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JCC State of Mind – February 16, 2024

Posted by Admin on February 16, 2024

Last week I attended the JCCA’s annual Mifgash conference in Denver, Colorado and had the opportunity to gather with more than 140 JCC leaders from across North America to think and learn collaboratively about the unique interests and priorities of our respective JCCs and the broader JCC Movement in today’s world. Having been on the job for a whopping five months, I arrived with the typical conference checklist in hand: network and build connections, assemble a few sound bites from the speakers and showcase what we have going on in Pittsburgh. What I left with, though, was far greater than I could have ever imagined, and I was reminded of one of the key takeaways from my November solidarity trip to Israel – gam v’gam (both this and that). I left Denver with BOTH a deeper appreciation for the weight of my new role AND incredibly motivated to help lead not only the JCC but our local Jewish community in tapping our unlimited potential to be more than what we are today.

Mifgash translates from Hebrew to mean “encounter,” which denotes something sudden or unexpected. In fact, though, the Mifgash 2024 planning committee was very intentional in providing an experience in which both the internal and external perspectives of leadership were explored, challenged and redefined.

Dr. Jamie Shapiro, CEO of Connected Executive Coaching, spoke about the importance of a learning organization, where psychological safety, quality and accountability are the norm, and of positive energizing leadership, where the staff is empowered to create extraordinary results for their organization through a culture of active listening and inviting feedback, expressing gratitude, celebrating success and illuminating meaning and purpose.

Dr. Jeremy Haefner, Chancellor at the University of Denver, insisted that for leaders to best meet the challenges and the opportunities in their respective fields, they must spend time in the “valley of humility,” recognizing their personal and organizational limitations and weaknesses and being open to learning from others. What I found particularly poignant about Dr. Haefner’s “valley” imagery is that it emphasized the idea that humility is found in a position of modesty instead of at the peak of success or achievement.

Ash Beckham, a self-described “accidental advocate,” explained that the #1 reason why people don’t bring their whole selves to work is fear of repercussion and judgement and that it is incumbent for today’s leaders to bring empathy and grace into the workplace and to be curious about their colleagues’ “why.” Ash also confronted the myth of leaders needing to be flawless in order to be effective in their roles and instead encouraged us to focus on being authentic rather than striving for perfection. And finally, JCCA President & CEO Doron Krakow spoke about the opportunity for our movement and our respective local JCCs to be something more than we are today. Doron reminded us of the facts and figures that clearly demonstrate the powerful platform JCCs provide for broad community engagement:

  • 1.5 million people walk through the doors of JCCs across North America each week, 500,000 of whom are our non-Jewish friends and neighbors.

  • The JCC movement is a $1.6 billion enterprise with 37,000 full- and part-time staff PLUS an additional 20,000 seasonal staff.

  • 30,000 children are served in our early childhood centers.

  • In December 2023 and January 2024, 118 JCCs held some type of Israel-specific programming that in aggregate reached upwards of 40,000 people. To me, the charge was clear. Our movement represents 172 learning laboratories across North America on how to do it better. A great JCC is not the end. It is a means to an end where we respond to times of change and adversity with a vision of what it means to be a vehicle of transformation within the Jewish and broader communities.

    So, while I made my way home from Denver, I contemplated BOTH the need for internal leadership to help foster a positive culture and environment conducive for success, sustainability and growth in the long term AND the need for external leadership in helping to redefine what is possible for our community and to leave behind something better than what exists today. Gam v’gam. And then I quickly realized how relevant the work that our Board and Leadership Team began last summer was to this seemingly conflicting and yet interdependent approach to building community.

    Over the last several months, with the help of an external facilitator, the JCC’s Board and staff have partnered to build a shared framework of what our path forward looks like not only to improve our bottom line but how to respond in times when more is needed from the JCC in support of our vision of community where friends and neighbors find meaning and purpose in their day-to-day lives and when it is easy for everyone to play an active and positive role in shaping a stronger and more resilient future for the Jewish community and the Greater Pittsburgh region.

    We have developed commitments – to ourselves, to our staff and to our community – around creating brave spaces, where difficult conversations can take place and diversity of perspectives are welcome for the purpose of bridging divides and building and strengthening community, around providing a full life cycle of high-quality engagement opportunities, around becoming one of the best places to work in all of Pittsburgh, around developing strong partnerships with organizations who share our values and around harnessing curiosity and continuous improvement in all that we do.

    Having time to reflect on last week’s conference has been BOTH overwhelming AND it has also been inspiring. These remain uncertain and difficult times, AND also a time of great opportunity for new and innovative ideas to address the challenges that lie ahead. Gam v’gam. May we all embrace the concept of BOTH THIS AND THAT as we bravely and collaboratively lead the way in building a more caring, inclusive and just community.

    Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,


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