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JCC State of Mind: A weekly message to staff, board, and stakeholders

Posted by Jason Kunzman, President/CEO JCC of Greater Pittsburgh on January 4, 2024

December 22, 2023

When I think about the JCC’s approach to community, I often come back to the Jewish practice of requiring a minyan – a group of 10 – for daily prayer and certain religious rituals. A minyan fosters a sense of unity among the participants and symbolizes the collective strength and interconnectedness of the community. The bonds formed within a minyan contribute to the larger tapestry of Jewish communal life.

Nearly four months into my new professional role, I understand better than ever before that the well-being of our staff is a critical component of our ability to positively impact the broader community. This week for the first time we held two L’chayim gatherings for staff in both Squirrel Hill and the South Hills. Subtitled “A Toast for Good Lives,” these get-togethers were not only fun (in addition to party food, drink and games) but also a chance for staff to be together as a community.

   

The work of the JCC is indeed a team sport – it relies on solid interpersonal relationships where clear and regular communication and collaboration are highly valued. None of the magic at our year-round and seasonal sites happens without our staff, so we remain committed to investing in our staff not only financially, but qualitatively in ways that create a vibrant community where employees feel valued, connected and motivated.

Social gatherings among staff contribute to employee engagement, team building and overall workplace satisfaction, which we know have been linked to overall organizational success. Over the past couple of years as we’ve come out of the isolation of the pandemic, we’ve intentionally made space and time for our staff to build community – from holding Staff Care Days to creating an employee lounge and trying to figure out ways to keep employees more in-the-know.

   

Earlier this year, I hosted Fireside Chats – a series of Q&A sessions with staff. Over the course of 11 sessions across both of our branches, I met with nearly 120 of our full- and part-time staff. I deeply appreciated the opportunity to engage in substantive conversations, to build authentic connections and to strategize on how best to meet our organizational goals. It was incredibly instructive to receive direct feedback on what the team is looking for from their new CEO and to learn more about some of the difficulties each staff member faces in their respective roles at the JCC.

These types of staff events help further our organizational culture of collaboration, creativity and continuous learning, and help shape a JCC poised to take on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

   

Our JCC has been around for nearly 130 years for the primary purpose of improving the quality of life for individuals and community. As the year 2023 draws to a close, I offer a L’chayim, “to life,” to all of you and may you find the JCC to be a source of strength and support in 2024 and beyond.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom.

Jason


December 15, 2023

In Jewish tradition upon someone’s passing, well-wishers often say, “May his/her memory forever be a blessing.” The phrase reflects a positive and enduring perspective on the deceased person’s legacy. Instead of focusing solely on the sadness or loss associated with death, it emphasizes the positive impact and lasting influence that the person had on the lives of others. By saying, “May his/her memory forever be a blessing,” people express the hope that the positive aspects of the person’s life and the good deeds they performed will continue to inspire and bring comfort to those who remember them.

This past week, we had the honor of presenting the Shirley Gordon Early Childhood Staff Recognition Award to several of our more tenured early childhood educators. A long-time early childhood educator herself, Shirley Gordon demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the care and nurturing of children for many years within the JCC’s early childhood development center. Following her passing, Shirley’s family, represented by her loving sister Eva Blum, created an endowment fund that aimed to honor educator longevity in the field of early childhood, specifically at our JCC in Squirrel Hill where Shirley spent much of her career.

Educator longevity is not to be taken for granted. Early childhood education is a field with great challenges and considerable room for growth, and one that places a tremendous responsibility on those who feel called to it. Those who stay committed to the field have passion and understand the lasting impact they have on young children’s developmental years. The Shirley Gordon award gives us the opportunity to thank them with a financial gift for that commitment. Early childhood educators receiving the award are recognized for five, 10, or 25 years of service.

This year’s recipients were honored at the Squirrel Hill early childhood Chanukah celebration, an evening planned by a team of educators. We gathered together to be in one another’s company and to celebrate the light not only from the candles on the chanukiah but also the light cast upon our students and their families by our remarkable staff of compassionate and talented educators. This year’s recipients included:

  • Sara Capezzuto – 5 years of service
  • Emmanuelle Wambach – 5 years of service
  • Alyssa Brandi – 10 years of service
  • Bobbie Corbin – 10 years of service
  • Megan Small – 25 years of service

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, “Teachers open our eyes to the world. They give us curiosity and confidence. They teach us to ask questions. They connect us to our past and future. They’re the guardians of our social heritage. We have lots of heroes today, and they are often celebrities – athletes, supermodels, media personalities. They come, they have their fifteen minutes of fame, and they go. But the influence of good teachers stays with us. They are the people who really shape our life.” May we continue to recognize all of our teachers as heroes as they support our studies and nurture the life of our minds. May Shirley Gordon’s memory forever be a blessing to all of us as well as this year’s Gordon award recipients as they continue in the very meaningful, impactful, and hopefully rewarding work they do every day.

As we close out another great week at the JCC, if you are looking for weekend plans, I highly recommend this weekends’ Richard E. Rauh Senior High Musical Heathers The Musical (Teen Edition). The hard work of our young actors and actresses shines through in every song. You can see the show times and get your tickets here. 

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom.

Jason


December 8, 2023

Last night in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the JCC hosted Light the World, a community-wide candle lighting in celebration of the first night of Chanukah and an opportunity to hear from Israeli survivors of the October 7 Hamas attack. Pittsburgh was the first community to host a delegation of our Israeli neighbors who were selected through a joint venture of the Zionist Enterprises Departmentthe Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the JCC Association for the way they stood up to evil in the face of incredible challenge and adversity on that fateful day. Each of their stores had elements of horror, confusion, unimaginable risk, agonizing delays, loneliness and terror, and those in attendance hung on our guests’ every word.

The ghastly tales, however, were tempered by moments of optimism and compassion. Take for example when survivors and the families of those lost at the 2018 synagogue shooting stood together with the Israelis to light the chanukiah or when, similar to the way that Mr. Rogers spoke about finding the helpers, Shani Teshuva from Kibbutz Zikim encouraged us all to look for the rays of light no matter how much darkness fills our days. Or when the shinshinim from our Partenrship2Gether region of Karmiel/Misgav stood in front of Levinson Hall and, as they have done so many times for our community since October 7, once again led us in the recitation of Hatikvah. Throughout the evening, I found myself struggling with a wide range of emotions, as was very much the case during my recent trip to Israel with 12 other JCC executives from across the country when we saw firsthand the impact of the atrocities of October 7 and also heard stories about and helped create moments of incredible inspiration and hope.

