Why Was the JCC Global Budapest Conference Different Than Any Other?

JCC Global Budapest 2014by Smadar Bar-Akiva

The simple answer: Because JCCs, perhaps more than any other institution, have members … Jews who are a natural constituency for the work we do and whose lives are changed by their involvement in our work. Therefore, when we recruited the senior leadership of 27 JCCs from 12 countries – Canada, England, France, Hungary, Israel, Mexico, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, USA and Venezuela – serving more than 300,000 Jews annually and managing a total budget of close to $200,000,000 – we knew that the potential for impact was enormous.

A month ago, JCC Global (formerly known as the World Confederation Jewish Community Centers) brought together almost 100 Executives Directors, Presidents, Senior Lay Leaders, Board Members and representatives of JCC regional networks – CDI, CLAM, EAJCC, IACC, IFCC, JCCA, JDC and Jewish Care- in Budapest to launch “Amitim– Fellows- A global Leadership Network.” A three year program that promises to engage participating JCCs in new, innovative global partnerships and to build a network of global Jewish leaders, committed to growing the concept of Jewish Peoplehood within their JCCs and their communities.

What was so unique about this conference?

A focus on change agents

JCCs are experts in building Jewish community. Therefore, in order to incorporate Jewish Peoplehood concepts into the daily lives of JCCs, we focused on leaders as change agents, people who know how to transform their institutions. Moreover, at JCC Global we strongly believe in the partnership between professionals and lay leaders, so we required leadership teams from each JCC, reaffirming the importance of professional/lay collaboration.

Preparation and commitment

Prior to the conference, JCC Global, in close partnership with all its affiliate organizations – JDC, JCCA, IACC, CDI, FSJU, Jewish Care, EAJCC, CLAM, MWU, ZWST, JAFI, IFCC and JW3 – recruited and selected JCCs who were ready to embark on the global journey. Senior staff and boards of directors had to approve, in advance, the JCC’s involvement in the three year program. Boards of directors had to take a leap of faith and commit $25,000 towards a future unknown joint project. Fellows submitted personal bios, JCC bios, videos and posters of their JCCs, so that participants had prior knowledge of who they would be meeting and working with in Budapest.

Empowering the participants

Ours was a working conference, where participants from each JCC had to get to know one another, learn the strengths  and uniquenesses  of each JCC, and then create a global partnership built around a specific project that will build connections between their members back home … all in a few days! Using Open Space Technology, participants explored new ideas, challenged one another, and, after some trial and error, ultimately found those global partners and joint projects.

Long term commitment

The Budapest conference was just the beginning. Following the conference, participants started working together in sub groups to implement their joint projects. Each of the 27 leadership teams is now developing one of 7 global projects with at least 3 countries. Projects focus in such areas as innovative teen leadership programs, the environment, the arts, and working with special needs populations. With the assistance of JCC Global, they will work together as they confront the challenges of cultural differences, communication stumbling blocks and the need to interact using technological tools that are never quite as good as we want them to be. They will continue to work and learn as a global leadership group from a curriculum emphasizing the why and what of Jewish Peoplehood, created by JCC Global, that will inform their projects as well as their partnerships.

We will all meet again in Israel in November 2015 and projects will be completed by the end of 2016.

So what were the results of the week-long conference?

One cannot understate the importance of the extra ingredients that helped start the program on such a high note. The power of interaction between us, with our various worldwide perspectives and different skill sets was transformational, as we felt a powerful connection from our shared work in JCCs. Because we, as JCC leaders, live Peoplehood language every day, widening that language to the global arena was quite natural. Friendships grew throughout the conference as participants were eager to learn about and from each other. In a short few days we felt like one big family. At the concluding festive dinner, it took only short ten minutes before all of us spontaneously formed one big dancing circle and sang together “Am Israel Chai.”

27 JCCS in 12 countries on 4 continents connecting Jews over 3 years … imagine the things we will do and where we will go!!

Funding for this program comes from JCC Global and from a generous grant allocated by the Commission on the Jewish People of UJA Federation of New York through its partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel. In addition JDC and participating JCCs are also supporting the program.

Smadar Bar-Akiva is the Executive Director of JCC Global (formerly known as the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers) Smadar can be reached at: Smadar@jccglobal.org.