Barak Hermann, CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, recently returned from travelling in Northern Israel and the West Bank as part of Schusterman Family Philanthropies Senior Leadership Fellows trip that was focusing on diversity and interfaith relations. Read on to learn more about how he has been processing and reflecting on this incredibly meaningful and eye-opening experience, in a time of society divisiveness.
By Barak Hermann, Chief Executive Officer
Wrapped up an incredible 3 days in the city of Haifa in northern Israel with 110 Senior Leadership Fellows of the Schusterman Foundation. Fellows representing the US, Israel, Europe, South Africa, Australia explored multi-cultural neighborhoods, diversity, and inter faith relations while considering how we can use our leadership to make the world a better place. Haifa is a place of overall healthy coexistence and respect between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Spending 3 days at Beit Hagefen…the Arab Jewish Cultural Center was inspiring to see how Arabs and Jews can learn and build empathy and respect for each other..by having experiences together that empower opportunities to explore identity through art, theater, dialogue, classes, and more.
At a time of such divisiveness in our county, and the recent spewing of Jew hatred by Kanye or Ye…society can be and is very scary for Jews as it is for so many vulnerable groups in our society…African Americans, LGBTQ, and so many more. I’ve been thinking often about the work and communities we form at the JCC. We have leaned into being more diverse and welcoming. We can clearly go deeper and do more as we strive to make Baltimore a better place.
I’m very proud of the companies, athletes, and artists that have separated from Ye as it shows especially young people that hatred and spewing of vial comments from perceived role models cannot be tolerated….however that’s not enough…not when Ye seems to have more followers than there are maybe Jews in the world. We need to engage in dialogue…find ways that are authentic and not tokenized. To bring diverse people together for dialogue, experiences, and to build awareness, relationships, and hopefully empathy. The JCC of Greater Baltimore is primed for the work because of our committed board and our diverse and talented team and our diverse membership and users.
Four years ago today, in a brutal act of antisemitism, 11 members of the Jewish community were murdered at the Tree of Life building in Pittsburgh. Clearly, we have more work to do to combat anti-semitism.
Last night, I joined a smaller group of 14 fellows to travel and learn in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with the Israel Policy Forum (IPF). IPF work to educate political and communal leaders on pragmatic policy ideas, developed by credible security experts, for the realization of a viable two-state solution. Among many stops today within West Bank and East Jerusalem, was spending time in a community center in East Jerusalem where Palestinian and Israeli women come together to learn both Arabic and Hebrew and to have conversations, programs, and experience each other’s religions major holidays. This work is very inspiring and again spotlights the importance of bringing people of diverse experiences and opinions together and learning about each person’s unique and complex narrative.
As we strive to build and sustain a strong community, there doesn’t need to be always agreement, yet we must strive for respect, tolerance, curiosity, and kindness. That’s what I experienced these past few days watching diverse people and faiths coexist. Our present society needs it; our children deserve it; and we better focus on this so future generations can benefit from it.