Many organizations pay lip-service to the values of community, collaboration and pluralism. In reality, acting on these values as an organization does its work takes more effort, time and careful planning than simply running the programs itself. In my work at the Mayerson Jewish Community Center in Cincinnati, I witnessed an organization that does more than run a gym, preschool and Jewish events. The JCC is a place where people—all those in the community, not only Jews—come to connect, celebrate, learn, and give.
Community is about meeting people where they are and being accessible. For example, the JCC has a program for Jewish seniors to come together on a daily basis. This is a way for dozens of participants to have lunch together every day as well as participate in other activities. On Fridays, Rabbi Shena Jaffee opens the lunch by saying blessings over wine, bread, and candles. On a couple of occasions, I have been fortunate to join her and the seniors. In addition to socializing with their peers, those in attendance are able to see Jewish traditions being embraced by younger generations. This sense of being part of something bigger than one’s self, something that spans across space and time, is a key component of community.
From the youngest to the oldest members, the JCC builds community. Within the early childhood center, the three and four year-olds come together on Friday mornings for Shabbat songs, blessings, and stories. In addition to interacting with each other, the children are able to interact with the various adults, who are demonstrating a way to participate and celebrate Shabbat. Both of these Shabbat events work within the limits of a diverse community to enable people to celebrate together on a weekly basis.
On a larger scale, the JCC with the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati organized a city-wide, year-round celebration of 65 years of Israel’s independence. Every Jewish organization in the city—over 40 of them!—has committed to hosting an event dedicated to this celebration. In the name of the values of community, collaboration and pluralism, the JCC is highlighting and promoting the variety of Jewish organizations in our area and showcasing the work other organizations are doing. Rather than competing for financial resources, membership or time, the JCC is embracing a cooperative model, demonstrating the benefits of being part of a community. Rather than being a threat to one another, competing for the same resources, each organization fills a unique need. As a community, we are greater than the sum of our parts. The JCC reaches out to individuals and institutions to become one community. Pluralism means not being afraid of differences, but truly valuing what other people and places have to offer.
The Jewish community is a diverse one, with people of all nationalities, ages and abilities. The JCC puts the value of community at the center, and by doing so, shows that we are stronger because of that diversity.