By Doron Krakow
And so, they came. From all corners of the continent and six countries around the world. The largest gathering of senior executives in the roughly 170 year history of the JCC Movement with first JCC . This week’s JCCs of North America Mifgash: Executive Leadership Forum 2023, was an extraordinary gathering at a time of both challenge and opportunity for the North American Jewish community—a time in which Jewish Community Centers stand to play an outsized role.
Work on the program had been ongoing for months, in the hands of a planning team comprising some of the fields’ finest minds—and the schedule they crafted was a work of art. Areas of priority interest were addressed by a phalanx of exceptional leaders—each shining a light on an aspect of our work in which we need to do more, to do better. Every one of them has broken new ground – in education, civil society, corporate America, or community building. In each one’s own milieu, they had raised the bar and in so doing, raised our sights.
Ron Clark, the celebrated educator who founded and leads the highest performing middle school in the country, the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, which serves students of diverse socio-economic backgrounds from across the region, showcased both style and an emphasis on investing in our workforce strengths. A powerful reminder that excellence is a gateway to greater achievement.
Confronting the need to amp up recruitment and retention of great talent is a ubiquitous challenge in every sector. A conversation among Rob Carter, Talent Acquisition Leader, North America, for the Coca-Cola Company, Dave Teplinsky, Senior Director, Talent Solutions at LinkedIn (a proud product and current board member of JCC Chicago) and the amazing Gali Cooks, President and CEO of Leading Edge, revealed insights into strategies and mitigations at a time of continuing upheaval in the labor market.
Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, and his Chief Operating Officer, Gabriel Sterling, reflected on speaking truth to power. Raffensperger recounted his conversation with then-President Trump and the pressure brought to bear to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Both he and Sterling talked about the simplest of truths. Doing good means doing the right thing—not the expedient one or the one that brings favor in return. Among the most poignant moments of the week was when a room full of Jewish leaders from across the continent rose to their feet for this Conservative Republican, in gratitude for his courage and service to the United States of America.
Professor Gil Troy, author, historian, journalist, proud Young Judaea graduate, and father of four children who have either served or are now serving the State of Israel as soldiers in the IDF, kicked off our conversation on “Israel at 75” and the pending celebration of the miraculous achievements of the modern Zionist Movement. While both acknowledging emerging issues in connection with Israel’s new religious-right coalition and any number of other challenges facing the still young Jewish State, Gil reminded us that “[p]atriotism means loving your country despite its politicians sometimes—and beyond just politics always. Approaching Israel’s 75th anniversary, we declare: Israel is not on probation. Israel’s legitimacy is inherent; it’s not contingent on its good behavior or the world’s good graces”.
We are only weeks from the tragic first anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine and our Movement’s work in support of war refugees, which was front and center at a program featuring a panel of JCC executives. From Brooklyn, where fully half of all Ukrainian war refugees in New York are being served and supported by JCCs. From Budapest, Hungary, where the JCC has pivoted to become a refuge and relief center for untold thousands waiting out the war and their hoped-for return home to the men they left behind to fight. And from Krivoy Rog, Ukraine, Oksana Mantuzova, the JCC executive director, who traveled nearly 24 hours to be with us in Atlanta, described her work, literally under fire, in support of those members of the Jewish community that stayed. A community in terror. In crisis. A community to which she and her team are unfalteringly devoted. Tears came to her eyes and to those of many others in the room as she recounted her decision to send her 9-year-old son away in the early weeks of the war – a son she’s seen only once in the many months since. To assure his safety, he’s living with relatives in Poland until the war is over.
Leaders. Across three days—in every session, large and small—leaders and leadership were on display. But as I considered the question of where the greatest inspiration was found—it wasn’t the front of the room that came to mind. Rather, the 164 Jewish communal professionals comprising our audience made the biggest mark on me. These past three years, they have labored with enormous dedication and tireless commitment. Through a pandemic, rising antisemitism, a continent-wide reckoning with racism, upheaval in the labor market, and countless other challenges, they have stayed at their posts—anchors of communities in need and heralds of a vision for something more.
They came to Atlanta seeking the company and comfort of peers who’ve shared their journey and certainly found what they were looking for. But they found something else too. Inspired by Ron, Rob, Dave and Gali, Brad, Gil, Alex, and Marcelle. Inspired by Oksana. They discovered still more of themselves and their potential than they had previously imagined. They’d wandered in—weary from the way, and three days later, began the journey home with a newfound spring in their steps. An embrace not only of the responsibility to lead but of the opportunity leadership provides to take us to a better place—a greater Jewish community.
I watched them—and smiled—proud to be their colleague and partner in the work ahead.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America