Triangles that Transform Personal Angles and Perspectives

by Smadar Bar-Akiva

What brings together Erik, Ianina and Ido? How can falafel, hamburger and empanada go together? How can reform, orthodox and secular Jews participate in one program? Can they develop a shared vision? Our answer is the Tri-Center Project. The project connects a Jewish Community Center in Israel with a counterpart in North America and a third partner from another Jewish community somewhere else in the world. The goal of the project is to strengthen Jewish Peoplehood – Klal Israel – by developing meaningful and long-lasting relationships among JCC members worldwide.

A glimpse into the valuable impact of the project was witnessed last week. Fifteen teen leaders from the Michael Ann Russell JCC in Miami, the Yerocham Community Center in Israel and the Haocaj JCC in Buenos Aires spent time together in Israel after celebrating Pesach in Buenos Aires and spending a week in Miami last July. When listening to their moving impressions and observations, it became clear how our lofty goal of Jewish Peoplehood can become a reality.

What did they learn?

Sol from Miami was hesitant at first about the program but soon discovered the excitement of exploring the similarities and differences of his peers from Buenos Aires and Yerocham. He was impressed to see how in these two different cities the JCC is the center of the community and that entire families spend their leisure time there. Or from Yerocham considered her fellow teens to be like family. She felt blessed to be chosen to participate in the Tri-Center Project. She did not imagine she would develop such meaningful relationships with Jews from far-away countries. She believed it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and she hoped other teens would also participate. Denise from Argentina was impressed to see the strong role Israel plays in the Miami JCC. She felt that the program strengthened her bond with Israel and the Jewish world and she hoped to carry this message back to her JCC. Gil from Yerocham didn’t expect Jewish awareness to be so strong overseas. He said that in Yerocham everyone is Jewish and the feeling of connectedness is taken for granted. He was surprised to find out how much his peers were involved with Israel and knew so much about it. Smadar from Yerocham echoed his statement by saying that now she understands the importance of Jewish communities outside of Israel. “We Israelis are not aware of the extent of Jewish life in the Diaspora, while they know so much about us “she said. “They stand up for us in times of trouble. We need to learn more about them. “

How did it all start?

In 2006, funding from the UJA Federation of New York, in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel, became available for the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers (WCJCC.) So, we were able to explore the Tri-Center Project. We are most grateful to the Suffolk Y JCC and the JCC of the Greater Five Towns JCC in Long Island, New York, the French Hill Community Center in Jerusalem and Lamroth Hakol JCC/Synagogue in Buenos Aires for accepting this first challenge. They launched a three-way leadership teen project that soon mobilized the entire community. Initial success soon followed with several other Tri-Centers, each focusing on a different relevant theme, such as young families, a Jewish cultural festival, teen leadership and more. The specific teen leadership project highlighted above is part of a Tri-Center Project that now also involves the Miami Jewish Federation and its partners. All together there are about ten Tri-Centers in existence.

In addition to extensive anecdotal information that demonstrates the success of the project, WCJCC commissioned a study conducted by Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz of Research Success Technologies LTD to evaluate the long term impact on the graduates of the first Tri-Center Project. The research showed that:

  • A strong majority feel the continued influence of the project on their lives.
  • 85% report more involvement in leadership positions within Jewish organizations as a result of the project.
  • 62% report that the project substantially increased their desire to pursue friendships with other Jews.
  • Staff members report greater participation of the participants and their families in their respective JCCs as a result of the project.
  • Staff members report increased interest of lay leaders, staff members, participants and families in world Jewry as a result of the project.

What are the next steps for the enthusiastic teens mentioned above?

Each participant was asked to design a project related to world Jewry that could be implemented back home. For example, Amit from Miami is working on a project to raise awareness for the captive soldier Gilad Shalit and Sol presented a project for a cultural arts festival that would take place in these three communities. It is clear that the talented and dedicated three-way staff will cleverly engage these teens in their respective communities. They, in turn, show a great eagerness to contribute to the community.

It is the dream of the World Confederation of JCCs that every Jewish community around the world has a partner in Israel and another in a different part of the Jewish world. We believe that a multitude of triangles can alter the way young Jews relate to each other and strengthen the Jewish people.

Smadar Bar-Akiva is Executive Director, World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers (WCJCC), an umbrella organization representing more than 1,100 JCCs worldwide. The Tri Center project involves all JCC networks worldwide.