By Doron Krakow
Four thousand years. As a people, we are endowed with a sense of history—a history that quite literally began with the words that form the centerpiece of this week’s Torah portion. With these words of Lech Lecha | לֶךְ־לְךָ֛, the chronicle of the Jewish people began: “God said to Abram, ‘Go from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house to a land that I will show you.’”
Our embrace of history lies in the recounting: The annual reading of the Torah. A calendar anchored in occasions during which we revisit the past, including our pivotal exodus from Egypt. The Ninth of Av | Tisha B’Av |תשְׁעָה בְּאָב . The Maccabees. Queen Esther. Yom HaShoah. Yom HaAtzmaut.
We speak often of the chain of Jewish history—a chain that began with Lech Lecha—whose links are composed of people and periods across thousands of years. Each link reflects not only the events and dynamics of its time and place but also serves as a vessel for connecting the present with all that came before, ensuring that our understanding of who we are is predicated fundamentally on who we’ve been—on memory. Perhaps more important than memory, each link also serves as a transmitter, connecting the past to a future not yet written.
It is one thing to believe that understanding our past is critical to navigating our present and fashioning our link in the chain. It is quite another to recognize that our future as a people depends upon the extent to which we understand the responsibility we have to each link yet to come.
Fashioning our link happens in the context of the world around us—and today the environment in which we live and work is replete with complexity, discord, and uncertainty. Political divisions and social upheaval have created an atmosphere defined far more by condemnation than aspiration, by a seeming desire to tear down rather than build up. From day to day, sometimes even from moment to-moment, it feels as if we are expected to define ourselves based on one or more burning issues—and whether we are on the side of good or evil. The immediacy of the issues and the need to choose a side can cloud our understanding of ourselves and our responsibilities to all that is yet to come.
A political tempest whirls around us as Israelis and Americans go to the polls. Much will be said about the implications for America, the country’s place in the wider world, and about Israel and the impact a new religious-right government will have on Jewish communities throughout the diaspora. A great deal is already being said and written, and it may be altogether too easy for us to get blown about as the storm rages around us.
At such times, it is even more important to remember the crucial role the Jewish Community Center Movement plays—defined not by the ideas and issues over which we may disagree but rather by those that bind us together—by linking each of us and all of us to our past, even as we retain a critical eye on what is yet to be.
The mission of the JCC Movement—greater Jewish community, more vibrant Jewish life, and measurable and intentional Jewish outcomes—transcends the issues of the day. Its pursuit is not only critical to our future but also to how we serve as a bulwark of unity at a time of disunion, as common cause during a period of uncommon disharmony. A movement that binds us together when circumstances threaten to tear us apart.
There is a familiar parable about a young man who comes upon an old man planting a fig seed. The young man inquires as to why the old man would trouble himself to plant the seed of a tree whose fruits and shade he would likely not live to enjoy. The old man responds that he has spent a lifetime enjoying the fruits and shade of fig trees planted by those who came before him and that what he plants today is for his children.
Amidst the doubts, divisions, and disputes that rage around us, we should remember that the work we do and the tasks we pursue in JCCs from coast to coast are far more than simple, day-to-day minutiae. Through them, we cultivate the seeds planted by those who came before, ensuring the benefits they will provide to those who will follow. The issues of the day matter a great deal, and each of us is free to exercise our individual rights, to express ourselves through words and actions. But, in the critical Jewish-community-building work in which we are engaged together as leaders, we must also demonstrate an unflagging commitment to k’lal Yisrael | כלל ישראל, the unity of the Jewish people. Only in combination with our sense of history do our obligations to generations yet to come inform our approach to today’s challenges and complexities.
May we go from strength to strength.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America