communal institutions we have guided with care for more than a century is losing steam. Does it cut through waves as it once did? Can it ride the waves in stormy seas, too? So we pace the deck or mutter in the captain’s tower that it’s become too difficult to change course, particularly in times of danger or opportunity that demand new direction.

Watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

A Sounding Board friend shared “Changes” as a guiding song for our era. She got that right. Communities must change in order to survive. These days, JCC stakeholders represent a population with identities more diverse and needs more stratified than at any time in the history of the JCC Movement. We expect new modes of engagement and more variety for thinking, celebrating and growing together. We also expect reliability and excellence in the core programs that JCCs have been providing for decades.

Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

The board of trustees of JCC Association met one week ago. Our theme was stability and disruption. From areas like camp and early childhood education, where we provide outstanding value to our constituencies every day, to the guts and glue of our business model, we asked how we might balance the traditions and programs that have sustained our communities for generations with the very real demand to act with urgency to changing realities inside and outside of our communal walls.

Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

If times demand that we both disrupt and sustain our core, then we will need to be both humble and ambitious. “Turn to face the strange” means not only that our movement is grounded enough in its own excellence and good will to take new risks, but also that it seeks institutional purpose, and embraces change, by reaching out to partners and experts across the communal landscape. We want to be a “sounding board” that models the principles of transparency and partnership that true change in the Jewish world — and any world — require.

Don’t want to be a richer man
Just gonna have to be a better man

In the coming months JCC Association will convene a series of gatherings with stakeholders to encounter change. We want to create hubs for our Sounding Board to come to life wherever JCCs do their work.

Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

We will also be ramping up visits to sites around North America, expanding our offerings in areas of excellence, and launching or expanding signature programs. This is the song of a movement on the move at a time of stability and disruption.

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Ah changes are taking the pace I’m going through


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