By Robin Ballin
In spring of 1917, as America prepared to enter World War I, the Jewish community was as anxious as any. Young men, many of whom were new immigrants and first generation Americans, were ready to do their duty and serve a country that had given them as Jews unprecedented freedom and opportunity.
But who was going to meet their needs as Jews serving their new-found country? The answer to that question became the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB), today known as JCC Association. Individual JCCs already existed. But Jewish leadership quickly realized that if they wanted to be effective, they would be stronger together.
As we enter our centennial year, we will acknowledge the important role that JCCs have played in North American Jewish life. It is a unique one, celebrating pluralism and diversity long before those ideas became the mainstays and foci of Jewish communal life that they have today.
At the recent JCCs of North America Biennial in Baltimore, 500 participants gathered to launch this centennial. Although they came from around the world, they primarily included representatives from 90 JCCs on this continent, paying tribute to the ways JCCs have shaped the North American Jewish experience. This included kicking off a year of centennial celebrations that include:
Digital Registry of Clergy
Rabbi Frank Waldorf, chair of the JWB plenum and member of JCC Association’s board and Centennial Committee, developed the idea of creating a digital registry of clergy to acknowledge and salute the hundreds of rabbis and chaplains who have served in the U.S. armed forces and the Veterans Administration over this century. We have begun the process through an email campaign and information can be submitted on the JWB website. This is an effort supported by the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements, as a way to honor JWB and the rabbis who served our country. Eventually this will be a part of our Centennial website and the clergy themselves, or their children or grandchildren, will be able to register them. To date, our oldest chaplain registered, began his service in 1943.
Making Music Happen: The Soundtrack of Jewish Life in North America
JCC Association launched a new grant-making initiative: Making Music Happen: The Soundtrack of Jewish Life in North America. This part of our Centennial celebration made possible by a very generous grant from former board member, Marvin J. Pertzik, in partnership with the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation.
Making Music Happen celebrates JCC Association’s Centennial by supporting JCCs and their communities as they explore Jewish meaning through music. JCC Association will award grants ranging from $2,000 to $7,500 to affiliated JCCs to support programs that highlight Jewish music’s contribution to arts and culture over the past 100 years. Making Music Happen affirms and celebrates the centrality of music to Jewish life in North America. The RFP is due July 22, 2016. Projects must take place between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2017. Visit the project website for more details and online application or email, Randy Ellen Lutterman ([email protected]), JCC Association vice president for arts and culture.
During the Biennial, Baltimore native Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen, a local artist, helped attendees participate in creating three large, painted panels throughout the four-day conference.
We began creating our mural with workshops led by Jay in Rockville, Maryland, Jerusalem, New York and in Baltimore to, literally and figuratively, create the outlines of our 100-year-old history – the story of Jews and JCCs in North America. Schlossberg-Cohen, who has done many public works projects focused on community involvement, took the words and imagery from these workshops and created three canvas panels for us to paint with him. Making Memories Happen, a Visual Tapestry of Jews in North America, served as as the backdrop for the Biennial’s closing plenary and will travel to JCCs during the course of the centennial year.
History on Display:
A display of panels outlining the 100-year history of the JCC Movement was on display throughout the Biennial. This will be turned into a virtual exhibit for JCCs to recreate in their own ways.
Tell Your JCC Story:
If you went to camp, preschool, made friends in the shvitz, found your niche at mah jongg, learned to master a pottery wheel, worked at a JCC, rallied on behalf of Soviet Jews, served in the U.S. military, or connected in a myriad of other ways, you have a JCC or JWB story to tell. JCC Association wants to tell 100 stories before the year is out, using them in social media, on its website and in other ways. For those who have a story, submit it here or contact our editor ([email protected]).
Throughout the past century, JWB stressed unity in the Jewish community, regardless of denomination. Focusing on Jewish summer camps, youth programs and cultural and recreational aspirations of an assimilating tribe, we created a Lecture and Concert Bureau, trained camp counselors and helped JCCs find qualified staff, and brought staff and lay leadership together at conferences. We celebrated as one when Israel became a state, and continued to support the Jewish homeland by providing education and connections, through travel, shlichim, or emissaries, in our JCCs and camps, and programming that is vibrant and contemporary. In 1973, we opened the JCC Israel Center in Jerusalem, giving us a physical presence in the Jewish homeland. That move cemented a desire to place Israel front and center at JCCs. Today, we continue to bring Israel to our participants and our participants to Israel, giving them a unique lens through which to view the country, and in turn, infuse Israel throughout our JCCs.
Sound familiar? Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, we are still doing all of this.
We’ve grown, but we have never lost sight of what drives us – supporting and leading JCCs so that they can best serve their communities. We still support our troops, as well, through the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, the only Jewish organization that endorses rabbis from all streams of Judaism to serve as chaplains for Jewish military personnel.
During this centennial year, we will pay tribute to the important role that JCCs have played in North American Jewish life. It is a unique one, celebrating pluralism and diversity long before they became mainstays and foci of Jewish communal life that they have today. And it’s one that includes so many of you, from the youngest early childhood program participants, to our growing senior populations, to the millennials and members of Gen Z who, thoroughly connected to technology, we hope to reach in novel ways and engage them in our ongoing Jewish story. Be a part of the celebration – and our next 100 years!
Robin Ballin is JCC Association’s senior vice president, program development and director of JCCs of North America Biennial Convention.