By Doron Krakow
Yesterday I participated in an orientation for the newest members of the board of JCC Association of North America. It was an opportunity to revisit the elements that define the essential nature of our work as an engine driving the collective efforts of our movement. Among those elements are these:
- There are more than 170 JCCs (Jewish Community Centers and Jewish Community Camps) across Canada and the United States.
- Together, they welcome over 1.5 million people in person each week throughout the year.
- One million of them are Jews of every age, background, and disposition, making JCCs the largest ongoing point of contact we have with the North American Jewish community.
- An additional half-million friends and neighbors from beyond the Jewish community also choose a JCC each week to do something they might just as easily do elsewhere but prefer to do with us—in a Jewish setting—making JCCs the largest platform for grassroots community relations on the continent as well.
- This summer JCC day and overnight camps will be home to 100,000 young people. The JCC Movement includes the largest network of both Jewish day camps and Jewish overnight camps in North America.
- In a few short weeks, a new academic year will begin with nearly 35,000 children enrolled in JCC early childhood education programs—the largest such network in the organized Jewish community.
- These programs and countless others are made possible because of the devoted service of more than 30,000 full- and part-time professionals working at JCCs throughout the year, augmented by another 17,000 seasonal staff. This workforce is, far and away, the Jewish community’s largest.
- More than 3,000 dedicated lay leaders serve on the boards of these remarkable institutions.
In short, the JCCs of North America are unique and extraordinary assets of the wider efforts to pursue something better for the roughly seven-million Jews in communities of all sizes across North America. Opportunities abound for JCCs to work with a growing commitment to partner with other organizations and institutions dedicated to shared goals and common purpose. There is growing evidence of the efficacy of such an approach to partnership, both within JCC communities and across the movement’s wider network.
How do we know?
Well, we’ve been gathering a great deal of data of late. Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve been conducting flash surveys to take the pulse of the field and garnering insights into how we can be most helpful to our colleagues as they manage the ebb and flow of the crisis. Naturally, the state of the field has changed over the course of two and a half years, and we’ve just completed our 10th such survey.
These are among the interesting findings that have emerged:
- JCC businesses have substantially recovered. Demand for early childhood education programs and for day and overnight camps has reached and, in many cases, exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
- Fitness and membership programs are now at 83% of pre-COVID levels, but have shown steady, incremental growth during the past 12 months, and that trend shows no sign of leveling off.
- Cultural programs and programs for seniors are increasingly offered both in person and online, widening the options for attendance and expanding audience size.
Two other trends and developments are perhaps the most notable.
- Partnerships with peer institutions and organizations in JCC communities, including congregations, human service agencies, day schools, and a host of others, begun in response to critical needs in the early days of the pandemic, are proving to be not only durable but also a source of new and growing opportunities for strategic achievements.
- JCCs are strengthening fundraising infrastructure by adding staff and frameworks to enhance their abilities to capitalize on opportunities for strategic partnership with major Jewish philanthropy and ensure that ongoing relationships with tens of thousands of new contributors who emerged in response to the pandemic can be nurtured and evolve.
This period has by no means been an easy one. With 80% of JCC revenues traditionally coming from individuals and families that use JCCs, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic shook the very foundations of the movement’s business model. Those challenges have been compounded by the current state of the labor market. Yet, the extraordinary influx of funding from both philanthropy and government has made it possible for JCCs to blunt the worst of the financial blows, sustaining them through the ongoing recovery process.
But the needs of the communities we serve, coupled with our unique strengths—including our broad and diverse array of programs, our remarkable real estate and facilities, our ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances, and a cadre of lay and professional leaders with a profound commitment to service and advancing our movement’s mission—have made JCCs ideal partners for countless local initiatives. Our shared experiences and common vulnerabilities during the worst of the pandemic also got us thinking and working together across JCC communities in new and expanded ways, which brings me back to yesterday’s board member orientation.
JCC Association has welcomed a number of remarkable leaders to the ranks of our board. They joined us at a time of great possibilities—not simply as an agency or even as the spearhead of a movement. They’ve come into leadership at a moment in which our unique strengths and assets can be harnessed for so much more through a growing network of partnerships and alliances with significant players on the local, national, continental, and international stage.
The core of this growing collaborative effort is a shared commitment to greater Jewish community, more vibrant Jewish life, and measurable and intentional Jewish outcomes. That’s where we are.
May we, together, go from strength to strength.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America