By Alan Scher
I admit it – I couldn’t point to Ukraine on the map. Or Estonia, or Moldova, or any former Soviet country. At least not until I attended the JCC Global 10th World Conference and met fellow Jewish professionals and lay leaders from not only these countries, but hundreds of other Jewish community centers like mine. But the outcomes of the conference for me go far beyond geographical trivia. Through JCC Global I reconnected with the animating principle of my Torah as a JCC professional – that our institutions can bring Jewish wisdom, values, and tradition to life impacting communities far and wide for the better.
It began with an encounter my first morning when my counterpart from Moldova introduced himself. Honestly, I knew absolutely nothing about Moldova, let alone the Jewish community of Moldova. I implored my colleague – please, tell me about your home. What followed was an astute, poignant, and deeply resonant narrative regarding the plight of a generation wrestling with identity, economic uncertainty, and longing for connection. Not in any way unfamiliar territory from my own work in Downtown Manhattan. We immediately formed a bond over a shared boon we each lean on in our daily efforts – the Jewish culture that flows from our centers.
Reflecting back on my experience, I have come to believe that connecting with other professionals like myself around the globe is essential. I believe these encounters provide three critical elements to our work:
- Reanimating, reaffirming, and reinvigorating our own efforts back home
- Igniting new conceptions of how Jewish life can inspire communities of different cultures and nationalities
- Fostering a Kehila across boundaries enhancing Jewish peoplehood
Since returning to New York and my work at the 14th Street Y, I have sought to harness the energy and impact of these elements in several different capacities. My hope is that the examples may prove illustrative to others in the field seeking the catalytic qualities of Klal Yisrael.
- I’ve begun to not only prioritize attending conferences of this nature, but also actively soliciting, and offering to host, colleagues from around the world. Over the past year, the 14th Street Y has welcomed delegations of Jewish professionals from communities around Israel, Argentina, and France. They come because we invite them. These proactive connections always prove interesting, and every community has something to share, and learn from another. We would love to host your community next time you are in NYC! Email me at [email protected] to set something up.
- The fostering of “communities of practice,” or shared, collaborative projects like JCC Global’s Amitim program do not require significant funding, investment, or travel. With merely a Zoom account, and a commitment to dialogue, Jewish communal practitioners can learn from each other, and benefit from the shared knowledge gained from implementing similar curriculum, programming and pedagogy in distinct communities. Like the best of traditional text study, efforts of this nature allow educators to push each other, and glean greater insight into our efforts. We accomplished this not only with our Amitim collaboration with communities in Athens, London, Israel, and Buenos Aires, but also with the increasing growth of our LABA program, and its network.
Personally, I am also in touch with several of the individuals I met at the conference, and am looking forward to continued correspondence, and friendship, with these individuals. Such sparks of community kindled around the globe warm hearts and illuminate our purpose. In transcending geographic boundaries we thus encounter far more than new territory – we unlock new insight into ourselves.
Alan Scher is the Associate Executive Director at the 14th Street Y, a Jewish Community Center in Downtown Manhattan.