All We CAN Do
The first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be all about what we couldn’t do. We couldn’t gather. We couldn’t travel. We couldn’t plan—at least not far beyond the end of our noses. We were facing the unknown with seemingly little relevant experience on which to draw and would need time to get our bearings.
So, we hunkered down and worked with what we had. We needed quick contingency planning for our buildings and facilities. Jewish Community Centers and Jewish Community Camps (JCCs) began to close and to suspend most if not all of their regular programs. For our staff, sudden uncertainty about lives and livelihoods. And for our families, our members, and our participants, the world shrank considerably as life began to take place largely at home.
But, just as our eyes adjust to sudden darkness, we started to get our bearings and to recognize that even in such unusual circumstances, we were far from incapacitated. Perhaps the most important realization was that we weren’t alone. For the JCC Movement, that meant we had 172 JCCs from coast to coast filled with thoughtful, creative professionals from whom we could draw wisdom and support. Sharing experiences drew us together as a field, and collectively we accessed knowledge and insights from experts in public health, safety and security, program development, and technology. The more we engaged with one another, the more we realized how much greater was our potential as we advanced our efforts to overcome the pandemic.
We began thinking beyond ourselves—a basic tenet of what it means to be a community—and yet one easy to lose sight of in the face of our enormous day-to-day challenges and responsibilities.
Of course, it’s been a hard year for JCCs and their overnight camps, but JCC Chicago and Camp Chi stepped up—as I knew they would—to meet the challenge with a Chi Family Getaway, and a meaningful (albeit virtual) staff-in-training program, by being an innovative leader in inclusion, by warmly welcoming Russian and Israeli campers, and so much more. During this, its centennial year, Camp Chi has been an exemplar of what it means to be part of the JCC Movement. Mazel tov on this milestone anniversary, Camp Chi! We are proud and honored to have you within our ranks.
JCCs were often the first Jewish institutions to reopen their doors once appropriate guidelines were in place. In every community, there was plenty of initial trepidation, but with each passing day, confidence grew, and JCCs increasingly resumed their critical role supporting communities and families through childcare, day camp, and wellness programs. In deference to COVID, groups and classes were smaller, and facilities stretched to their limits.
Thinking like a community wasn’t just happening across our movement, however. As we looked beyond our own walls, JCCs began satellite programs in synagogues and day schools, bringing their wisdom and experience to institutions that had not yet developed such guidelines of their own. With each new partnership, more families renewed their engagement with Jewish life and resumed daily routines that had been disrupted.
We’re stronger together, and our community mindset has us thinking more and more about outreach and collaboration. With thoughtful planning, trial and error, and day-to-day experience, JCCs have become the reopening experts in the Jewish communal field, and the number of all-day childcare programs for kids compelled to learn remotely continues to expand. We’ll share our growing insights and experiences with the wider communities we serve, and we’ll join hands with longstanding and newfound partners who share our commitment to a stronger Jewish community and more vibrant Jewish life.
The New Year 5781 begins with ever greater understanding of all we can do—when we work together. May it be a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year. Shanah tovah.
–President and CEO of JCC Association of North America
Doron Krakow brings more than 25 years of experience with national and international Jewish organizations to JCC Association. He previously served as executive vice president of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; senior vice president, Israel and overseas at United Jewish Communities (now the Jewish Federations of North America); and national director of Young Judaea. He and his wife live in Tenafly, New Jersey, where they raised three sons, all of whom are out in the world, one serving in the IDF. The Krakows are longtime members of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.