I grew up attending a JCC preschool in Tampa in the 1990s, never knowing anything different than a vibrant, supportive Jewish community with a JCC at the center of it. As a child and an adult, I always thought that a Jewish Community Center would be there for me when I wanted it.
When I had my first child last year, I assumed I would be able to stroll with her down the street in San Francisco to my neighborhood JCC and meet other young families. After all, prior to the pandemic, Bay Area JCCs had played a vital role as central one-stop shops offering so much of what makes the Bay Area Jewish community special.
My assumptions needed to be updated.
As my daughter was born, the pandemic restrictions had started to lift, yet at that point, these vibrant centers of community were still essentially empty — and they are still far from full now.
The time has come for all of us — not just our leaders — to start speaking with our feet. Community doesn’t just exist. It must be nurtured. Members of a community have to show up and build the community they want to be a part of. While of course each individual must consider their health, we are fortunate to have an abundance of tools in our arsenal to ensure our collective and individual safety, from outdoor events to masking.
Earlier in the pandemic, showing up meant something very different. Bay Area JCCs were a wonderful example of this. Even when we couldn’t be together physically, they worked hard to build community.
One hosted a virtual Passover seder, Seder-in-Place, in April 2020 that brought together more than 400 people virtually.
Another organized Kitchen Hevruta, in September 2020, which combined cooking and text study to provide an uplifting at-home experience as the High Holidays approached.
Once we could be together outside, Hanukkah in the Park brought smiles, latkes and connections despite the necessity of social distancing.
Attend an event. Celebrate a Jewish holiday. Get on that seemingly never-ending waitlist for a swim class.
In an era where time felt different, the Jewish calendar helped us feel grounded and connected. The Jewish spaces that the JCCs created (in person and virtual) helped many feel less alone.
None of this programming would have been possible without support from the Bay Area’s philanthropic community, and the same is true for JCCs across the country and their supporters.
The Koret Foundation, where I work as a program officer, has funded Bay Area JCCs for more than 30 years and recently awarded new, three-year grants to local JCCs, investing $6.75 million more into these community resources. During the pandemic, other local donors came together in a beautiful demonstration of cooperation to raise more than $10 million for our JCCs.
Yet philanthropy alone does not build community — not here, and not anywhere else.
The pandemic showed us how fragile life can be and that major features of our lives were not immune.
Now we must ask and answer the big questions about what makes our day-to-day existence feel whole. If for you, as for me and so many others, it’s Jewish spaces and the Jewish calendar, you know what you need to do — and what you want to do.
The institutions we depend on to connect Jewishly are now depending on us to show up and rekindle those feelings and experiences of community that were lost.
As we approach my daughter’s first birthday, I am again filled with hope that all our children (and their adults) will find that same sense of Jewish community that I felt growing at a local JCC.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.
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