by Phil Jacobs
There’s a great deal going on these spring days.
This Sunday many of us will be attending the [email protected] festivities at Union Market in the District.
Last Sunday our community packed the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center for the Israel Bonds Ambassador’s Ball.
The previous Wednesday, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia hosted its 35th annual meeting in Fairfax.
I could attempt to come up with all sorts of ways to describe the feeling in the packed room. The best I can do is “love” and a real “sense of community.”
The JCCNV is a community, in some sense a family.
Temple Rodef Shalom’s spiritual leader Rabbi Amy Schwartzman based her d’var Torah on the parsha called Shelach, a Hebrew word that means “send out.” This was the portion that tells the story of how spies returned from the land of Canaan, and how all but two delivered a bad report about the Holy Land, influencing the people of Israel to rebel against HaShem, thus consigning that generation of Moses to wander in the desert for 40 years.
Rabbi Schwartzman taught us that Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies to return to Moses with a positive report on Canaan. They, therefore, were the only two Jews, who were permitted in the land of Israel.
The rabbi taught us that when we as a collective are heading out on any mission worth doing, each individual has to start with her- or himself. I heard it to mean that every great journey of a people is made up of individual journeys. It has to start somewhere, so why shouldn’t it start with one’s self.
There are certainly enough examples of community activities, swimming pools, workout gyms, day care and early childhood education all over the sprawling Northern Virginia region. Yet, for there to be not only a JCC, but a success story of a JCC reinforces the message I heard Rabbi Schwartzman tell. It has to start with someone.
There were clearly people in the auditorium that night who not only saw something Jewishly positive about Northern Virginia, but who worked to make the story of this growing community even greater.
One of those Joshuas or Calebs was outgoing president Allon Shiff, who turned the presidency over to another positive person, incoming president Connie Pesachowitz. Shiff reported that the JCCNV has some 1,600 member units translating to over 3,500 members. He talked about how the JCC strives to serve its constituents. It can’t be easy. Certainly many JCCs around the country serve an immediate, identifiable community or neighborhood of Jews. JCCNV has a reach that includes Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, Loudoun County and so many other Virginia cities, towns and communities that some say it even gets as far south as Fredericksburg.
Jeff Dannick, executive director of the JCCNV, said that his organization could potentially serve the estimated 90,000-100,000 strong Northern Virginia Jewish Community. Now, he said it serves about 5 percent of the Jewish community. Imagine, if the JCC was serving 10 percent of that community. Or as Dannick said to the audience, “think of the work we’d be doing.”
I wish that work on the JCCNV. I wish that there were more “spies” coming into the facility to experience the very neshama or soul of this place.
The evening’s high water mark for me was when longtime JCCNV employee Karen Stern was honored. She was so overwhelmed with emotion that she asked Dannick to read her speech. Knowing Stern was from Albany, Dannick added a little New York accent.
Another highlight for the entire audience was a musical and dance interlude presented by the JCCNV’s cultural arts department. Stephen Russell Murray sang a selection from the Broadway hit Billy Elliot. Madeleine LeBeau added her beautiful and bold young voice while Thomas Weinberger danced on stage. It was unlike anything I can remember from an annual meeting of any kind.
Pesachowitz possibly said it best, “Twenty five years ago, the JCC was just a thought in the mind of a few courageous leaders,” she said. “Now it is a vibrant social services agency proudly serving the Jewish people of Northern Virginia.”
Dannick enthusiastically talked about the center’s growing culture of philanthropy. The building, he said, is bursting at the seams with programming, activities and education. With that program, he added, comes the needed blessing of a strategic plan to help JCCNV reach out to a constituency it knows could possibly be as close as the next block over or miles away in suburbia.
“The future,” he said, “is exciting.”
We don’t need any spies to tell us that.
Positive movement is taking place at JCCNV. As Rabbi Schwartzman said, start the journey yourself.
You’ll wonder why you didn’t do so sooner.