Bringing Lessons Home from JCC International Conference
By Barak Hermann, CEO and Randi Buergenthal, Board Chair
What can we learn from a JCC in Istanbul, Turkey? How can we connect to Jewish communities in India, countries in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), and Krakow, Poland? As it turns out, there are countless benefits to connecting to JCCs and Jewish communities from around the globe.
This December, we traveled to Israel to attend JCC Global: 10th Annual World Conference of JCCs. We were joined by professional and volunteer leaders from 30 JCCs worldwide. Together, we shared stories of our communities, Jewish identity, and new endeavors at our JCCs. In many places, the JCC is the only hub of Jewish activity. Our colleagues told us about the plight of struggling Jewish communities in Europe, South America, the FSU, India, Turkey and more. We were reminded again about the powerful role of JCCs throughout the world. While we share similar work and challenges to build and sustain Jewish life, it’s not always easy – especially outside of North America, where there is a lack of resources and opportunities.
We presented our Baltimore story, showcasing the strategy behind the new program, “J Around Town,” which brings the JCC to families outside of the walls of our buildings. The goal is to engage families where they are and build personalized, Jewish opportunities for every family. By creating welcoming, inclusive programs, we offer meaningful Jewish and communal experiences.
Prior to the conference, we visited Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city. We met members of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, municipal officials and toured a Matnas (Center for Culture & Sport), the term for a JCC in Israel. In Ashkelon, these facilities serve as a vital service provider, from classes for children to chugim (social clubs), and even Hebrew classes for new immigrants. The Matnasim / community centers are a lifeline for the residents of the diverse neighborhoods in our sister city. We talked with members and staff, hearing how their experiences at the Matnas transformed their lives.
For me, a special highlight came when we visited a farm in Ashkelon where my family planted trees four years ago. Today, the slender trees stand tall, roots firmly planted in the ground.
Throughout our experience, we connected what we learned to our Baltimore community. We imagine fresh, global connections as we bring our JCC mission to life through three new centers: The Center for Youth and Families, The Center for Arts and Culture and The Center for Sports and Wellness, along with other community partnerships. These initiatives will redefine what it means to be a JCC member and a guest at our two full service JCCs and Downtown Baltimore JCC.
We recognize how fortunate we are to be part of a larger system, under The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. Because of The Associated and committed donors, our JCC has the funding to provide meaningful, enriching programs for people of all ages in our community. Our vibrant JCC is due in no small part to The Associated, whose support paves the way for your JCC to continue evolving as we begin a new decade.
As we meet colleagues from across the globe, one lesson stands tall: We learn from one another, both in Baltimore and abroad. We invite you to explore all that your JCC offers.