The truth of the matter was that I had arrived in Israel only having given myself permission to feel the sadness, the anger, the despair. But at the midpoint of our trip, when we met with Rabbi Doron Perez from the Mizrachi World Movement, I was given a gift that will stay with me forever – the gift of gam v’gam. We can be and feel things that seem contrary to one another. Rabbi Perez, whose one son fighting in the IDF was to be married in late October and whose second son, also fighting in the IDF, was taken hostage on October 7, gave us all permission to make space for contradicting emotions.

So, as we continue to make our way through these days of uncertainty and complexity, I encourage us all to be fully present in the moment and to feel whatever it is that we are feeling. Afterall, as Rabbi Perez insisted, this is what makes us human.


December 1, 2023

The Peloton bike at the JCC has become an integral component of my training for the DEKA World Championships being held this weekend in Dallas (more on that below), and at some point during my ride on the Peloton earlier this week, the instructor exclaimed, “Self-care is not selfish.” This was met with wild applause in the NYC Peloton studio, and it really got me thinking about how I had done in the area of self-care during my first three months as the JCC’s new CEO.

One of the books I read over the summer to try and prepare for the pending leadership transition was The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. In his international bestseller, Watkins walks through every aspect of the most typical transitions, identifies the likely pitfalls and provides tools and techniques to avoid them. One of the strategies he discusses is keeping your balance or managing yourself. Watkins insists that, “In the personal and professional tumult of a transition, you must work hard to maintain your equilibrium and preserve your ability to make good judgements.” Watkins suggests that one should ask themselves, “Are you maintaining your energy and keeping your perspective?”

What started in our South Hills branch as business opportunity to increase and diversify our membership has also become a form of self-care for me. We launched our DEKA affiliate program last fall, and we hosted our first quarterly DEKA competition in October 2022. The related remodel of the South Hills fitness center was met with great excitement and has in fact helped accelerate our climb out of the doldrums of the pandemic. Most simply put, the DEKA training system is a form of functional fitness that supports everyday life through the basic movements of lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, kneeling, jumping, climbing and getting down on the ground and standing back up. Our certified coaches provide a curated experience where specific modifications to each exercise are made to accommodate every level of fitness – from beginner to elite athlete. DEKA’s unique approach in gamifying fitness through quarterly competitions and challenges emphasizes training with purpose and fosters community. While the results of our investment in a new and innovative approach to fitness speak for themselves, the unintended benefit for me and for several of my JCC colleagues has been the significant role DEKA has played in improving our attention and commitment to self-care.

The variety of classes, the inspiring playlists that accompany each class and the opportunity to work out with a consistent group of friends and colleagues has been particularly meaningful for me. Perhaps my favorite class is on Wednesday mornings when a number of our South Hills Early Childhood educators join in the fun, and we all push one another to do one more burpee or body weight squat. Having gone all in with DEKA over the last 14 months, I have truly grown to appreciate the importance of self-care. Taking care of ourselves isn’t a personal indulgence; it’s an investment in our professional success. By prioritizing well-being, we enhance our resilience, boost our productivity and contribute to a healthier workplace. A balanced and energized team is better equipped to overcome challenges and achieve lasting success.

As I head off to Dallas this morning along with my daughter Gabi who also qualified for the DEKA World Championships, I hope that my engaging in self-care sets a positive example for the entire JCC team and emphasizes the importance of well-being. I look forward to our staff more intentionally engaging in their own self-care routines, as I predict it will help us better achieve our collective goals, prevent burnout and foster a happier organizational culture. I am confident that no matter the results from this weekend’s competition, I will return to work on Monday morning more focused and better equipped to take on the challenges and opportunities that await.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

Jason


November 24, 2023

“God created man because God loves stories.”—Elie Wiesel

As our solidarity delegation of 13 leaders from the JCC movement made our way through Israel during a 6-day visit, we asked those we met with – family members of those taken hostage, government officials, community organizers, leaders of non-governmental organizations, journalists and marketing experts – what we could do for them and the State of Israel when we returned back to our respective communities. The answer each time was simple and consistent, “Tell the story of what you have just experienced.” My time on the ground in Israel has left me with a lifetime’s worth of emotion and countless stories of devastation, innovation and inspiration. In many ways there are no words and in other ways there are not enough words. What I experienced has become a part of my identity, not just as a Jew and community leader but as a human being.

DEVASTATION

An intelligence officer we met with in Yad Binyamin explained that Hamas was all too familiar with Israel’s pain point related to hostages, as was demonstrated back in 2011 when Israel exchanged more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for a single IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit. In fact, several of those Palestinian prisoners released 12 years ago were part of the leadership team of terrorists that developed the plan for October 7, which included taking as many captives as they could grab. The issue, though, was that Hamas could have never predicted how successful they would be in executing their attack, and at some point, their commanders communicated a switch from taking prisoners to simply killing as many Israelis as possible. The same intelligence officer told us that if not for the brutality in the way that the terrorists executed their plan, the death toll would have been much worse and with the slow response of the IDF, the terrorists could have made their way towards Tel Aviv. Can you imagine? The only thing that saved lives was the savagery with which the terrorists killed their victims and the time it took to carry out perhaps the most heinous acts against humanity the world has ever seen. AtKfar Azza we bore witness to the unimaginable horror committed by the terrorists and their complete disregard for human life. While walking through the rubble of this once thriving kibbutz of 900 residents, we came upon the door to a safe room that had been decorated with Disney princesses. As the terrorists entered this particular home, they used a rocket-propelled grenade to blow off the handle to the door and proceeded to kill everyone inside the safe room. How is it possible for such sweet innocence to meet with such butchery?

We also saw the sad and tragic irony of an agalul (Hebrew for a type of crib on wheels), which typically litter the landscape of every kibbutz in Israel, now carrying shell casings instead of the babies and toddlers they are meant to move safely throughout the community.

And the indiscriminate and senseless killing was magnified as we learned about the murder of Ofir Liebstein, the head of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council which had developed plans for an industrial zone to employ both Israelis and Palestinians from Gaza. It was beyond comprehension for someone so dedicated to peace and coexistence with his neighbors to be gunned down just feet away from his home by people from the same area he was so committed to helping.

Our travels also took us to Sderot, a city of approximately 36,000 residents located just 1 kilometer from the Gaza Strip border and no stranger to being the target of rocket attacks and incursions over the last several years. We immediately made our way to where the local police station once stood but was razed to the ground as a means of ensuring that any remaining terrorists inside were killed.

We also met Ronen, the head of the city’s security who rescued two little girls, ages 4 and 6 years, from the back seat of their car after their parents were shot dead. As Ronen approached the girls, they asked him, “Are you Israeli?” These poor girls, now orphans, will forever have the image of their parents’ killers seared in their minds and who knows the trauma they may associate with the simple act of riding in a car.

