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JCC State of Mind – May 17, 2024

Posted by Admin on May 17, 2024

This week’s JCC State of Mind is by Maria Carson, Director of Jewish Education and Arts, Teen Division

During the past academic year, the JCC’s Second Floor Teen Center, which is generously funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, has hosted a campaign of Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D for short) for teens in grades 6-10. For those of you who are not familiar with the game, D&D is an improvisational roleplaying game which is structured by both rules and elements of chance (usually rolls of a various-sided dice).

A game of D&D is comprised of a facilitator who guides the overall narrative of the game, and players. Players respond to the events in the narrative while trying to further specific aims and goals. D&D is therefore more than simply a game: D&D is a way to try out new social behaviors, increase collaboration between participants, and “practice” emotional responses to upsetting events or news. But it can be educational even outside of these already rich pedagogical avenues. Our first campaign this year was facilitated by Emery Malachowski from the 10/27 Healing Partnership. This campaign tackled issues of institutional bias, racism, and historical antisemitism – and did so in such a way that the participants talked through these things without first being aware that they were doing so.

The world the teens characters were “placed” in had an ethnic minority – called the Brandywines – who were blamed for most of society’s problems. The teens’ characters started the story with the assumption that the Brandywines were all, for lack of a better term, evil. But throughout the campaign, the teens met Brandywine characters and learned, through experiences and conversations throughout the narrative, that the Brandywines had been unfairly maligned by the powers-that-be.  At the end of that campaign, when we explained how the game related to historical antisemitism, it was amazing to see the pieces ‘click’ together in the participants’ minds. Another side effect of our D&D community is that unlikely friendships have been forged. Our D&D group pulls from a diverse range of Jewish participants: our party of adventurers include those affiliated with Chabad, local Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative synagogues, Community Day School, and unaffiliated Jews. We also have several participants who identify with marginalized genders and sexual orientations. Seeing this group of teens become friends – and, in many cases, good friends – has been a truly joyful experience.

Our D&D program seems to me to be a “quintessentially JCC program.” Not many other institutions have our reach to all segments of the Jewish community and the depth of resources and ability to weave deep and experiential Jewish learning with interactive and marketable activities and gatherings. I am proud to work for the JCC, and I am excited to see what the next chapter of our D&D adventure holds!

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,


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