Global hubs

The delight of being proven wrong 

In Short

One could not fathom that a global pandemic would turn the world upside down for many long months and years. Overnight, JCCs from around the world turned to JCC Global asking for support, advice, creative solutions and the comfort of peers.

The year was 2019 and the leadership of JCC Global was designing a five-year strategic plan. Mark Ramer, of blessed memory, then JCC Global president, kept searching for new ways to amplify the organization’s reach. With more than 1,000 JCCs affiliated with the global network, not enough leaders were able to afford expensive travel and participate in flagship programs. Thus, together with colleagues and partners, the concept of the JCC Global Hubs was developed: online courses, open to the senior leadership of the movement from around the world, that will “focus on utilizing the resources of the global network to enhance human resource development and capacity building for local JCCs.”

One must admit that when the program was presented to the board for approval, during the 10th World Conference of JCCs in Jerusalem, in December 2019, it was not accepted with enthusiasm. Many JCC leaders, myself included, felt that the program takes away the “magic” that happens when JCC leaders from different communities and counties come together in person. Still, the program was approved and we set down to create the first pilot, Dr. Mark Ramer JCC Global Hub that was scheduled to open in the Spring of 2020. 

One could not fathom that very soon a global pandemic would turn the world upside down for many long months and years. Overnight, JCCs from around the world turned to JCC Global asking for support, advice, creative solutions and the comfort of peers. JCC Global quickly responded by opening several online Hubs that offered JCC leaders the safe space to grapple with the hefty challenges of those baffling times. The JCC Global Hubs proved to be a productive platform; ensuring that no JCC was left alone. 

Since then, the Dr. Mark Ramer JCC Global Hubs program trained 712 JCC leaders (professionals and lay leaders) from 53 (!) countries. One hundred sixty five cities participated in 18 different Hubs that included 12 partner organizations. The topics ranged from Re-Imagining the Future of JCCs, to Arts and Culture as Community Builders, to Aging with Grace, Resources Development, Judaism and Sustainability, Emerging JCCs and many more. The Hubs take place in English, Russian, Hebrew and Spanish with translation offered for participants who request it. The vast content creation produced a library of recordings and documents that is now a resource for many JCCs. But more importantly, the networking that took place among JCC leaders resulted in numerous exchanges of ideas and actual programs. 

So, what are the 8 “secret sauce” ingredients of the program?

  1. Each Hub is based on an identified unmet need in the field.
  2. The planning process begins with a fearless brainstorming session.
  3. Each Hub showcases the best available thought leaders and practitioners.
  4. The Hubs ensure that different communities and countries present best practices, making the program one of its kind. 
  5. The Hubs allow opportunities for networking and peer learning. 
  6. The Hubs encourage follow up opportunities.
  7. The Hubs are facilitated with special attention to cultural differences and sensitivities. 
  8. The Hubs are welcoming and familiar spaces.  

Moving forward, the program is expanding and exploring two additional dimensions: First, augmenting the online Hub with an in-person retreat. A pilot program took place this past November, thanks to a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Participants of the Hub: Capacity building for Jewish leaders, were able to meet in person in Belgrade, Serbia, for three days. Hopefully, this successful hybrid model will be emulated and grow in the future. The second model is being piloted this month: A supervised peer to peer exchange program that follows the Aging with Grace Hub in partnership with Jewish Care, UK. 

While I still believe that nothing beats the meaningful face to face encounters, Jewish peoplehood has been greatly enhanced thanks to the Dr. Mark Ramer JCC Global Hubs. Sadly, the untimely death of Ramer did not allow him to kvell at these achievements and say: “I told you”, with his warm and loving smile. Yet, through this program, Mark’s legacy continues to live. 

With special thanks to the family of Mark Ramer for supporting the program; to Ezra Kopelowitz for helping design the concept and to Suri Jenkins, who recently retired from the Jewish Education Project for generously sharing her expertise during the inception of the program.  

Smadar Bar-Akiva is the executive director of JCC Global. smadar@jccglboal.org