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Why Going to Uncomfortable Places Enriches Us and Our World

By JCC Association embRACE Group

Last week, in honor of Pride Month and Juneteenth, the staff of JCC Association of North America came together to reflect on the concept of community and to explore the multiple facets of such groups, differences among members, hurdles to belonging, and triumphs when communities truly are open and inclusive.

As part of our exploration, we screened “Shared Legacies,” a documentary film that details the strong, historical alliance between American Jews and Black Americans during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and causes of the fallout between the two groups today. In the discussion that followed, my colleagues and I voiced certainty and hopefulness that these two groups can come together once more, stronger than ever, to lead unified efforts for social justice in America.

Our commemoration of Juneteenth continued the following day when many staff members gathered to delve deeper into understanding and appreciating the experiences of those who are different from us but with whom we share so much. For example, Franklin James, a longtime JCC Association staff member, and a friend and colleague to all, shared his personal connection to celebrating this holiday, the idea of what freedom means to him, and the entry points from which we can join the cause in fighting for racial justice in this country, even if it means, as he said, “simply sitting and thinking for five minutes about what that fellow human experience must be like.”

In another instance, Jacob Harris Wright, a member of JCC Association’s embRACE Group, shared a few words of Torah. In his d’var, he connected Parashat Sh’lach, read this year on the Shabbat immediately following Juneteenth, to the idea of tackling racial justice within our own organizations and communities: “We cannot be afraid of the ‘giants’ in the Promised Land, we must do the real, good, true, hard work together!” Through this discussion among many people in our office community, we could see past the divisions that are part of our country’s history—and take pride in the journey forward and the fact that we’re traveling the road together.

To mark Pride Month, one of our colleagues read us a not-yet-published Israeli story for young learners and their families. “Turquoise the Tortoise” by Tehila Goldberg tells of the bond of friendship between a little tortoise and a young child, both of whom are being raised by same-sex parents. In the follow-up discussion, many people remarked that having two sets of parents of the same gender identity and expression wasn’t “notable;” rather, it simply was a fact of the story. Others in the group wondered why, in some cases, it’s only when animals in story books are the characters that we are best able to share the most human feelings and connections.

Across the JCC Movement, Pride activities and events abound, demonstrating, first and foremost, the commitment of our JCCs as the “town square,” an open, inclusive gathering place for all. They also represent an awakening | הִתעוֹרְרוּת | hitorerut that reflects hope and joy in our efforts to stretch our thinking, open our hearts, take those first steps into places that aren’t always easy or comfortable, and work together with others to bring about the better world we all know is possible. We expect to continue this important work year-round and look forward to keeping readers up to date as we increase the impact within our own communities, across our fields, and throughout the movement.

Keep an eye out for an upcoming round-up of Pride events and activities from throughout the JCC Movement.

JCC Association’s EmbRACE Group strives to generate a shared language and a unified commitment to anti-racism education, advocacy, and change, as well as to design a framework to guide JCC professionals to build a community of acceptance, inclusion, and belonging. 

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