A Year End Reflection
As a year comes to a close, reflection naturally comes into focus…
Earlier this month, our family sat shiva for my husband’s mother. Shiva is derived from the word sheva, which means seven, signifying the seven days of mourning. The week is a time referred to as “sitting shiva” and its primary purpose is to provide space for spiritual and emotional healing.
My husband has one brother who is blessed with seven children, the eldest joining us for shiva, and three grandchildren. Sitting side by side, the brothers could be mistaken as from different families, their Jewish journeys have strayed far from one another. And, family and friends who visited our home during shiva represented the same spectrum of Jewish life.
Day after day, despite differences, everyone who visited showed such kindness and grace, and so easily found connection and commonality. One special moment from the week was a shiva visit from Mark Hartman. Mark has been a member of the JCC Chicago Board of Directors for several years and is chair of our exciting Rogers Park Campus campaign. I was ready to introduce Mark to my brother-in-law when he shared that our Uncle Mike was to him Rav Michoel, his former yeshiva teacher in Israel.
While it seems like a crazy coincidence, it’s anything but. I’m approaching nine years at the J and have been struck from day one by the beautiful tapestry that is Jewish peoplehood. JCC Chicago reaches 65,000 community members every year across a broad geography, welcoming diverse communities through a clear embrace of Jewish values. Our beautiful Jewish family is enhanced by friends and neighbors who similarly appreciate our compass and the community we are building every day.
This dynamic played out recently at our First Night, First Light event at Gallagher Way. A program of the J, the afternoon was supported by staff across all departments, an illustration of the connectivity within our agency. With invitation to all, we welcomed children, teens, and families from across our program offerings and geographies. Hosted in a public space, the backdrop of the bright menorah included a larger-than-life Christmas tree and the always fun Christkindlmarket. Together, Chicagoans enjoyed the full suite of holiday offerings with joyfulness and in harmony.
Another special part of the shiva week was that two of my boys got to know their uncle and cousin, who they had met only a few times in their lives. With our son, Henry, headed out on his Birthright trip that week and our youngest, Charlie, off to a semester abroad at Alexander Muss High School in Israel come January, this time together was especially meaningful. While Uncle Mike and Henry couldn’t meet up at the shuk as planned, Mike’s voicemail on my husband’s phone let us know that they had been in touch and that Henry is having the absolute time of his life. So far away and yet so close to home…When I talk about the J, one on my refrains is that it’s a big jump from singing Shabbat songs in preschool to choosing to go on Birthright. Indeed, each Jewish connection from those early years to the age of independence provides direction for our young people. I have photos of Henry from Gan Yeladim preschool, Hanukkah candle lightings, bar mitzvahs, working at Apachi… and now I have photos of him wearing tefillin* at the Western Wall, standing in front of Israeli tanks, taking selfies with Jerusalem as the backdrop.
Grounded by a Jewish start and fostered by wonderful opportunities to experience in Jewish life—through the J and with so many fantastic organizations—my family is but one example of how the collective focus on community and peoplehood is making a difference for our Jewish future. Looking back on 2022, despite a recent loss in our family, my heart is filled by a family closer than before, friendships that span a lifetime, and an expanded photo album that shores my confidence in and commitment to providing intentional, invitational, meaningful Jewish choices at all life stages. The year ahead is another one of clear opportunity and endless possibility—thank you for joining us!
* A set of small black leather boxes with leather straps containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah.