Rabbi Ron Symons on July 1, 2022
It has been five years and counting since we launched the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement (CFLK) at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh. While our work was accelerated in the immediate aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA, we had started planning for the Center for Loving Kindness during 2016 as we became acutely aware of the changing nature of public discourse at both the local and national levels. We envisioned a center within the Center that would be values forward. We embraced the duty of being inwardly reflective to help create vibrant, responsive, meaningful experiences that strengthen community. We were inspired by the many possibilities of being outwardly active throughout the community to redefine “neighbor” from a geographic term to a moral concept.
The soil in which we planted our vision for the Center for Loving Kindness was prepared for us by 125 years of JCC leadership beginning with a Settlement House in the Hill District and continuing over more than a century of nurturing people and connecting community each day, through every age, always inspired by Jewish values.
Throughout our first five years, through every harrowing experience in Pittsburgh and beyond, our mission of strengthening the fabric of community by amplifying the long-held values of “love your neighbor as yourself “and “do not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds” while redefining “neighbor” from a geographic term to a moral concept has been our North star. We are proud to have influenced the way our neighbors talk about “neighbor as a moral concept. “We are humbled to be trusted partners with over 1OO community organizations and to be perceived as a bridge across community.
As we plan for the next five years we will continue to be UPstanders who build safe spaces in which neighbors live with each other in community through our shared humanity across real and perceived differences.
We celebrated this milestone by inviting Tanya Gersh (winner of a lawsuit against neo-Nazis in Whitefish, Montana, and Dr. Emiola Oriola (Director of Pitt’s Office of Belonging and Inclusion) to help us better understand how we must turn an assault on any one of us into an opportunity to be an UPstander for all of us. They taught us that we need to develop “thinner skins” (i.e. get insulted, mad, and activated) when our neighbors are the victims of hate.
Our we is expansive and inclusive so that all of our neighbors can collectively affirm, “I belong to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh belongs to me. We belong to each other.”
This is what it means to redefine “neighbor” as a moral concept.