Join the Movement
Every Friday morning at 10:30am, children in our early childhood programs, from age six weeks to five years, gather to celebrate the Sabbath. They sing songs, light candles, say Hamotzi, drink grape juice. They joyfully experience the traditions of Shabbat that are engaged in throughout the city and around the world. With summer upon us, the same will take place every week for both staff and campers across all ten Apachi camps and at Camp Chi with children and teens experiencing and celebrating the connectiveness of Shabbat as one community. For many, this is the very dynamic that encourages parents to choose a Jewish preschool or Jewish summer camp for their children.
The significant rise of unengaged and unaffiliated Jews is drawing the attention of agencies, funders and stakeholders nationwide. So Jewish Community Centers across the continent are responding with accessible, low-barrier programs and opportunities to engage and re-engage in Jewish life. Core program areas such as early childhood, day and overnight camp and health and wellness are all anchored by Jewish values and traditions. But the agencies are looking well beyond these central offerings to be a relevant choice, in addition to the largest platform for engagement.
Collectively, JCCs are a movement, addressing today’s concerns about Jewish community and connection and driving social change. Among the 160 JCCs in North America, 1,500,000 community members walk through our doors every week, 1,000,000 of them Jewish and 500,000 our neighbors and friends. Here in Chicago, we are directly connecting with 55,000 community members annually and indirectly reaching approximately one-third of our Jewish metropolis. Whether they realize it or not, each interaction is an injection of Jewish life and a step towards another Jewish choice.
In celebration of Israel’s 71st birthday, JCC Chicago and the Jewish United Fund are hosting a series of Chicago Loves Israel events across the Chicagoland area from now through the fall. Activities, from film screenings to the Humans of Tel Aviv photography exhibit to a myriad of offerings for teens and families, are inviting, interesting and inspirational. Thanks to our Federation, these experiences are at no cost or a nominal fee for all to enjoy. And while Chicago Loves Israel is a big happening, this type of engagement opportunity is rampant across JCCs as we seek to address our collective concerns about Jewish continuity and peoplehood.
At a recent meeting about fundraising for our overnight camp program, a committee member recalled her own Jewish camp experience. She explained that there wasn’t the overlay of Jewish she sees for her kids today; in her day, camp was really only about swimming, arts and crafts, and friendship. The resounding response around the table was that of course there was Jewish content—Jewish content that helped shape her life and guide her to this very table, a foundation rooted years ago that continues to have an impact.
In just a few days, when our campers gather for the first Shabbat of the summer, hearts filled with confidence, happiness and friendship, we know that something bigger is happening. These 21st Century children, each in their own way, will experience the power— and empowerment— of a truly connected Jewish community.