INNOVATION

Despite being at war with Hamas and the possibility of the war expanding to the north with Hezbollah, the imagination and creativity of a country known as “the start-up nation” has come through loud and clear. Take for example the significant increase of Haredi men who have registered to fight with the IDF. Exempt from military service, an estimated 2,000 Haredi men have volunteered for IDF service. In the past, Haredi rabbis have insisted that fervent prayer for Israel’s safety and security is just as important as military service, but this group of more moderate Haredi volunteers have made the decision to go against the wishes of many of their leaders.We visited the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine & Research at the Shamir Medical Center where groundbreaking work is happening around the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Professor Shai Efrati and Dr. Keren Doenyas-Barak have determined that PTSD is a physiological, rather than a psychological, issue where an injury to the brain doesn’t allow the patient to encode the traumatic event they have suffered as having occurred in the past. The increasing and decreasing of oxygen levels in the hyperbaric chamber trick the body into thinking there is a lack of oxygen available and in response, the body reproduces stem cells, blood vessels and nerves. In the initial days following October 7, Shai and Keren and their team have been able to scale the operation to serve 300 patients each day. Given the level of projected trauma across the entire Israeli society in the aftermath of October 7, they are now in a race against time actively seeking $8.5 million in funding so that they can increase the number served to 800 per day.Then there is Ariel Blum, an Israeli entrepreneur who is hellbent on demonstrating the resilience of the nation’s tech sector and its potential growth following the war. Ariel has put out a challenge to his fellow entrepreneurs for one new start up to be created for every Israeli life lost to the war. In putting out the challenge, Ariel said, “To me, that’s the beauty in the Israeli thinking and values. Each person is a world, and we need to rebuild these worlds.” What an incredible expression of Jewish tradition which aspires toward the memory of those who have passed to be forever a blessing.

INSPIRATION

Throughout our travels moments of hope and optimism came from both expected and unexpected places. In our conversation with Hillel Fuld, a tech marketing genius who has dedicated his efforts to spreading positivity and fighting dis-information via social media, he pointed out that the Israeli population had actually increased by nearly 3% since October 7, a clear indication of how Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad significantly underestimated the resolve of the Jewish people and their commitment to Israel.And what about the 200,000 evacuees from the 22 communities most directly impacted by the atrocities of October 7? Well, 500 of them from Sderot were staying at our hotel in Jerusalem and another 800, primarily from Ashkelon, were staying on the 22-acre grounds of the Maccabiah World Union (MWU) in Ramat Gan. More than 200 of these makeshift communities have been stood up throughout the country, each of them fueled by an army of volunteers who help to ensure the needs of their guests are being met each and every day.With funding from the Federation system, MWU has partnered with GLOW Glamping to launch a national project for PTSD victims from the October 7 Supernova music festival in Kibbutz Re’im. The program, which takes place in a secluded part of the MWU campus, includes four days of trauma services, and the goal is to host cohorts of up to 50 people each week for the next 10 weeks.And then there was the Employee Health Physician from Hadassah Hospital who showed up with her medical bag at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem when she heard that they were going to be housing evacuees. Assuming that there would be great need for medical attention among the group, the physician was surprised to learn that what they needed most was in fact laundry, and she now comes to the hotel 3 times each week to collect evacuees’ dirty clothing and take it home to be washed.We also had the privilege to meet Yonatan, a 24-year-old IDF paratrooper who was shot in the leg on October 7. He was recovering from his wounds and had taken on the role of training new recruits for his combat unit until he can return to the front lines. In our discussion with Yonatan, he shared his hopes for a post-war Israel. “For the last several years, we have taken Eretz Yisrael for granted. Now there will be a generation who has put their lives on the line and who will help lead us to the next level and no longer take our beloved country for granted.” Such wisdom and extraordinary insight.It is hard to believe that when I last traveled to Israel in May as Chief Program Officer beginning a transition to CEO, the country was engaged in a deep civic debate for its democratic character. Fast forward five months, and the country now finds itself fighting for its very survival. October 7 will forever be an indelible moment of world history. But as Jews, we dig deeper than just an accounting of events that happened to someone at some point in time. We treasure and preserve memories – stories of the past internalized and incorporated into who we are. Stories are often referred to as the lifeblood of the Jewish people and they are relied upon to preserve instances of great success as well as of grave catastrophe and shine a light on the possibilities of a new reality. As we enjoy the company of loved ones for both Thanksgiving and Shabbat, may these stories of devastation, innovation and inspiration demonstrate the strength and resolve of the State of Israel, and may we all be moved to work together in creating a stronger and more resilient future for generations to come.

Wishing your families a Shabbat shalom,

Jason


November 17, 2023

With Jason in Israel this week as a part of a JCC Association solidarity mission, he asked the group of JCC bus co-captains who attended the March for Israel rally in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to reflect on their experience. This national grass roots effort was organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations of which JCC Association is an active partner.

Over 290,000 people marched peacefully and empathically in-person for Israel and over 250,000 tuned in online, an opportunity for all Americans to come together in solidarity with the people of Israel, to demonstrate our commitment to America’s most important ally in the Middle East, to condemn the rising trend of antisemitic violence and harassment, and to demand that every hostage be immediately and safely released. This was the LARGEST gathering ever in American Jewish history, with many friends and allies in attendance from outside the Jewish community.

Hundreds of Pittsburghers attended in person, led by a 10 bus caravan organized by Federation and supported by a number of JCC staff members. I had the privilege of co-captaining one of the South Hills buses and the power of travelling together as a community from throughout our metropolitan region was palpable – young and old, observant and secular, city and suburban.

Rabbi Amy Greenbaum led our bus in a brief prayer written especially for this occasion by Rabbi Evan Schultz…

 

I arise today

in the name of hope and peace.

I am blessed and I am ready,

I am here and I am present.

 

I carry today

those who sat along the

rivers of Babylon,

who prayed to return home,

who longed to dance

in the streets of Jerusalem.

 

I stand today

for the pioneers

and for the soldiers,

for the hostages young and old,

for all those who mourn and grieve.

I march today

for my people Israel,

for my children and

for my grandparents,

for our safety and for our future.

I pray today

for more compassion,

for a world yet to be,

for generations yet to be,

for a world redeemed.

 

I place myself today

on the arc of history,

in our nation’s capitol.

I stand as an American,

as Israel, as a Jew.

 

May I have the courage

to march peacefully,

stand proudly,

pray softly,

and sing with fullness of heart.

 

May we swiftly bring them home,

and may all God’s sacred beings,

one day know wholeness and peace.

 

Here are a few observations from some of our fellow JCC staff members who also served as bus co-captains.

