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You’ll Find It at the JCC (and the YMCA)

The front window of the JCC Israel Center on Moshe Hess Street in Jerusalem frames the tower of the YMCA on King David Street perfectly. When Jewish communal visionaries in the 1970s determined to purchase the picturesque building of Jerusalem stone that serves as the JCC Movement’s gateway to Israel – and the home for Innovation Lab: Jerusalem – I wonder if they thought of the poetry of placing it face-to-face with the YMCA’s majestic flagship building in the Holy Land. It would only make sense if they had. After all, JCCs and YMCAs have been intertwined in North American history for the better part of 150 years.

YMCA_Tower
The front window of the JCC Israel Center on Moshe Hess Street in Jerusalem frames the tower of the YMCA on King David Street perfectly. When Jewish communal visionaries in the 1970s determined to purchase the picturesque building of Jerusalem stone that serves as the JCC Movement’s gateway to Israel – and the home for Innovation Lab: Jerusalem – I wonder if they thought of the poetry of placing it face-to-face with the YMCA’s majestic flagship building in the Holy Land. It would only make sense if they had. After all, JCCs and YMCAs have been intertwined in North American history for the better part of 150 years.

Like JCCs, YMCAs – which first emerged in Europe in the mid-19th century – were conceived by leaders of particular religious and cultural inclinations to help young people in urban settings make wise choices and create community at key crossroads of their lives. The Y charter today has evolved, but it remains both compellingly close to its original purpose and cleaves to a creed that many of us in the JCC world would agree animates both JCCs and YM-YWHAs: “Strengthen communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.” Both Ys and Js now serve all generations and every kind of person, but at our core we still animate the magical combination of central spaces, dynamic programs and a sense of communal purpose. As much as it has grown and changed, this is a vision we both shaped at a time of real disruption in the world, particularly for the young.

At JCC Association we speak a lot about stability and disruption. We are asking how we can both honor traditions of our agencies, yet at the same time reimagine them. As we move from what we have defined as a “Listening Tour” – in which we started assessing where the JCC Movement stands today – to a series of convenings focusing on strategic visioning with stakeholders (maybe even you!) culminating in the JCCs of North America Biennial in Baltimore in May 2016, we are seeing how the intertwined stories of these two unique North American entities, which have stayed true to their founding roles while the world has changed radically, suggests that great organizations thrive not at extremes of stasis and change, but in somehow living both.

As you know, part of our effort at Sounding Board is searching for songs that reflect the who, what, when, where, why and how of the JCC Movement. For YMCAs, which offer traditions that literally span the globe, there is no doubt about the song that comes up every time people are asked to name their tune:

Young man, are you listening to me?
I said young man, what do you want to be?
I said young man, you can make real your dreams.
But you got to know this one thing!

No man does it all by himself.

I said young man, put your pride on the shelf,
And just go there, to the YMCA
I’m sure they can help you today.

When the Village People offered “YMCA” as an anthem of gay liberation in the 1970s, it may have jarred traditionalists. But apropos stability and disruption — in context of the ways that Ys and Js seek to help people build community, find meaning, and seek their dreams — all the crazy get-ups and dance moves and layers of shtick of the Village People could not blur how the values of people supporting each other and learning together at community centers never change, even when the notions and costumes animating them do.

So here’s to our neighbors in Jerusalem and just about anywhere that JCCs are found. This week Sounding Board offers a big wave of solidarity and appreciation. Sing it loud and sing it proud: “YMCA”!

shablogsong

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Comments

  1. As a former YMCA staff professional and a current JCC professional, thank you for this post. It’s very reassuring to see the awareness of the parallels of the J and the Y both here in the states and abroad and in Israel. I’ve been to the West (and East) Jerusalem YMCA and many Y locations across the West Bank. It brings back great memories of my experiences there in Israel and the many wonderful people I met. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I too am a former Y leader and a current J CMO, and I am grateful for the recognition of the aligned Y and J missions to uplift youth, families, and communities. Both organizations and their people working around the globe are responsible for forward-looking, inclusive programming that continues to re-imagine what it means to “belong” and experience a communal home — especially now in an increasingly digitized, disconnected world. Most certainly, our collective work is deserving of celebration.

    And to boot, anytime one hears the YMCA Song (which is not as often as it used to be), you know it’s going to be a good time. Thank you Stephen for the historical reference of our shared peace-making work, punctuated by one of the great, modern inclusion anthems!

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