The nice (and demanding) thing about this time of year is that there is no end of exciting things for us to think about and do. The schedule is crammed full of events, and summer vacations are on the horizon with all the promise they hold for rest and renewal.
Interestingly, this is a very intense time in the Torah. The Israelite spies have just returned from their initial foray into Canaan and all but two have dire things to say. Ten spies implore Moses to return the people to the “safety” of Egypt. The outliers, Joshua and Caleb, speak of a land that is good, and of their conviction that with Divine help they will be brought into it. It’s a classic story: the majority see the future with fear—a self-perception of smallness, a desire to retreat into the past—while a few others face the future with a willingness to overcome the obstacles and go forward. And they succeed.
Last week the JCC hosted Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), who spoke to us about “Re-imagining Jewish Life for the 21st Century.” The event, which was covered in the June 11 issue of The Jewish Advocate, brought together more than 125 Jewish professional and volunteer leaders to consider what lies ahead for us as we strive to understand and serve our community. Rabbi Kula spoke entertainingly but, as The Advocate notes, about a serious topic. We live in an era of unprecedented choice. Jews may or may not use the vehicles familiar to us to explore and express their Jewish identity. We need to re-consider what it means to be Jewish, and see it through the lens of these constituents as well as through that of our Jewish communal institutions as they stand today.
The JCC leadership, professional and volunteer, has committed itself to creating an environment that is welcoming, pluralistic, and consistent in its approach to serving our community that we understand to have changing needs. This means changes for us, too: changes in how we plan, how we program, and how we communicate. We have a big job to do and it’ll take a lot of resources to do it.
Now, why is it that Joshua and Caleb saw something different, or faced it differently? One explanation from the Babylonian Talmud, expanded upon by the Baal Shem Tov, is that the two men broke off at one point from the scouting expedition and visited the graves of our ancestors who had walked the land before them. Physically and spiritually connected with those souls, they were able to look beyond the data and the present to see a promising future.
The JCC movement has reinvented itself before. Its roots are in the settlement house model, established to assimilate Jewish immigrants into American culture. After World War II, JCCs sought to re-establish Jewish urban neighborhoods in the suburbs, building wonderful multi-use facilities to support and build Jewish community.
In recent years, we have considered and successfully implemented strategies to offer programs and services both in our own facilities and beyond their walls. We have increased clarity about the job we must now do: offer Jewish resources to people seeking to strengthen their identities and live productive lives. The bottom line is that community needs are again changing, and we again are called upon to change with the people we serve. We must connect soul to soul with those that came before us, and follow their lead in addressing the most pressing issues, changes and challenges in the lives of Jews and the community. We must lead toward a new vision and strategy for a different future.