“I haven’t been to Israel… yet. I didn’t know what would make me feel more connected, but I didn’t expect it to be singing both Hatikvah and Matisyahu’s ‘One Day’ on the National Mall alongside Two Hundred and Ninety Thousand of my friends. I didn’t think it would affect me the way it did to see people praying on the bus I staffed or to fall into the arms of familiar faces hundreds of miles away from where we both live, or to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jews from every walk of life. So while I haven’t been to Israel yet, I am certain now, in a way that I wasn’t before, that I will.“ – Jennifer Goldston

“It’s impossible to pick a highlight from a day that was full of them. Being in a space, with hundreds of thousands of Jews and supporters of Israel is something I’ll never forget. Singing Hatikvah – perhaps the most emotional Hatikvah I’ve ever sang – is a memory I will cherish forever, all while sharing the entire day with my family. The entire experience – from the singing on the bus, as we approached Washington, DC, to marching together towards our nation’s capital, to listening, cheering, is one that I will be forever grateful for having the opportunity to experience. Not to mention how proud I was to stand with Israel, and my Pittsburgh community, while speaking out against antisemitism, and for the safe return of all the hostages.” -Aaron Cantor

“To be a part of this historical experience in community with hundreds of Pittsburghers and hundreds of thousands of community members from around the country was an incredibly meaningful, powerful experience that I will never forget.” – Rachael Speck

“I knew the day was going to be special when I saw a group of young women Israeli dancing and an Orthodox man davening behind the bus in the parking lot in Breezewood. I had no idea how moving it would be until I ascended the escalator from the DC metro and entered a massive crowd of Jews of all ages, backgrounds, colors, shapes and sizes, all with one purpose…to stand with Israel! The signs, flags, t-shirts, capes and other symbols of support for our homeland were overwhelmingly powerful. Of course, hearing the parents of several hostages pleading with us to not forget about their loved ones in captivity and singing Hatikvah with over 300,000 was chilling, to say the least. It was my honor, privilege and obligation to be a part of the March for Israel.” – Teddi Horvitz

For me, this march brought me back to my earliest days as a Jewish communal professional. As a young practitioner in Baltimore, I was tasked as one of the organizers of bus transportation for the 1987 Free Soviet Jewry rally in D.C. Seeing a quarter of a million people come together for one purpose left a profound mark on me and propelled me into this field. 36 years later, I was even more deeply moved by the sheer numbers, the sense of purpose, and grateful to express the First Amendment right to lawfully and peacefully gather as an indelible part of the American civic fabric. The events in the Middle East are far from settled and the challenges are great, but it was truly amazing to see so many people who genuinely care and were able to gather in less than a week’s notice for a cause so many of us hold so dear.

I look forward to Jason’s safe return next week and his message to all of you on his experience in Israel.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat Shalom,
Brian


November 10, 2023

One of the seminal moments when I interviewed to join the JCC back in 2016 was when a Board member said, “The JCC is finally in a position where we can afford to take risks.” Having come directly out of the startup world where I was part of a health information technology company that had developed an algorithm to predict the likelihood that a patient would be adherent to their chronic disease medications, this proclamation was music to my ears. Was it possible that a 121-year-old legacy institution within the Pittsburgh Jewish community could come close to replicating the dynamic environment of a venture-backed startup where learning opportunities were plentiful, and the staff thrived in thinking outside of the box and were deeply invested in the company’s mission? Nearly seven years into my tenure with the JCC, I can say with absolute certainty that the answer to this question is a resounding YES!

The JCC established the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement (CFLK) in 2017 to strategically counter the uptick in polarizing rhetoric and societal trends through strengthening the fabric of the community and to amplify the long-held values of “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds.” Our vision was to redefine “neighbor” from a geographic term to a moral concept, and it was the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA that ultimately provided the spark to launch this bold, new initiative. And after six years of intentional community work, convening thousands of people through an array of activities and developing an insatiable appetite for learning from others, our Advisory Board came together this week to reflect on the initiative’s life cycle and contemplate what CFLK v.2.0 might look like.

The summer of 2017 and the first nine months of 2018 clearly represented CFLK’s startup phase. We spent our time meeting people to recruit our army of champions against hate and coming up with new and creative ways to explicitly demonstrate our values. There weren’t a lot of formal processes behind our work and staff wore many hats – program developer, community organizer, communications specialist and event planner. It was a mad scramble to gain relevance and credibility within the community and we chose to focus on gaining traction within the local interfaith network. Research indicates that although it’s an exciting time, the startup phase is where most businesses fail due to funding demands, difficulty retaining key staff and employee burnout. Thankfully, that was not the case for CFLK.

The aftermath of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting helped transition CFLK into its growth phase. Given the work performed over the preceding number of months, our interfaith colleagues rallied around the Jewish community in response to the worst act of anti-Semitism in U.S. history. The global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd provided additional opportunities for allyship, and our volunteerism efforts really took off as people were looking to connect and to give back. It was also at this time when the Sofa Spirituality model was born and a Zoom format offered holy and safe places to connect and encouraged exploration of diversity of faith traditions across a national audience.

Emerging out of the pandemic, CFLK achieved organizational maturity. With a steady schedule of programming, including High Holidays of Hope, creative Passover seders and a variety of weekly educational sessions on AgeWell’s Virtual Senior Academy, CFLK had strong brand recognition. Staff was often called upon to provide guidance and perspective on important topics such as community policing and to mobilize squads of volunteers in support of issues such as active participation in government and addressing food insecurity. Overall operations were stable, and inroads had finally been made with local government officials.

But then our founding Director, Rabbi Ron Symons, announced he was leaving at the end of June 2024, and it was decision time. Should we pack up and claim victory or should we renew and recommit. Our hypothesis to renew was confirmed across more than 40 key informant interviews and this past Monday night, staff presented our Advisory Board with a plan to narrow and deepen our focus on BREAKING DOWN DIVIDES. We proposed that our prescription for success should remain constant – We build community connectivity, ignite people of good will to action, we open hearts and minds, and bring people together in new or enhanced relationships. Our theory of change is that by intentionally inviting people into the full exploration of the totality of community we can better educate and inform attitudes; changed attitudes often leads to changed behaviors, especially around identity-based hate such as anti-Semitism. As our one-time startup makes yet another transition, I look forward to sharing more with you on CFLK’s continued evolution over the coming months.

