2016-07-06 / Columns

Making the world of the JCC more inviting & welcoming for everybody

FRONT & CENTER
LES COHEN
Katz JCC Executive Director

Last year I traveled to Israel and was part of a group of 25 JCCs from around the world. And recently I traveled with a group of JCC leaders to Baltimore to collaborate with 600 JCC professionals and leaders to discuss the business of JCCs. Our group included our board members: Andy Levin, Esther Leah Ritz Award honoree; Leslie Garonzik Katz, past Esther Leah Ritz awardee; JCC President Jeffrey Gottlieb; Past Presidents Donna Bell and Mark Dannenbaum; and JCC CFO Mitch Medoff.

We spent four days filled with spectacular learning, sharing and camaraderie, but perhaps the most important thing we learned was that we are part of a global community. We had dinner with the executive director from the JCC in the Czech Republic, attended a session with the executive from Krakow, Poland, shared ideas with heads of Matnasim (JCCs) in Israel, and engaged in valuable discussions with JCC leaders from all over North America. Why is this important? Because the way we used to describe the JCC universe has grown. And just like the Beatles said over 30 years ago, “life goes on within and without you.”

We understand the global or macro view, but let’s look at the local or micro view of universality. There are thousands of Jewish people in our tri-county area who are unconnected by any definition. They live here, but are not part of any synagogue, the JCC, or Jewish communal group. Yet according to a recent Pew Study, they feel Jewish and may even want to connect somehow, but the perceived barriers of joining are too high for them, and as a consequence, they remain unattached.

The JCC is about to consider a series of projects to reach out and connect with these Jewish families and individuals. It may include intermarried families, members of the LGBT community, specific Jewish ethnic groups, interest groups, or other cohorts.

Our philosophy is that there is something for everybody at the JCC, but we may have to do more to make that invitation real and welcoming, and we are committed to doing just that. This is “Big Tent” thinking and new definitions of belonging. And if they won’t come to us, we will go to them. Our goal is to double our JCC affiliation rate by 2020, which will build a stronger Jewish community, a stronger Federation, and will also help drive membership at synagogues as well.

At the JCC, we have a new term to describe these goals: Intentional Diversity. It includes Jewish community members of all walks of life, from all neighborhoods and streams of Judaism. All are welcome here and we must prove it every day. It’s fascinating that the priorities of the JCCs in Poland, the Balkans, and in Mexico City all share a commonality. The universality of the Jewish community and the common thread has not been broken in 5,000 years. Our role is to create more opportunities to join with us and continue the bond. What we do here, whether it’s sports, fitness, the arts or education, has the same goals—enrichment, connection, and a stronger Jewish Community.

No matter where in the world you are, we are united. One global JCC family, one goal of Jewish peoplehood, and one dream of a thriving, safe and strong community. If you have plans to travel this summer, try to drop into the local JCC, then drop me a line about what it’s like there. I promise to reply.

Have a wonderful and safe summer, and don’t forget to say hi when you are at the JCC.

lcohen@jfedsnj.org

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