What may be true of glasses, however, is not true of ideas. The truly great ones are never too damn big. The idea of community in Jewish tradition is defined by expansive inclusivity, embracing every voice in the chorus for the music to truly rise all the way to the Divine.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, whose Saturday night lectures I attended as a teenager, was the founder of the Maimonides School in Brookline. Forty years ago, he wrote about this big idea in an essay titled “Community”:
“Each individual possesses something unique, rare, which is unknown to others; each individual has a unique message to communicate, a special color to add to the communal spectrum. He contributes something which no one else could have contributed. He enriches the community existentially; he is irreplaceable.”
Decades later, my friend, teacher and visionary philanthropist, Harold Grinspoon, had a brilliant idea about community. He imagined that by delivering a Jewish-themed book to every family that desired, free of charge, to read to their children and grandchildren, the Jewish community would grow, even in the face of adamant predictions of its decline.
At JCC Greater Boston, our vision of community is defined by the idea of expansive inclusivity. We believe families are actively creating their own Jewish story. Our job is to support them.
We knew that by entering into a partnership with Harold close to a decade ago we could begin to make expansive inclusivity a reality. And our results reflect this. Last week, my staff shared with me this incredible statistic: of the 21,200 children ages 0-8 in Greater Boston Jewish households (however they define themselves), JCC Greater Boston currently touches the lives of more than 40 percent. We accomplish this through PJ Library books and our family programs, day camps and early learning centers. We add, on average, 220 new families each month through PJ Library subscriptions alone. And we are not stopping there. Thanks to generous support from CJP, JCC Family Connectors are working to engage families in every region, encouraging them to not only subscribe to PJ Library, but also offering a menu of ways to connect with other programs, families and communities.
When I first heard those numbers, I needed to stop and absorb this in utter amazement. In a community being told it faces inevitable decline, we are seeing growth. And not just growth in books subscriptions. The family engagement data we collect indicates that more than 90 percent of families who were not already inclined to do so are more likely to celebrate a Jewish holiday, attend an event, consider joining a synagogue or enroll in a Jewish camp or preschool program because of their participation in our activities.
This data speaks directly to the end of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s essay, where he talks about telling our story, the story of the Jewish people, to our children. “Our story unites countless generations: past, present and future merge into one great experience…a glorious past that is still real, because it has not vanished, a future which is already here, and a creative present replete with opportunity and challenge.”
In our JCC vision of a community predicated on expansive inclusivity, the opportunity and the challenge is for us to work harder together with all those who are willing to fill that big glass. The glass, therefore, is not just JCC Greater Boston’s to fill. It is a treasure for the entire community. It is almost half full, and we are just getting started. Our imagination loves a big idea. And everyone we reach in this community, together, is irreplaceable.
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