In the meantime, I leave next Monday evening for a solidarity mission to Israel with a small group of fellow JCC executives. Our planned itinerary includes witnessing firsthand the atrocities committed by Hamas as well as the resilience of those communities most directly impacted, meetings with the Israel Assembly of Community Centers, conversations with soldiers and families of those kidnapped and a number of volunteer opportunities. I expect this trip to be a life-changing experience, and I am committed to bring back the sights and sounds of horror, strength, cohesion and hope that I will undoubtedly be exposed to along my journey.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

Jason


November 3, 2023

With our Harry B. Davis Clinic having kicked off last weekend in collaboration with our new partners from Run the Show and Little Champs Super Hoopers set to begin in both Squirrel Hill and the South Hills on Sunday, it is hard not to get excited about the dribbling, 3-pointers, fast breaks and tough defense that will be filling our gymnasiums between now and the first week in March 2024! Basketball has been a unifying force within our community for many years, fostering a sense of camaraderie and belonging that is at the heart of our JCC’s mission.

Physical Fitness: JCC basketball promotes physical well-being and encourages an active lifestyle. It helps our community members stay fit, improve their cardiovascular health and develop essential athletic skills.

Team Building: JCC basketball teaches the value of teamwork, cooperation, and sportsmanship. Our coaches and instructors emphasize the importance of working together, learning from both victories and defeats, and growing as individuals.

Inclusivity: Basketball is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of all skill levels, making it accessible to everyone. From our youth clinics to high school travel leagues to adult pick-up games, JCC basketball provides a platform for individuals of various ages and abilities to participate and bond over a shared love for the game.

Universal Values: Through JCC basketball, we can instill values such as respect, fairness, and integrity in our youth. Coaches and instructors use the sport as a means to teach life skills and guide our youngest citizens toward becoming responsible and ethical members of the community.

Pay it Forward: A large percentage of our coaches were participants themselves in many of the JCC’s basketball programs. They recognize that acts of kindness build exponentially in a community and that one good deed deserves another. Giving back to the players they work with, just as their coaches did when they were growing up, has the potential to make the world a better place.

There really is nothing like JCC basketball that connects people, fuels friendly competition, and serves as a platform for personal growth. It’s just what the doctor ordered in response to colder temperatures and shorter days during the fall and winter months. I look forward to sharing many basketball memories with each of you this season as we watch our members – young and old – carry on one of the JCC’s most vibrant traditions.


October 27, 2023

As we commemorate the 2018 synagogue shooting today, we are all doing our part to honor the past and prepare ourselves and our community for the future. We come together, with intention and with care, to pray, act in service, and gather for remembrance. There is no wrong time to join in community, to gain insight, and to seek support. Healing is not always consistent; many of us wish it could be a straight line, a graph that begins at trauma and ends in closure and full healing, but very few things in life follow that trajectory. We all feel and address the impacts of Oct. 27th at different times and in different ways. These differences may be challenging, but it also awakens our curiosity and empathy. What ways of healing have been sacred and significant for people in the last five years that we do not even know about? In what ways can we seek belonging, connection, and togetherness that are just now beginning to come forward? While our differences can be complicated, we believe that through community we build resiliency into the future. The more we understand and process the events of our past, the more we can understand how to face the events of our present and future.

Commemoration is a difficult time, but it also brings with it possibility. It is an opportunity to add to our story, to plant some of those bulbs that may not flower until spring. Commemoration must be the vessel for so much, for grief and trauma, but also for memories of joy and love. It grants us a moment to decide what our story will continue to be, in the next year and in the future.
In commemoration, as in all of the year, we center the lives and the families of the eleven people who were killed on October 27, 2018.

We remember Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Dan Stein, Irving Younger, and Melvin Wax. May their memories be for a blessing.

The 2023 Commemoration Ceremony will take place on Oct. 27th at 3pm in Prospect Drive in Schenley Park. All are welcome. Learn more here. In the morning of October 27th, we will be hosting virtual Torah Study with teachers from around the world. Registration is required for these sessions, which span from “Human Vulnerability and the Covenant of Choice,” “Israeli Popular Music Tackles Tough Times,” to “What Do We Do About Joy When the World Hurts So Much?” Learn more and register here.

All are welcome to join us at the JCC to honor the yahrzeit on 18 Cheshvan (Nov. 1st) at 7pm with in-person Torah Study. The program includes music, poetry, and reflections on the Talmud, Daf Yomi, and wisdom on healing found in the Torah. Learn more and register here.
On October 29th we will continue to remember through volunteering and service. These opportunities, organized by Repair the World Pittsburgh and located across a collection of service sites, seek to bring us together as a community and honor the memories of those who were taken. The eleven people killed on Oct. 27th led deep and rich lives, and we remember their ideals, characters, and values through service. Learn more and register here.

In community,
Maggie Feinstein, Director, 10.27 Healing Partnership
Emery Malachowski, Community Coordinator, 10.27 Healing Partnership


October 20, 2023

As the eyes of Pittsburgh and the rest of the world remained focused on the situation in and around Israel this past week, I continued to struggle with how best to support our Israeli family, friends and loved ones who are embroiled in the most horrific situation possible. I found myself searching for the right words to express my anger, my sadness, my sense of loss, but nothing felt quite right. I wandered my way through the work week, bouncing from place to place and from meeting to meeting, not at all feeling at the top of my game. But as we head into Shabbat, a time for rest and reflection, it has become clear how I and our community have in fact been explicitly supporting Israel at this most critical time in her history.

On Tuesday evening, the JCC’s Jewish teen engagement program, The Second Floor, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, hosted a Teen Philanthropy Pop-Up Session, where participants helped decide which charity in Israel would receive a donation. Beyond just the money itself, a critical component of the experience was that the teens were taught about Tikkun Olam (repair the world), they were led in a process on how to assess needs and they were encouraged to identify what mattered most to them. While only a snippet of the full-blown Samuel M. Goldston Teen Engagement Program scheduled to take place in January-March 2024, this was an important opportunity to direct the concern and compassion of our local teens into swift, meaningful action on behalf of Israel.

And looking forward to this Sunday, October 22, I want to draw your attention to a few additional opportunities for you to support Israel and the values and ideals it stands for. First, the 10.27 Healing Partnership, in collaboration with Repair the World, is hosting a number of commemorative service projects specifically chosen and curated because of their significance to those who were killed on October 27, 2018 and their families. There will also be an opening reception for Violins and Hope – From Holocaust to Symphony Hall, an exhibit of 43 photographs by Daniel Levin which chronicle the work of Amnon Weinstein, the violin maker and restorer responsible for the discovery and repair of the instruments making up the Violins of Hope collection. Finally, following our quarterly DEKA fitness competition, the South Hills JCC will be hosting a Fall Fest that will include a full suite of family activities designed to celebrate and build community, including card writing to those in Israel who are impacted by the war.

