By Sam Aboudara
When I started my first job post undergraduate, pursuing a lifelong career in Jewish communal service never crossed my mind. In fact, it took many years of work in this sector before I recognized it even could be a permanent and inspiring career. Fifteen years later, with experience almost exclusively in the Jewish non-profit world in both the U.K. and the U.S., I cannot imagine dedicating myself to any other field. I owe a lot to the people who have invested in me and to the experiences I’ve had—especially those under the umbrella of JCC Talent.
I moved to the U.S. in 2011 to take on a camp director role at NJY Camps. Within the first few months, I attended my first two conferences: Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Leaders Assembly immediately followed by the American Camping Association’s Tristate Conference. I was blown away by the access to learning, networking, and professional growth available at each gathering. Those few days made me realize that I was working at the nexus of two sectors: the Jewish communal field and the camping industry, both of which are highly professional and well-resourced and thus can offer expansive development trajectories.
At one of the conferences, JCC Association of North America convened affiliates for a networking reception, which is where I first learned about the Merrin Teen Professional Fellowship, a signature JCC Talent offering geared to early-career JCC professionals who work with or supervise teenagers. I asked my supervisor—who happened to be standing right next to me—if she knew anything more about it. An alumna of the program, she highly recommended I apply for the next cohort.
Two years later, in 2014, at the conclusion of the final seminar of Merrin Cohort VIII, I reflected with appreciation on the many connections I had made with like-minded professionals who are now dear friends, mentors, and advisors. As a Merrin Fellow, I was exposed to leading experts within and beyond the field who had sparked my interest in reading more, writing more, and discovering more. Most importantly, my professional frame of reference was transformed in incredible ways.
During the fellowship, my paradigm about Jewish communal work shifted from being merely a means to an end to a truly career-worthy endeavor. The fellowship also marked the beginning of a recurring occurrence in my career—the opportunity to engage in professional growth experiences, particularly with JCC Talent, that connect me to the JCC Movement and enable me to expand and reach my potential.
Just as our tradition teaches Mitzvah goreret mitzvah | One good deed leads to another good deed, the more I engaged with what is now JCC Talent, the more doors it opened and the more I gained. In turn, the more I gained, the more I could contribute—to both my community and the professional field. In 2020, I left my position at NJY Camps, and a little over a year later, I returned—this time as the organization’s chief operating officer.
Having spent time broadening my horizons elsewhere in the Jewish non-profit sector, I had a much clearer sense of purpose and a thirst to reengage with JCC Talent. I reconnected with JResponse® in which I had previously participated in crisis-response training and two deployments to Pittsburgh to support the Jewish community there. I also enrolled in the inaugural cohort of the Bless Our Workforce Institute to strengthen my management skills using a Jewish lens and was even fortunate to receive a scholarship awarded by JCC Association to support my current studies toward a master’s degree in non-profit management.
Each opportunity with JCC Talent provides me with tools to sharpen my thinking, a community of colleagues to connect with, and a sense of belonging to a movement that values investment in talent and positions it as a cornerstone in its strategic direction.
Sam Aboudara is the chief operating officer of NJY Camps.