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JCC State of Mind – June 7, 2024

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2024

This week’s JCC State of Mind is by Fara Marcus, Chief Development and Marketing Officer

How are you?

While it’s a common phrase we ask our friends and coworkers every day, in Hebrew it’s said, “Mah shlomech?” which literally translates to, “How is your peace?” I was asked this question many times during a recent 11-day trip to Israel. And each time I was asked, the question evoked a different and complex answer.

On October 1, 2023, I was accepted into the Martin Pear Israel Fellowship through the JCC Association of North America (JCCA). The Fellowship is an 18-month Israel education program with a cohort of 11 Jewish and non-Jewish JCC professionals. The program includes an immersive Israel experience with a deep dive into the country’s past, present and future. Upon completion of the Fellowship in January 2025, I am charged with implementing a project that brings Israel back to my JCC and our community in a purposeful and meaningful way.

Within less than one week after receiving my acceptance letter, the horrific events of October 7th unfolded, and we began our studies together via virtual learning sessions. Energized with a new purpose, we received a modified curriculum with additional sessions focusing on the war and the region. As our planned trip to Israel in late May approached, several of the Fellows asked, “Are we still going to Israel?” but the question that rang inside my head was, “Are we now going to stay longer?”

While JCCA did not extend our trip, our itinerary was appropriately modified to expose us to the complex realities on the ground and the overall toll of the last eight months. We travelled all over, from North to South and to several communities within the Gaza Envelope. We saw and we listened, each story more crushing, and at times more inspiring, than the one before. And no matter where we were or who we were with, I was asked, “Mah shlomech.” Not merely how’s my peace in the political or social sense, but also my personal welfare, completeness and wholeness. The question unto itself reflects the importance of peace and well-being in daily interactions throughout Israeli society.

How ironic to ask about one’s peace during a time of war when the emotions and sentiments among nearly every Israeli are so complicated and multifaceted. A growing sense of increased international hostility, unwavering support for their military, dissatisfaction with the government, vulnerability, victimhood, a loss of national and personal safety and everything in between. How’s my peace? What about the peace felt, or not felt, by my Israeli brothers and sisters?

As I was on top of Masada with my cohort looking across the Judaean Desert, I was told the story of Ruth. Naomi tells Ruth that she is going to make a trip across the sea and that she wants Ruth to stay put. Ruth replies to Naomi, “Where you go, I go. Your people are my people. Your god is my god. Together we will cross the Dead Sea and go to Judea.” This is when Ruth becomes first Jewish convert. Just like Ruth says to Naomi, we at the JCC embrace inclusivity and diversity. We can only be a community when we have strong bonds together. When we ask our neighbors, “How’s your peace?”

I feel so fortunate to have been able to see the Israel of today and to learn about its past. I was able to truly feel Israel, its people, and their resilience in this historic time. I understand the collective “we” and I understand how it intersects into our JCC community and the very important work we all do. This wasn’t a vacation; it wasn’t a trip. It was an educational journey with both heaviness and laughter. Tears and smiles. Exploring my individual Jewish identity and contemplating our people’s Jewish identity. Feelings of pride and gratitude for both our local and global Jewish community.

Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya-aseh shalom, aleinu v’al kol Yisrael. May God who caused peace to reign in the high heavens, create peace for us and on all Israel.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

Fara

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