The updates from Israel remain deeply distressing, and while things are likely to get worse before they get better, I want to encourage you that there is much we can do for Israel no matter how far we might be from the conflict geographically. By working locally to build a just and sacred community, hand in hand with our neighbors, we build a spiritual defense shield for Israel that will help them through these most challenging and dangerous times. Continuing to gather in community as we did last night for the Jewish Federation’s Vigil for Israel makes a difference. Our collective acts and deeds of loving kindness, reflection and remembrance are felt across the miles and have the power to lift up an entire nation.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

Jason


October 13, 2023

Like many of you, I am deeply immersed in the horrific news coming out of Israel.  This past week feels like it has been an entire year of horror. No matter how much I try to not watch the news, I am drawn to it to bear witness to the stories of our people, our neighbors, who have been forced to confront the worst inclinations that humans have to offer. And so the cycle begins – the need to know followed by the immense sense of loss and despair and the fear that we are ever so close to the point of no return. I must confess, though, that here at the JCC, at a moment’s notice, I have access to the greatest force against such anguish and hopelessness. Something more powerful than hate. Something more powerful than greed and ruthlessness. Something more powerful than the disregard for humanity. That force is the JCC’s middle name, and it is COMMUNITY. Our neighbors in Karmiel/Misgav are a part of our community. The 9th and 10th grade Israeli campers who come to EKC each summer are a part of our community. The many Israeli counselors who come to our day and overnight camps are part of our community. Shinshinim, 18-year-old emissaries from Israel who spend a full year here in Pittsburgh, are a part of our community. The 20 Israeli teenagers who each year study leadership, tikkun olam and peoplehood in partnership with our local Diller cohort are a part of our community. The Partnership2Gether professional staff and lay leadership in both Pittsburgh and across Karmiel and Misgav who work with the JCC to bridge the geographic divide are a part of our community. Israelis who live here in Pittsburgh adding to our collective sense of Jewish peoplehood are part of our community. Our EKC Staff-in-Training and Pittsburgh Diller Teen Fellows who have traveled to Israel are a part of our community. Those who come to the JCC every Sunday afternoon for Israeli dance are a part of our community. We also stand in community with our partners at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Jewish Federations of North America and the JCC Association in their coordinated Emergency Israel Relief Fund. This is what our community is all about, not just horrific stories on the news and not just heart wrenching posts on social media. All of us connecting with one another because of our shared history, our common destiny and the community we are building together every day of the year. And through it all, the JCC remains open to meet an ever-evolving set of needs during these difficult times for the sake of maintaining connection and community. And in 2022, our community warmly embraced Yisrael Klitzner, Former Diaspora Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel, his wife Laurie and their four young children. Since their arrival approximately 18 months ago, I have had the honor and privilege to get to know this wonderful family, and Yisrael has even become a regular member of my Shabbat morning walking group where we look forward to hearing his insight on Israeli and world affairs. I happened to be with Yisrael last Shabbat when news of the unprovoked attack against Israel first came to light. I will never forget the pain and anguish on his face and the passion and conviction with which he spoke about needing to return to Israel and taking up the fight. This past Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before Yisrael was scheduled to leave his family and eventually rejoin his comrades in the Israeli Defense Force, he led a special educational opportunity at the JCC (click here to view the recording of the program) for more than 150 people who came to hear his perspective on the situation in Israel. Yisrael described his time in the Israeli military and the countless missions he participated in to prevent assaults from terrorist organizations. He talked about the geopolitical landscape across the Middle East, and he painted a clear picture as to the need for Israel’s swift and strong response in the face of its greatest challenge to date. Following his remarks, Yisrael took questions from the audience, which ranged in topics from failed intelligence to military strategy. He left it all on the field. He participated in community in the most selfless way possible. How he was able to be so present and so composed and to give of himself at a time of such incredible sorrow and uncertainty – I will never know. A committed scholar. A true hero. The consummate mensch.

The Pittsburgh Jewish community stands with Yisrael, and we stand with his wife Laurie and their children. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue Yisrael and the entire IDF from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor. Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom. May there be better days ahead.Jason


October 8, 2023

The JCC is concerned and deeply saddened by the recent series of attacks against Israel. Such unprovoked acts of violence bring suffering and pain to innocent people, and they undermine the prospects for peace and stability in the region. Our thoughts are with the victims, their families and all those affected by this tragic sequence of events. We send wishes for strength and comfort to the people of Israel and reiterate our unwavering support for Israel’s right to exist as an independent democratic Jewish state.

From The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh:
“On behalf of the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community, we at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh unequivocally condemn this terrorist attack. As a community all too familiar with terrorism, our hearts and prayers are with the families who lost loved ones, those who were the victims of terrorism, and the nearly ten million people facing unprovoked, violent attacks by sea, air and land.” Read More HERE

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has organized a community rally in support of Israel at the JCC in Squirrel Hill this evening, October 8, 8:30pm. The rally will take place in Levinson Hall and we ask all guests to enter via the doors on Darlington Road. We Stand with Israel Rally 

To help Israelis suffering from this unprecedented attack, please click HERE to access the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s emergency campaign.


October 6, 2023

Back in 2013, teachers and administrators from a diverse array of New York City Jewish Day Schools participating in the inaugural year of the Day School Collaboration Network (DSCN) confirmed that radical collaboration was an approach that should be vigorously pursued within the Jewish community. Embracing the theory that creativity and innovation emerge when you put people together who do not normally collaborate and empower them to identify and tackle deep-seated issues, DSCN found that its application of radical collaboration resulted in substantive systemic and programmatic improvements within their schools.

This past week, the JCC found itself at the heart of two very distinct examples of radical collaboration, and in both cases, the result was enhanced community well-being and deeper social cohesion.

Over the last 18 months or so, the JCC has partnered with Kesser Torah to provide a warm and welcoming space for the congregation to conduct its Shabbat and holiday services. After exploring alternate locations for Sukkot this year, Kesser Torah decided that they would in fact stay at the JCC and asked for creative solutions related to its need for a sukkah large enough to accommodate its entire congregation. After toying with the idea for a drive-thru sukkah (maybe that will be in the cards for next year!), we reached out to our good friend and close colleague Pearl Averbach at Harry and Janette Weinberg Terrace and asked if she would be interested in making their outdoor patio available to Kesser Torah. Pearl immediately agreed to open her facility and arrangements were made not only for Weinberg’s residents to have access to the sukkah but for residents to also have a customized Sukkot experience with Kesser Torah’s rabbinic leader, Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum. The generous invitation by Weinberg Terrace and the Jewish Association on Aging was quickly accepted and Kesser Torah deployed its congregants to build their sukkah well in advance of the start of the holiday.

