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JCC State of Mind – April 26, 2024

Posted by Admin on April 26, 2024

There are three things that I love most about Passover – the intentionality with which the food comes together, the unique ways each of us has in telling the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt and how the story is integrated with family traditions and gathering with loved ones around the table. But now with the holiday in full swing and the ceremonial meals behind us, I want to share with you how we began to celebrate the Passover season here at the JCC just days before the first seder.

For the second year in a row, our Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement hosted our Passover Tapas and Wine: Bringing Pittsburghers Together with Matzah and Loving Kindness. We packed Levinson Hall with 175 neighbors from all across the community. Our goal was simple: to allow the customs of the Passover seder to speak to the challenges that we face in our world today. In order to do that, we invited Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, Amachi President and JCC Board member Anna Hollis Kander, and the Reverend Canon Natalie Hall of Church of the Redeemer to share their thoughts about the realities of Pittsburgh in light of the promise of Passover. They shared from a dais and then we threw the questions out to the tables for neighbors to talk about. We were very grateful to present this program in partnership with Temple Sinai and Rodef Shalom, as we invited Rabbis Dan Fellman and Sharyn Henry to join with our Rabbi Ron Symons in leading the evening.

For her part, Sara Innamorato connected the four promises offered in the book of Exodus that God made to the people of Israel with her recently published 91-point action plan detailing how she and her administration plan to influence Allegheny County residents for good. When it came to speaking about perennial Jew-hatred, racism, and bigotry, Anna Hollis Kander told the parable of a pastor, a rabbi, and an imam all trying to save someone in a river by throwing their own rope, each of which was too short to reach the person drowning. She then told us how it was a woman who came along and took all three of those short ropes and tied them together into one rope long enough to save the person from drowning. Anna told the parable in the context of how it takes all of us coming together around a community Passover table in order to make sure that no one of our neighbors “drowns” through the present day challenges. Reverend Hall reminded us that the only way to improve our lot in life, the only way to make it through the sea and the desert, is to make sure that we know each other in the way that we could when we break bread, the bread of affliction, together. She commented about how special it was to walk into any house of worship in the neighborhood and not only be welcomed but also know people there and be known by them. She challenged us to extend this truth of knowing our neighbors across our broader networks instead of just within our respective smaller circles.

Each of these three messages is an essential part of how it is that we are trying to strengthen 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 also redefining the word neighbor from a geographic term to a moral concept. We have been doing this work in its current form ever since 2017 when we began the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement, knowing that our JCC has been doing this work ever since the days of the Irene Kaufmann Settlement back in 1895.

The proof is in the Passover pudding as reflected through some of our survey results:

“I like the effort of reaching across ethnic and cultural differences to create a unified greater community that honors everyone.”

“Fortunate enough for this to be my second time at this beautiful event. I can happily say it was just as moving as the last. I love Pittsburgh and this community. I appreciate the JCC for continuing to create an inclusive atmosphere full of collaboration, camaraderie, and love.”

We do live in very challenging times, not just for the Jewish people, but for so many of our neighbors as well. Here at the JCC, through programs such as Passover Tapas and Wine along with the daily interactions we enjoy with the community, we are doubling down on loving kindness and the promise of freedom for all our neighbors. That is our JCC State of Mind.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom and all the best that Passover has to offer.



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