Dear JCC executives:
This has been a momentous week for the Jewish people. Wednesday evening we ushered in the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the modern State of Israel; an anniversary that finds both the state and the worldwide Jewish community at our high water mark in nearly 2,000 years. It is worth taking a moment to reflect on that last point. As a people, it has been perhaps 100 generations since we've had it this good.
Such extraordinary achievement hasn't come cheaply. Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day) comes on the heels of Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day) on which both Israelis and Jews around the world remember the 23,646 men and women who have lost their lives in battle and the 3,134 Israelis whose lives were cut short in terror attacks—all in the space of these same 70 years.
It bears remembering that the population of the United States is roughly 40 times that of Israel. So to appreciate the gravity of these numbers, just multiply them by 40 and imagine the implications for America and Americans of losing 945,840 servicemen and women and 125,360 Americans to terror attacks, in only 70 years. By way of a simple comparison, the United States suffered 58,220 military casualties in the Vietnam War and 2,977 Americans were murdered on September 11, 2001.
The remarkably talented JCC Association Israel Center director, director, Leah Garber, offered this, inspiring message on the occasion of Israel's 70th.
I had the pleasure this week of visiting with Artie Allen, CEO, Jay Lieberman, chairman of the board, and the professional lay leadership at the beautiful Aaron Family JCC in Dallas. Among a host of impressions made on me, the beautiful facilities of The Sherry and Ken Goldberg Family Early Childhood Program really stood out. The program's director, Tara Ohayon, herself part of the JCC community since she was age three, is a model leader in the broader continental Sheva Program framework. The facility's unique outdoor Rubin Family Playground, also known as J Naturescape, is a miniature natural landscape with rolling hills, stone walls for climbing, gardens, water play, natural rock piles, and so much more. It encourages creativity, experiential learning and addresses what they call "Nature Deficit Disorder" that some say leads to behavioral and social issues. Much more than that-it's beautiful and fun.
Tackling the growing need to bring JCC programs into the community, the Aaron Family JCC inaugurated its J On Wheels initiative, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Dallas, just last year. The J drives its snazzy, brightly painted trailer to a variety of neighborhoods, where it can offer diverse programming includes adult education, Mommy & Me, fitness, mitzvah projects, and holiday programs while meeting the community, quite literally, where they are. Its next program, for example, takes place at the end of the month and offers six-strand challah braiding and baking as part of A Cooking Series: The Balabustas. Pretty sophisticated for a roadshow.
Finally, and though I heard about it firsthand, I still need someone to help me understand,"goat yoga" But I suppose even goats need to relax and unwind from time to time...
My week concluded earlier today in Washington D.C. where our own Mark Shapiro, president and CEO of the Harry and Rose Samson Family JCC in Milwaukee, was one of 51 Americans presented with the FBI Director's Community Leadership Award by FBI Director Christopher Wray, at a ceremony at FBI headquarters and in the presence of family and friends. Mark's work in close coordination with local, state and federal law enforcement throughout the 2017 bomb threat crisis that plagued the JCC Movement and the entire North American Jewish community, drew the attention of the senior FBI field agent in Milwaukee. He nominated Mark on the basis of his exemplary leadership, his calm reassurance to those around him and in his care, and his extraordinary professionalism; traits that characterized so many executives in our field during those terrible days.
Lisie Gottdenker, from our JCC Association board, and I were privileged to join Mark's wife, Sharon, their daughter, Sophie, his siblings, Samson JCC board chair, James Miller and his wife, and COO Jesse Rosen, for an experience none of us will soon forget. Congratulations Mark! You've made us very very proud!
As our movement continues to contend with the unfolding coverage of the circumstances that led to the resignation of long-time NJY Camps director, Len Robinson, JCC Association is working hard to support interim director, Janet Fliegelman, and the leadership team at NJY as they prepare for summer 2018. We are also in close contact with the NJY Board as they prepare to launch their own independent investigation into the matter.
Our movement's commitment to safe, responsible and equitable workplaces must be renewed with a determination to be on the cutting edge. We know we have to do better. And, together, that's precisely what we'll do.
Chag Atzmaut Sameach, יום עצמאות שמח, and Shabbat Shalom, שבת שלום.