This past Tuesday, JPro Pittsburgh hosted its 2023/24 kick-off event at the JCC. Wendy Verba from Belonging by Design facilitated the session and explained what belonging is and is not and how to build a culture of belonging within our organizations. The meeting included a series of design sprints where participants put the belonging principles Wendy shared to use while considering everyday scenarios common across the Jewish professional network. While the 45 attendees from 13 different organizations benefited greatly from the content delivered, it is truly the broader community who will benefit most from this collaborative effort of professional development. As we strive to develop a culture of belonging within each of our respective organizations, we know that our collective impact will be amplified when our colleagues are more likely to stay actively engaged in their work, take initiative in identifying opportunities for improvement, collaborate on how best to move projects forward and give more of themselves. All of this ultimately positions our community for long-term success and prosperity.

The power of leveraging community assets – both capital and human – lies in their collective potential to improve a community’s overall quality of life and to address various societal challenges. Radical collaboration is the key to unlocking these benefits and ensuring that our institutions uphold their commitment to serve an ever changing and diverse set of needs and to create the Jewish community we all envision.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom and Chag sameach,

Jason


September 29, 2023

Our JCC has been working locally to eradicate hate ever since 1895 when the Council of Jewish Women founded the Columbian School and Settlement in Pittsburgh’s Hill District to assist thousands of Jews who had immigrated from their native lands in Eastern Europe to escape persecution and the lack of economic opportunity. In 1909, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kaufmann donated a building, equipment and money, as a memorial to their daughter, Irene, and the agency then became known as the Irene Kaufmann Settlement helping immigrants adjust to their lives in America. The staff trained them to work and helped them to find jobs. Children and families benefited from new playgrounds, a “Milk Well” program to purchase affordable milk, a “Better Baby” healthcare clinic and a place to “escape” during the summers called Emma Farm, now known as Emma Kaufmann Camp. Way back when, we eradicated hate by helping neighbors live in harmony with each other.

This week, as we have been doing for the past three years, our JCC is working globally to eradicate hate.  Maggie Feinstein of the 10.27 Healing Partnership, Bill Isler of the JCC Board and Center for Loving Kindness Advisory Committee, and I are attending the third annual Eradicate Hate Global Summit.  Born out of the October 2018 synagogue shooting, the Global Summit provides a unique and inclusive forum to share ideas and build working relationships to drive the development and deployment of effective and sustainable approaches to reduce hate-fueled violence.

For our part, Maggie, Bill and I are involved in two working groups. The first is an effort to bring the documentary Repairing the World: Stories from The Tree of Life to public school districts and communities across our region so that our neighbors can be inspired to repair our world by digging in deep to our story of unfortunate antisemitism and hate. The second is a dream to create a multidisciplinary response team across the region so that victims of hate and bias will have a supportive network of counselors, law enforcement, educators, spiritual leaders, and others to help them on their journey and to materially change the trajectory of hate and bias in our region.

Our work over the last six years through the Center for Loving Kindness has taught us that eradicating hate at the local level is really all about redefining the word “neighbor” from a geographic term to a moral concept. That is why we recently celebrated the reconciliation relationship of Leon Ford (who was shot and subsequently paralyzed by the Pittsburgh Police in an incident of mistaken identity) and former Pittsburgh Chief of Police Scott Schubert at our Yom Kippur High Holidays of Hope. They modelled for us how even with the challenges we face along our respective journeys, the path forward must be approached hand-in-hand, sometimes with the most unlikely of partners.

Imagine what the rest of us can do in combatting hate of all kinds if we are willing to engage in this kind of neighbor-to-neighbor work and conversation.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom and Chag Sukkot sameach,

Rabbi Ron Symons

Senior Director of Jewish Life & Founding Director of JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness


September 22, 2023

For Rosh Hashana, the Conservative Jewish movement called upon its rabbis to make mention of Rabbi Harold Kushner (z”l) in each of their sermons over the New Year holiday. As many of you might recall, Rabbi Kushner, one of the most influential congregational rabbis of the 20th century whose works of popular theology extended well beyond the walls of the synagogue, passed away in April of this year. Perhaps best known for his book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Kushner first served as a military chaplain in Oklahoma, assumed his first pulpit as an assistant rabbi in Great Neck, New York in 1962 and moved to Natick, MA in 1966 to become the congregational rabbi at Temple Israel, where he served in that role for 24 years.

My wife Dana grew up at Temple Israel with Rabbi Kushner at the helm. She would often share stories about her days at Solomon Schechter in Newton, MA growing up with his children, Aaron and Ariel, and the commanding presence he had on the bimah. After his retirement from the pulpit, Rabbi Kushner not only maintained his membership at Temple Israel, but he also helped lead High Holiday services for many years. Going back to Massachusetts for Rosh Hashana each year, Dana and I had the good fortune to hear a number of Rabbi Kushner’s compelling sermons. Each one was better than the one before and without fail, each sermon explored a dimension of Judaism in a way that touched the hearts and souls of everyone in attendance.

Between the first and second days of Rosh Hashana this year after Temple Israel’s Rabbi Raysh Weiss did in fact make mention of Rabbi Kushner in her sermon, I found myself recalling Rabbi Kushner’s 2012 sermon during which he spoke about the importance of intentionality in our day to day lives and with many of our Jewish rituals and customs. He spoke about the origins of Jewish dietary laws, for example, and quickly dispelled the misconception that the system of keeping kosher derives “from some obsolete ideas about what foods or combination of foods are unhealthy in hot climates.” Instead, he explained, “They are an effort to take something we share with the animals, the need to eat every day, and elevate it above the animal level by imposing choice on instinct. That is what holiness means for humans, imposing choice on instinct, in a way that no other living creature can do.” He then discussed Shabbat saying, “This Friday will be the autumnal equinox, twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. After that, days will gradually get shorter, and the sun will set earlier without our having to do anything to make it happen. It’s automatic. That’s Nature. But the day after Friday won’t be Shabbat unless we turn it into Shabbat, unless we light candles and spend the day differently. We have that power.”

During our new Board member orientation earlier this week, I was asked about why I thought our recovery in membership following the darkest days of the pandemic had outpaced initial projections from back in March 2022. Behind the three answers I gave was that word again – intentionality. At its core, intentionality is the practice of being deliberate and purposeful in your thoughts, actions and decisions, and when applied to community service, intentionality can have a profound positive impact on improving situations. The good news is that not only has our performance in membership benefitted from a well thought through and comprehensive strategy of putting the customer at the center of everything we do, but so has our performance in other key areas of the JCC, including, but not limited to, Jewish engagement and day and overnight camping. I am excited to share that in partnership with 5 local congregations, our JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness Start the New Year with a Mitzvah experience surpassed its goal of 1,000 care bags by 20% and we are already nearing capacity for Summer 2024 at EKC, J&R Day Camp and South Hills Day Camp – and that’s with day camp registration only having been open for 10 days! Driving this most recent success is, without question, our renewed commitment to excellence and intentionally curating experiences that meet emerging needs for connection, wellness and community.

