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JCC State of Mind – May 31, 2024

Posted by Admin on May 31, 2024

Last night, we celebrated someone who has touched the lives of so many here at the JCC and throughout the Pittsburgh community. More than 200 people joined together to pay tribute to Rabbi Ron Symons and to recognize his impact over the last nine years as the JCC’s Senior Director of Jewish Life and Founding Director of the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement. My remarks to Ron are provided below and they reflect the countless blessings and words of thanks and appreciation that were bestowed upon him at last night’s farewell event. Here’s to you, Ron. Wishing you and your family the very best as you set out on your next adventure!

Although I had a bar mitzvah, I grew up without much of a connection to organized Jewish religion. I dabbled in USY and attended synagogue at most 2 times per year. Jewish never felt accessible to me – even when we moved to Pittsburgh for the first time in 2001. Upon our arrival, Dana and I quickly joined Beth Shalom, as Dana felt most comfortable in a conservative shul. We decided to maintain a kosher home, we worked out at the JCC, and I even landed a job within the Jewish community at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. Eventually, our children went to day school, and for a long time, including while we lived in Washington, DC, that was my Jewish reality. Moving from place to place within the Jewish community but doing so without the kavanah, without the intention or sincere feeling.

And then I joined the family here at the JCC and my heart and mind were opened to a new way of expressing and experiencing Jewish – not only because of the work itself but in large part to Ron in his role as Senior Director of Jewish Life. Pretty early on in my tenure with the JCC, we had a great time digging into the 2017 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study. This rich data set gave us incredible fodder for reimagining the role the JCC could play in supporting Jewish engagement within our facilities and beyond. And while my curiosity was piqued through Ron’s expansive view of what Jewish could be and the permission to seek meaning rather than memorize ritual through a phrase he would always use – context over text – it wasn’t until he began to dig into the work of the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement that I started to appreciate what truly lit his fire and how powerful Jewish could really be in not only enhancing the lives of individuals and families, but the ability it had to bridge divides and recognize collective humanity despite perceived and real differences.

A rainbow is the refraction of light through water drops, breaking up the white light so that we can see the various colors in its visible spectrum. A rainbow allows us to see something that we cannot usually see. And we see a rainbow at the moment when the rain has ended but the air is still damp with moisture, when we can sense both the rain and the sun, both possibility and opportunity. In some regards, Ron, you have been a rainbow to so many. You have helped provide us with moments in our lives when suddenly we have seen more clearly—when the clouds in front of our eyes have been lifted, and we could see not just black and white, but many shades of color, of nuance. And as is the case upon seeing other natural phenomena, there is a blessing for seeing a rainbow:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֶלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם זוֹכֵר הַבְּרִית וְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתוֹ וְקַיָם בְּמַאֲמָרוֹ

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, zokher hab’rit v’ne’eman bivrito v’kayam b’ma’amaro.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to God’s covenant, and keeps God’s promise.

The photos being shown this evening and the organizations tabling explicitly represent the passion you have brought to the JCC and to our community, Ron. Your true calling has always been to redefine neighbor from a geographic term to a moral concept and you have never stood idly by while your neighbor bleeds. You have elevated the work of our JCC in countless ways and touched the lives of so many – from children inside our early childhood center and our camps to the teens on The Second Floor to our staff and the older adults who participate in our senior center activities. And beyond our walls, you have helped lay the foundation, through partnerships within the interfaith community, politicians, civic leaders, law enforcement and educators to name a few, for Pittsburgh to see a rainbow and move closer in fulfilling its clarion call to be stronger than hate. I thank you, the JCC thanks you and our community thanks you.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

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