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Together | ביחד | Shabbat Shalom 14 Tishrei 5784 שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם

By Doron Krakow


One of the genuine pleasures of my work is the regular interactions I have with some of the dynamic and dedicated Jewish leaders across North America—lay and professional leaders of the JCC Movement. Hardly a week goes by in which one or more of those interactions, in person or over video, leaves me reflecting on yet another new aspect of what it means to be a JCC. Another week, another eye-opening insight. When I came into the field six years ago, I had a rudimentary understanding of what a JCC is and what it does. Though I had never worked at one, I attended a JCC day camp as a kid, and my sons attended both the early childhood center and day camp at our local J. We got there occasionally to play tennis, work out, or hear an interesting speaker. So naturally, that was my frame of reference. In time, I learned that the business of many JCCs, a sector with a $1.6 billion annual operating budget, is driven by revenue generated from members and users—tuition for early childhood education and camp, as well as robust fitness and wellness programs. Success in these areas makes other elements possible—cultural programs, educational experiences, holiday celebrations, and more. Simple, right? Except such a typical description often is not entirely accurate and in nearly every case falls woefully short of depicting the true nature of a JCC—much less each one’s unique design, a reflection of local hopes and dreams, needs and opportunities. My journey across the JCC Movement has been one of continuing discovery. This week, Orit Lender, the remarkable senior executive at the JCC of Staten Island in New York shared insights into a recent agreement that brought the local Hillel under the auspices of the JCC. The relatively small Hillel serving roughly 1,000 Jewish students at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) College of Staten Island was scuffling. Not far away, Wagner College—a private institution—had no Hillel at all, leaving a gap in support for its Jewish students. With leadership from UJA-Federation of New York and in clear demonstration of a larger vision at Hillel International, a task force comprising local Jewish leaders and experts from Hillel assessed options over a two-year period to determine the best course for the pursuit of something better—something more—and came to a simple conclusion: The JCC is uniquely positioned to enable and support a more robust Staten Island Hillel, bringing to bear an array of programmatic and professional resources while eliminating the need for redundant back-office infrastructure. What’s more, its engagement with students and alumni will weave additional strands of the mosaic of Jewish community into the leadership pipeline and promote staff development and programmatic evolution. And, Orit’s JCC will have access to the myriad tools and resources of the Hillel movement. Imagine that: An integrated commitment to something more—something better—made possible by a coalition of organizations and institutions that found in the JCC, the Staten Island Jewish community’s town square, the perfect address to bring it all together. So, a JCC can have a Hillel. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a big surprise. After all, the Mittelman JCC in Portland, Oregon, operates a Jewish day school. The JCCs in San Antonio and Fort Lauderdale are home to their communities’ Holocaust museums and education centers. The Tsofim/Israel Scouts make their homes in JCCs in Ontario, New Jersey, and Florida. Jewish Family Service (JFS) is a part of the JCCs in Memphis and BaltimorePittsburgh’s JCC helped create and houses the 10.27 Healing Center, which continues to support the local community in the aftermath of the Tree of Life massacre. The lead agencies in assisting local refugees from the war in Ukraine are the JCCs in Brooklyn and PhiladelphiaBoulder’s JCC has a farm. The JCCs in Washington, D.C., downtown Toronto, and Kansas City produce and stage original Jewish theater. Dozens of JCCs are home to the local Jewish Federation, and in more than 30 communities, the J and the Federation operate as a single enterprise. And the list goes on and on. At the end of the day, it’s not about an institution or an organization. It’s not about the alphabet soup of Jewish communal life, with each entity vying for its place in the community mix and consciousness. It’s about something better for all. It’s about embracing opportunities to bring the community’s best assets and resources to bear in pursuit of something more for everyone. It’s about greater Jewish community. Talking to Orit reminded me of what it means to be a Jewish leader. There’s a significant distinction between leading a Jewish Institution and being a Jewish leader. The former entails doing a job, running a business, hitting financial targets. An effective institutional leader can make a real difference in a local community. The latter has to do that too but only as a gateway to being something far more substantive. A Jewish leader places the future of the Jewish community above narrower institutional interests and embraces accountability for measurable outcomes beyond his or her direct control. The former’s eyes are on the bottom line, while the line that occupies the lion’s share of the latter’s attention is the horizon. Tonight, we begin Sukkot, a celebration of the tender care God provided to the Israelites during their long years in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt. The makeshift structures erected outside the homes of Jews the world over are an annual reminder of the places the Israelites created—to gather, share a meal, be together—during their journey to the Promised Land. Because these structures were unfinished—open to their surroundings and the skies above—each person within was sure to maintain an active consciousness of the wider world and its limitless wonders. Perhaps, early antecedents of today’s JCCs.

Chag sameach | חג שמח and Shabbat shalom | שבת שלום

Doron Krakow
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America

Following Israel’s declaration of independence in May of 1948, some 850,000 Jews living in Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa were driven from their homes by regimes that refused to accept or abide a Jewish state in their midst and took out their wrath on their own Jews. In nearly every instance, these were Jewish communities that had been there since the dispersion that followed the destruction of the Second Temple nearly 2,000 years before.The Jewish population of the newborn State of Israel was roughly 600,000. With nowhere else to go and in spite of palpable dangers, strict rationing of scarce resources, language barriers, and complex cultural heterogeneity, they poured in. On foot. By boat. On the wings of eagles. Israel’s government and its people, while straining to manage security, an absence of housing, food scarcity, and a host of other challenges, nonetheless, received them with open arms. The majority of these new arrivals spent years living in temporary encampments—some in structures akin to the makeshift huts in which Jews still celebrate Sukkot.And that’s the way it was…

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