By Doron Krakow
When Tomorrow Comes
JCC Association’s board convened in New York this week, and our meetings opened on September 11. Beth Mann, a remarkable member of the professional team, reflected on that devasting morning 22 years ago when our nation and world were rocked to their very core. Back then, Beth was the executive director of the 14th Street Y in Manhattan, and she described what it was like to emerge from a meeting at the Educational Alliance to feel the ground beneath her feet quake as the first tower collapsed, followed by the sight of growing numbers of dazed and terrified people, covered in ash and soot, making their way north from the ruins of lower Manhattan. The Y became a waystation. A place of refuge and support—for food, first aid, a shower. No one, she said, who came to work there that day would ever forget what they saw, what they heard, or what they felt. The team at the 14th Street Y could be there on September 11 to lend a hand because they had been there on September 10.
Looking at the dozens of people gathered on Monday, I couldn’t help but notice my friend and colleague, Brian Schreiber, who until a few days earlier had been the long-tenured CEO of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh. On October 27, 2018, his JCC, too, had been the gathering place for a shell-shocked community, awaiting word from authorities about the active shooter incident unfolding a few blocks away at the Tree of Life Synagogue. On that day and so many that followed, the JCC was where the community came to be together—to grieve, comfort one another, and seek guidance, counsel, and support. The team could be there on October 27 and on all the days that followed because they had been there on October 26.
Wednesday night I was privileged to take part in the annual meeting of the Mandel JCC of Cleveland as it marked the 75th anniversary of its founding. In brief remarks I shared a bit of the history of our movement, pausing to reflect on our role in 1917, when the United States joined with its allies in The Great War. A rapidly growing Jewish community was determined to do its part in the war effort and to call upon our young men to join the fight. It stood to reason, therefore, that the place where so many young Jewish men could be found was the right one through which to pursue this effort—the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, the Y, the institutions that today are broadly called JCCs. It was at the Ys that the call to service in our community went out. And it was the Ys, the center of gravity of a coalition assembled under the new “Jewish Welfare Board,” that undertook to provide for the Jewish spiritual needs of those brave young men who headed off to Europe to join the fight. Our movement was able to rise to the occasion in 1917 because we were there in 1916.
On these and countless other occasions, Jewish Community Centers and the people in our extraordinary movement have been there in every instance and at every turn—in the face of natural and man-made disasters; during epidemics, pandemics, and war; and at turning points for our communities, our country, and the Jewish world. In the depths of despair and at the zenith of jubilation, our movement has been there, at the ready. At every such moment, we could be there because we had been there the moment before.
This evening marks the start of the Yamim No-ra’im | ימים נורעים—the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. From Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, each of us will pass before God for judgment. Our liturgy tells us that on Rosh Hashanah our fate in the year ahead is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Throughout the intervening days, we have the opportunity to seek forgiveness for our sins and misdeeds, but before we can ask forgiveness from God, we must first seek it from one another. On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who by fire? And who by water?…
Only God can know what the world has in store for us—as individuals and as a people. But one thing is clear: When the needs arise, when it’s time to respond, when we’re called upon to throw open our doors and be there for another, we’ll be ready. We’ll be ready in 5784 because thanks to the wisdom, foresight, and determination of those who preceded us, we’re here now—come what may.
In his commentary on the Torah reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah that appears in the Koren Rosh Hashanah machzor, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote: “We cherish most what we most risk losing. Might it be that our nation was born in slavery so that we would cherish freedom? That we were condemned to live most of our history in exile so that love of the Promised Land and Jerusalem the holy city would be engraved on our hearts? That we were forced so often to walk through the valley of the shadow of death so that we would never forget the sanctity of life?”
As we approach the new year of 5784, I humbly add another. Might it be that our people have faced countless challenges to our unity, to all that we have in common, so that we are reminded of the critical centrality of Jewish community and Jewish peoplehood—our mandate as a movement?
Wishing you a shanah tovah u’metukah | שנה טובה ומתוקה—a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year.
Shabbat Shalom | שבת שלום
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
In 1948, Rosh Hashanah coincided with the second ceasefire in Israel’s War of Independence. Celebrations included a passionate radio address to the nation by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion: “a young Israeli army, founded almost overnight by the blessed Hagana, organized and geared while already fighting battles—defeated the enemy and liberated the state territories, broke the way to sieged Jerusalem, liberated most of the eternal sacred capital and made Israel as proud among the nations as it was in the times of the Maccabees.”
Parts of Jerusalem remained under siege and the Old City was occupied by the Jordanian Legion. The daily newspaper, Haaretz, reported that “for the first time ever since the crusades, Rosh Hashana prayers were not held at the Western Wall, and chants could not be heard within the ancient walls of Jerusalem. However, the synagogues outside the walls were packed, including prayers who came from all across the country to stay in Jerusalem for the holiday.”
And that’s the way it was…