Intentionality empowers our JCC staff to be accountable for the outcomes of their work, to make purposeful choices and to navigate daily challenges more effectively. By practicing intentionality, individuals can move closer to their goals, create a more fulfilling and meaningful existence and as Rabbi Kushner said in his 2012 sermon, “bring holiness into the world and to model holiness for others.”

May you all be inscribed in the book of life and, for those who celebrate, have a meaningful fast.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

Jason


September 15, 2023

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” —Andy WarholOrganizations often find it difficult to change for several reasons, which can vary depending on the specific organization and its context. Some of the most common hurdles to change include, but are certainly not limited to, cultural inertia, rigid organizational structures, aversion to risk, lack of employee engagement and perceived time constraints. However, at the JCC, you might think that one of the C’s in our name stands for “Change” given our longstanding record of overcoming and adapting.

Take for example our senior center pilot in the South Hills, which launched in February 2023 and is funded by the Jack Buncher Foundation to better meet the needs of older adults in the local community. Through AgeWell at the South Hills, we have grown to provide the area’s only kosher grab-and-go and congregate meals 3 times per week as well as a number of activities and clubs that match the interests of our members and mitigate the risk of social isolation. One recent experience, though, really speaks to the value of trying new things and meeting audiences where they are. In recognition of National Grandparents Day, AgeWell at the South Hills hosted an intergenerational program for older adults and their grandchildren. Despite concerns over children within our early childhood center having to be picked up from school and then return to the JCC, nearly 30 grandparents and their grandchildren gathered Monday evening for a slew of activities that included line dancing, arts & crafts, games, puzzles and of course ice cream BEFORE dinner! Kudos to our AgeWell team for dreaming in color and not letting logistics get in the way of harnessing connections across the generations and building stronger families!

And then there is our High Holidays of Hope. Six years ago, we dedicated ourselves to providing a different type of high holiday experience than what is traditionally offered throughout the community. That experience, in and of itself, was a decision to change the way that we celebrate the holidays. Based on the data of the 2017 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, we began to offer something different to meet the needs of members of the Jewish community who do not go to synagogue on the high holidays (50% according to the study), those who want something supplemental to synagogue services, and the non-Jewish community who wants to be in Jewish space on the high holidays (who now represent 25% of our attendees).

Through the years, we have continued to offer High Holidays of Hope as an adult-centric, intellectual experience only in Squirrel Hill. Despite the success of this approach, this year marks another change in our ongoing efforts to meet the needs of the community.  While still offering an adult-centric Yom Kippur High Holidays of Hope, including a contemporary yizkor/memorial service, we are offering a more active community experience on Rosh Hashanah that is accessible to every age in both Squirrel Hill and the South Hills. Our Start the New Year with a Mitzvah is built on the threefold concept of what these high holidays are all about. Jewish wisdom teaches us that we can impact our fate in the Book of Life through three actions: prayer, repentance and charity. When you scan the offerings in our community, it is easy to find places to pray on Rosh Hashanah. We also know that so many of us are introspective at this season. However, no where in our community, other than at the JCCs in Squirrel Hill and South Hills, can you come together on Rosh Hashanah to engage in charity as a whole community no matter your age.

Change can be hard, but with commitment and the right approach, such as a data informed vision of community and partnering with five congregations (Beth-El CongregationKesher PittsburghRodef ShalomTemple Emanuel and Temple Sinai), organizations and communities can overcome obstacles and evolve to meet new challenges and opportunities.

Shabbat shalom and l’shana tova. Wishing you and your families the best this new year has to offer.

Jason


September 10, 2023

The advancement of the civic, intellectual and social welfare of the surrounding community. 
Encouraging self-improvement.

The modern-day Jewish Community Center was built on these core principles. Through the years, they provided us direction and purpose in creating job placement services for new arrivals to the Pittsburgh region, a variety of healthcare services for vulnerable populations, a summertime escape from the rigors of city life now known as Emma Kaufmann Campthe Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagementthe 10.27 Healing Partnership and countless other programs and services designed to improve the quality of life for individuals and the community.These principles are meaningful to me, both personally and professionally. As local residents for 16 of the last 22 years, my family and I have benefited greatly from the JCC’s vision and commitment to service and its focus on, as the organization’s mission statement reads, “nurturing people” and “connecting community.”So, it is with a sense of gratitude and humility that I take on the responsibility of leading the JCC into the future. Drawing upon those who have come before me, most notably my friend and colleague Brian Schreiber, and all that has been accomplished along the way, I look forward to bringing my passion and determination to expand and deepen the agency’s reach and impact as we take on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

As is typically the case, this transition in leadership provides a unique opportunity for us to harness our organizational curiosity and ask questions that allow us to redefine what is possible for our constituents, the JCC staff and the broader Jewish community.Through a process of listening, learning and leading, I will help chart a path forward in our relentless pursuit of excellence to better meet needs related to health, wellness, safety and connection while ensuring a stronger and more resilient future for all.I commit to listen to my team at the JCC – both staff and our Board – as well as colleagues from across the community to expose ourselves to different perspectives and avoid the pitfalls of believing there is only one way to solve a problem. Our values can only be strengthened, and our reach magnified through collaboration and better appreciating one another’s perspectives.In this interconnected world, we will embrace the opportunity to learn from anyone, from anywhere breaking down the echo chambers of “the usual suspects” and standard sources of information which we typically rely upon. This is the way we will truly accelerate the meaningful process of initiating positive change.Leadership requires both a commitment to excellence as well as harnessing the courage and strength to seek out and expose ourselves to topics and circumstances in which dialogue and action are necessary. This will be critical in the agency’s role to challenge the status quo and foster a sense of collective ownership and accountability across our community while staying rooted in what we hold most dear about the JCC.

Over the coming weeks and months, I look forward to listeninglearning and
leading as we begin our 129th year of service. The JCC will continue to sharpen its vision for how tomorrow can be better than today and strive for greater impact, raising an already high bar. We will expand our partnerships to take on longstanding and complicated issues while also maintaining the highest standards of quality in the programs and experiences we deliver each and every day. Arm-in-arm with our staff, we will further our organizational culture of collaboration, creativity and continuous learning and aim to make the JCC one of very the best places to work throughout the Pittsburgh region!
Building community, innovating, pushing boundaries, investing in and activating talent, taking risks and collaborating have been in our organizational DNA since 1895. I look forward to co-authoring the next chapter of the JCC’s storied history with each of you.Thanks for believing in the magic and the promise of our beloved agency. Together, we are going to achieve great things.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

Jason

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