2017-08-30 / Columns

Thinking about Charlottesville and the beautiful diversity at the JCC

FRONT & CENTER
LES COHEN
Katz JCC Executive Director

The whole world is watching. Neo Nazis, KKK members and other hate inspired vitriol from men and women marching in Charlottesville shouting their beliefs of intolerance. If you are Jewish, Black, Hispanic or Gay you are the target of their venom. They don’t know you, but they hate you. They don’t take the time to understand who you are, but they are ready to spew their ugliness and promote violence. One death in Charlottesville. Six Million in Europe only 75 years ago. And, here in America, the home of the free, it’s been only 150 years since slavery was abolished. But we don’t live in the South…or do we?

My daughter-in-law was very troubled by these events and worried about what they meant for the future of our country. What if it escalates and infects the whole country. I told her this is America and that will never happen here.

Then just the other day, I read about a man, right here in Cherry Hill, who is a leader in the distribution of hate music, paraphernalia and articles. He lives in our community in a nice house, works in Merchantville, probably shops in the same stores as we do. And there went my belief that it can’t happen here. There are hate groups all over…including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. There is bigotry around us and among us. We are not immune to it. Jewish cemeteries are vandalized. A small synagogue has its windows broken. A swastika here or there. We try to teach our children to love everyone. To see others as people just like us and not to judge by skin color, belief or religion. This is the America I believe in.

This is the America that welcomed my grandparents when they arrived and couldn’t speak a word of English. And the country that allows us to live in freedom to worship as we see fit. And enables us to build a beautiful JCC that is open to all…a Jewish place that follows Jewish values, including welcoming the stranger. Our JCC attracts and serves more Jews than any other local institution. Our programs, while open to all, remain consistent with Jewish values and beliefs. Not only is our Jewish camp the largest of its kind in North America, but our cafe is kosher and supervised by the Vaad Hakasruth. Our Shabbat dinners serve as many as 200 people. No one does Jewish like the JCC. And perhaps equally important is the beautiful symbolism of what we have accomplished. A true success story that serves 2,000 people a day. You do not have to be a member of the JCC to benefit from its presence. We build community and enrich lives every day.

It’s times like this that we take comfort that there is a place to come together. The JCC is that place. This is the true Center of the Jewish Community…a pluralistic, diverse and changing community. And all are welcome no matter what your religion, skin color or beliefs are. This is what makes us Jews so different from many others. Even while some show intolerance and hate toward us, we try to find the common bond moving from hatred to understanding and respect. Spend a day at the JCC and see the beauty of diversity in a Jewish place. Bring a neighbor, a friend or a co-worker and receive a guest pass for them for the day. Let them see what you see and experience what you do.

We want all of you to make this your home away from home and enjoy all we have to offer. Bring a friend and tell the guest services representative that “LES SENT ME,” and receive your guest passes. And anytime you have an idea, please don’t hesitate to share.

Be well and I’ll see you around the JCC. s lcohen@jfedsnj.org

Return to top