As I Step Into Retirement
We have all heard the cliché about doing what you love. For me, I’ve been doing what I love since January 15, 1996. For 25 years, I’ve served as JCC Chicago’s Jewish Educator. I replaced “job hopping” with “job clinging” because for me, each year has felt totally fresh and not just another loop around the calendar. As I step into retirement, I reflect on my time with JCC Chicago and the wonderful community that’s inspired me.
For more than two decades, I’ve made new friends, become inspired to explore ideas and experiences and been embraced by my JCC Chicago family. Plus, I’ve acquired a whole new wardrobe of camp shirts and lots of other swag (I still have a mug announcing that “The Best Just Got Better” – The New Northern Region of JCC’s of Chicago). I’ve created countless programs and projects for Jewish holiday family programs, Israel experiences for Apachi Day Camps, a Teen Hebrew Immersion Weekend, P2K Israel Ambassadors, Israeli scholars in residence, Israeli artist exchange visits, book fairs, an adult Jewish education community of practice, cultural experiences, plays and concerts. Programs like Biblically Incorrect, Healing Services, JCC Remembers, Got Shabbat? and Shabbat dinners for our Early Childhood families throughout the year.
When I became a grandparent, it led to personal and rewarding experiences in facilitating programs such as Grandparent – Grandchild Connection and G2: A Global Intergenerational Initiative. Plus, my grandson’s brit milah took place at Bernard Weinger JCC, so that my JCC Chicago family could also share in my family’s happiness.
While Jewish peoplehood may not be a rallying cry to the Jewish public, it has always been a key part of my understanding of the role of Jewish Educator – connecting the Jewish community to create a strong Jewish future. To me, JCC Chicago was the fifth denomination (or maybe even post-denominational). At the J, the perception of Judaism is broad enough to include everyone who identifies as Jewish regardless of one’s individual understanding of or approach to that identity. It doesn’t matter how you observe or if you observe. When you walk into the J, everyone feels the same. JCC Chicago provides a sense of belonging or unity that is primary to the Jewish experience through various components: Jewish values, Jewish culture, Hebrew and a multifaceted connection to Israel where, like at JCC Chicago, Jewish values are woven into the fabric of everyday life.
It has been my great honor to work with JCC Chicago leadership who have brought us to the forefront of a movement to inspire passion for Hebrew and Israel. JCC Chicago has planned and run 11 annual Israel trips providing opportunities for participants from our community and board members to create individual narratives for the significance of Israel in their own lives and find personal meaningful connections to Israel and Israelis. Say it in Hebrew, now in its 8th year, has become the place for learning and improving all Hebrew language skills with the primary goal of producing confident Hebrew speakers. Apachi Ivrit, JCC Chicago’s Hebrew immersion day camp grew from 10 campers in 2017 to over 80 campers in 2021 and provides a summer of fun while exposing campers to a child centered authentic Hebrew program that fits their curiosities and motivations.
I am grateful that my personal passions and interests led me on a career path of discovery and lifelong learning. I was fortunate to have the support of amazing colleagues and wonderful community partners, especially at JUF, along this journey. I am proud of all we have accomplished together and I’m excited to see where the J will go in the future! May JCC Chicago go from strength to strength.
Abby Ashkenazi is the Jewish Educator of JCC Chicago. She lives in Northbrook with husband Shlomo and plans to spend more time in retirement with her grandchildren in Israel and Evanston. Abby began her association with JCC Chicago as a five-year-old camper at Bernard Horwich JCC and has continued to go to the J almost daily ever since. Visit her this summer at Apachi Ivrit doing what she likes to do best – Hebrew and camp!
Photo Description: Abby Ashkenazi retires after 25 years with JCC Chicago. Seen above (top row, first on the left) as a camper at Bernard Horwich JCC in 1961.