By Doron Krakow
The Lives We Touch
Monday morning found me in Austin, Texas, where I was privileged to take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the brand-new Dell Jewish Community Center. Under a clear blue sky, several hundred people turned out, including Jewish community leaders of every stripe and background, faith leaders from throughout the community, and a host of civic and communal leaders, including Mayor Kirk Watson and various city council members and county commissioners—a number of whom are active at the JCC.
The Dell JCC is the centerpiece of a 43-acre Jewish community campus that is home to the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, the Austin Jewish Academy, and three synagogues, one each of the major denominations. The campus is the town square of the fast-growing Austin Jewish community and its embassy to the City of Austin, a distinction underscored by Mayor Watson in his remarks.
The dedication had all the pomp and circumstance appropriate to such occasions, but it was the personal touches that made the day so special. I had not previously met Michael and Susan Dell, the lead contributors to the more than $30 million campaign that made the magnificent new facilities possible. The Dells are titans of industry and philanthropists of extraordinary renown. Their foundation, established in 1999, has had an enormous impact in diverse arenas that focus on transforming the lives of children living in urban poverty through improved education, healthcare, and family economic stability. They also have been instrumental in creating the infrastructure of Jewish life in their hometown of Austin, where the campus also bears their names.
So it was a bit unexpected that the brief remarks they delivered were neither lofty nor imposing. They spoke about having grown up in their respective JCCs—Susan in Dallas and Michael in Houston. Susan shared that she had been a camp counselor at her JCC’s day camp, the obvious summer gig to complement her active participation in BBYO during her teen years. Michael remembered jumping onto his bicycle each day after school and heading straight to the JCC on Braeswood Boulevard. They talked about what those experiences meant to them then and how they shaped the people they’ve become; how their JCCs played a formative role in their lives; and why they’re so proud to be helping make that same experience possible for a new generation of Jews and so many others.
The Dell JCC is beautiful. State-of-the-art aquatics and fitness centers adjoin expanded Jewish early childhood education facilities and magnificent indoor and outdoor play spaces. Particular attention was paid to the softer touches, and the result is a feeling that you are welcome to come, sit, and relax in a lobby setting that feels more like a living room than anything else. Every detail of the place reflects both pride and purpose—a tribute to all who had a hand in bringing it to life.
It’s been quite a run of inaugurations of JCCs over the past few years. Boulder. Houston. Kansas City. Louisville. New York. Omaha. St. Paul. Toronto. Washington, D.C. And more are on the way as capital campaigns unfold in a host of places, including Atlanta, Vancouver, and California’s East Bay. Communities from coast to coast are prioritizing investments in JCCs—often the one place to which growing numbers of Jews of every background and disposition continue to gravitate. And building upon the experiences accumulated in recent years in the face of an array of challenges, JCCs have become the preeminent vehicle for partnerships between and among Jewish organizations and institutions affirmed in their belief that we do better when we join hands.
The buildings are impressive, of course, and the pride of place is palpable. But it’s the lives we touch that truly tell the tale. It’s the memories. The handprint wall, brought from the original building, that parents point to, showing their own kids Mommy or Daddy’s small hand from when they were kids. The parents who serve as JCC Maccabi® coaches and chaperones, giving their children a life-changing experience in competitive athletics imbued with a commitment to Jewish peoplehood, all while reveling in their own memories as JCC Maccabi® athletes. The teachers, mentors, and role models. Friendships and young love. For so many of us, these elements are a part of our own JCC experience, which is why Susan and Michael Dell’s story is so poignant and so familiar.
JCCs are where we grew up and where we’re raising our own kids. They’re the places we come to work out, relax, catch a show, hear from a new or famous author, grab coffee or a bite to eat, spend time with friends. We gather there in times of triumph and celebration, and it is the JCC where we go to seek comfort in the embrace of our community in times of strife.
The opening of every new home or space in the Jewish community includes the hanging of a mezuzah, a small cylindrical case containing the words of the Sh’ma, on the doorpost. When that moment came on Monday morning, Rabbi Daniel Septimus, the remarkable CEO of Shalom Austin and the Dell JCC, invited the many rabbis and religious leaders in attendance to join him in affixing the mezuzah and reciting the prayer, actions that officially transformed the building into a home. It was a sight to see
בָּרוּך אַתָּה אַדָנָ-י אֶלוֹהֵ-ינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם אַשֶר קְדִשָנוּ בְּמִצְווֹתָיו וְצִיווָנוּ לִקְבּוֹעַ מְזוּזָה
Blessed are You, Eternal, our God, Sovereign of the universe, who hallows us with mitzvot and commands us to affix the mezuzah.
Congratulations to the Dells and to all those who made possible the newest JCC on this continent. And congratulations to everyone whose lives may yet be touched by all that will take place there for many years to come.
Shabbat shalom | שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
On the afternoon of Friday, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel to take effect at 12 a.m. on May 15, when the British Mandate officially expired. Early the next morning, the armies of five Arab countries invaded the newborn state, joining local Arab forces that had been at war with the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine) since the adoption of the U.N. Partition Resolution in November 1947. The War of Independence would rage for more than 15 months, and Israel’s ultimate victory would come at the cost of 6,373 Israelis, roughly 1% of the entire population who would lose their lives in battle.
And that’s the way it was…