By Doron Krakow
Living, Laughing, and Learning Together
It’s a strange new world. In the wake of the pandemic, so much of how we used to live and work has been rethought, reconsidered, revamped. Work-life balance, the nature of the workplace, and standards and expectations for gathering—matters that had long settled into a regular and predictable fashion—underwent considerable change as we contended with the worst of COVID-19. Yet even with the pandemic seemingly all but behind us (though COVID-19 remains a part of our continuing reality), how we live, work, and gather remain unsettled—a work in progress.
So, it is with great satisfaction and warm feelings that I reflect on the week gone by at JCC Association. This was a B’Yachad | ביחד | Together Week for our professional team, which means that our staff, those who live in the New York area and those who work in places farther afield, spent three days in our headquarters office—a gathering that happens a number of times each year. On these days, the office hums, a hive of activity, with meetings, of course, but so much more.
Considering all that the labor market has wrought of late, our team includes plenty of newer members—and thus, new relationships to pursue. Conversations and deliberations that can be somewhat anodyne on Zoom take on color and personality as people bring more of themselves to meetings in shared space. Of course, there are the meals, the coffee runs, and the after-work outings that turn the days into something even more.
This week also provided an opportunity to gather and celebrate milestone anniversaries, to raise a glass to a new baby and several babies on the way—children and grandchildren of our friends and colleagues. A chance to sing “Happy Birthday.” A chance to share news about the field and our growing and evolving efforts to raise it to ever greater heights. Our days together were a time to question and clarify, to think and plan, to remember how much it matters that we see and feel, in person and in real time, the power, potential, and possibilities of the crew, the team, the family, the people with whom we share mission, purpose, and responsibility.
And this week we celebrated Purim—and its special joy. As the Talmud tells us, even though Purim doesn’t arrive until the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, our joyousness builds from Adar’s first day. Costumes and cakes. Skits, stories, and songs. Purim is a celebration of our people’s triumph over adversity and the empowerment and heroism of Esther, among our tradition’s greatest leaders and role models. A celebration of speaking truth to power and of “right” over “might.” It is a raucous and rowdy romp that can only truly be enjoyed together. And so, it was.
As we bade farewell late yesterday afternoon, a special warmth pervaded the place. Reminded of how much our time together meant—to our work, our sense of place, our community—we departed the office primed to dive into the week ahead with renewed vigor, a greater understanding of how our contributions as individuals and teammates effect the efforts of so many others. I noticed a bit of wistfulness as we realized that the next B’Yachad Week isn’t until May. And yet, we’re already counting the days.
Our recent weekly readings of the Torah find us revisiting some of the most significant stories of the Exodus from Egypt: The Ten Commandments. The Golden Calf. The building of the Mishkan—the Tabernacle. These narratives and so many others unfolded amidst the people as they made their way from bondage to the Promised Land. That they journeyed together provides the foundation for all that we are—and all that we will yet become.
On March 13, 1948, President Harry S. Truman met with longtime friend and former business partner Eddie Jacobson, who implored him to meet Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the aged and venerable Zionist leader who had journeyed halfway around the globe to see Truman but had been refused access to the White House. Weizmann had come to America during an increasingly devastating Arab onslaught against the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) to appeal to the president to stand behind the U.S. commitment to the U.N. Partition Plan that would bring about an independent Jewish state in our people’s ancient homeland. Moved by Jacobson’s plea, five days later Truman held a secret meeting with Weizmann, who also pleaded with the president to lift an American arms embargo. Though Truman reassured Weizmann of America’s commitment to the partition plan, the arms embargo remained in place.
And that’s the way it was…