It’s been such an incredible privilege to lead the JCC Movement, to work with hundreds of colleagues across the continent and around the world, to witness our resilience, our impact on Jewish life in North America, and our commitment to excellence in everything that we do. The speed of change continues to accelerate, and to challenge our ability to respond. With all of the changes in how people affiliate, how they buy services, how JCCs perceive their competition, and how Jews live their lives Jewishly, we have stayed true to our core mission—to strengthen the quality of Jewish life.
I look back at the JCC Association of 1994 when I arrived, having been an executive director at JCCs in Columbus, Ohio and Los Angeles for 13 years. This agency reflected the reality of JCCs at that time, social work institutions, heavily supported by United Way and Jewish Federations, focused on delivering group work programs to their constituents. Before long, we shifted our focus to our “core businesses,” changing our language to reflect the way that we were now responding more to consumers than members. With that came the need to measure what we do and to articulate our effectiveness both for funders and for our own boards. We began to benchmark our work, beginning with only six JCCs. To date, more than 80 communities have participated, many on an annual basis. We are now in Benchmarking 2.0, which will offer instant feedback on data and constantly updated pictures of how JCCs are doing internally, as well as how they measure against one another. But at the core are three businesses, and we’ve developed new approaches to each—from SHEVA in early childhood; to a new initiative to enhance our day camps; to discover @ the JCC which moves us from fitness to wellness. We continue to focus on the realities of 21st century North American life, and how the Jewish community is responding.
Our 2010 Biennial marked another turning point. We were just past the depths of the economic downturn, and the business of JCCs dominated the discussion. My concern was that we never forget the “why,” while still looking at the “how and what.” So I asked this question: “What kind of Jewish lives do people want to lead, and how can we make it possible for them to do so?” I proposed that we have 1,000 Jewish conversations to answer the question, and we did. In 2012, we adopted the “Vision and Statement of Principles” for 21st century JCCs. We proudly stated that the JCC Movement’s vision is “to create a vibrant and welcoming Jewish environment that encourages people to lead engaged lives of meaning and purpose.” What I am most proud of is that we say together that we are a movement—with a shared vision and principles; and in 2014 with a new and revitalized brand that reflects who we are and where we want to go. And through all of this, we have strengthened our unique “people-to-people” relationship with Israel, one that is very unique to what JCCs are all about.
We are a movement. A powerful movement that touches millions of people; that connects them to Jewish life; that proudly reflects the values of Judaism as we relate to the larger community around us.
As I move onto the next chapter of my life, I am pleased with the legacy that we have created together. I want especially to thank the chairs of our board with whom I have worked—Mort Mandel, Lester Pollack, Ann Kaufman, Jerome Makowsky, Edward Kaplan, Alan Solow, Paula Sidman, and Stephen Seiden, and all of our board members from across the continent who have given of their precious resources to support us.
And I thank my colleagues—here at JCC Association and in JCCs everywhere, who have supported our joint efforts to create an effective and meaningful agency and movement.
L’hitraot…until we meet again.
Originally published in the JCC Circle, Winter 2014