Hebraica, Venezuela – A Multi-Purpose Home Away from Home

By Raquel Markus-Finckler & Anabella Jaroslavsky

Currently Venezuela is witnessing one of the biggest economic and social crises in Latin America in the last century. The country is evidencing shortages in important items related to food, medicines and supplies of all kinds. The statistics of murders, kidnappings, robberies, drug trafficking among other social evils does not stop growing month after month and the numbers are quite staggering. Unfortunately, it is also true that due to the country’s situation, the Jewish community has been shrinking continually throughout the last 15 years.

In this context, the Hebraica Jewish Community Center has increasingly become the heart of everyday life for the vast majority of Jewish families living in Caracas. Within its space the Community Educational System is located – with a preschool, primary school and a high school. Hebraica JCC-Campus is a little country in its own right, where children spend their entire day, circulate freely and become acquainted with a way of living in a society of its own. Most families with school-age children attend Hebraica from Monday through Friday, and many of its members develop in this institution their extracurricular activities: sports, culture, dance, fitness, recreation for all ages and from all backgrounds and complementary education such as belonging to a youth movement and all kinds of leadership endeavors. In Hebraica our members find security and tranquility for themselves and their loved ones notwithstanding the turbulence of the world outside its gates. The vast majority of the Jewish population of Venezuela, both children and adults, is making Hebraica their multi-purpose home away from home.

It was important for us, that even during these troubling times, Hebraica JCC will not only to be a membership club for acquiring services but a place where everyone will be immersed in a Jewish world, an institution with a Jewish soul.

In 2014 we joined JCC Global’s Amitim-Fellows program and created the Global MekoRock program together with Emek Hefer, Israel and Kishinev, Moldova. It was a program where teens studied Jewish texts and then created music with professional mentors based on their study. At the culmination of the process local concerts in each city took place and then the participants travelled to Israel for a joint seminar, where they performed in front of 500 JCC leaders at JCC Global’s World Conference. This program integrated Jewish values with music and cultural arts and had a profound effect on the participants and on the community.

But this wasn’t enough; we wanted to create a project that allows us to convey Jewish values in all our departments and activities. For that purpose, in 2015, with the help of the Pincus Fund for Jewish Education, we created the Mekorot – Sources Project.

We began with choosing a yearly theme based on the 10 Commandments given by Moses to the Jewish people. “Honor thy father and thy mother…” for example, was chosen as a theme for the first year. By choosing a unifying theme, that value of respect to parents, to society, was integrated in all the departments. Through the Mekorot Project a training process took place for all the staff members working in the JCC who serve all ages and all programs, and especially in the Cultural Arts departments. We also created community wide events to disseminate these values.

In 2016, we worked on the value of respect and empathy, and in 2017 we are focusing on justice, social justice and commitment. Every year, all members of the staff are exposed to in-depth textual study and discussion on the yearly theme. They then design how to make the theme visible and meaningful within their speci c sphere of activity such as: art, culture, music, theater, lms, lectures, conferences, study programs, dance festivals, recreational camps and more.

Today Mekorot is a project that cuts across all the activities and services of our Jewish community center, with a population of about 6,000 people of which 3,000 are under 18.

We are now expanding the reach of the project to engage the formal day school in the training process. We expect, in the long run, a major transformation of attitudes whereby individuals will use the values of their heritage as critical information needed in every decision-making process.

A JCC like Hebraica is a kind of a communal experiment in the Jewish community, and through Mekorot we are making Jewish life better and full of significance.

Raquel Markus is the professional coordinator of Mekorot Project in Hebraica Anabella Jaroslavsky is the Executive Director of Hebraica JCC and creator of the
Mekorot Project.

This essay also appears in The Peoplehood Papers, volume 20 – “The JCCs as Gateways to Jewish Peoplehood” – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education. It was first published in JeducationWorld, a sister publication of eJewishPhilanthropy.