Message from Michael
My Four Questions
Relief, dismay and bewilderment — three emotions that I don’t typically experience simultaneously. But, those were the conflicting thoughts that ran through my mind after learning that the suspect arrested for making the bulk of the hoax bomb threat calls to our JCC, and JCCs and other Jewish institutions across North America, was a Jewish Israeli teen.
Different communities responded differently to this crisis. A few JCCs saw significant withdrawals from their preschool, a slow-down in summer camp enrollment and declines in membership that they attributed to the ongoing threats. It was disheartening for me to hear those effects from my colleagues. We did not have that experience as our families, members and participants have stood by us through two hoax bomb threats. As a Jewish community center, we serve both the Jewish and broader community. The steadfast resolve of those we serve provided comfort and encouragement as my staff and I navigated our response to the threats.
As I think about what we have been through, and recognize that it still may not be over, I find myself with more questions than answers, which is fitting given the approach of Passover – our holiday of asking questions. As I prepare for the Seder, here are the four questions that I will be thinking about.
What does it mean to go from oppression to liberation today? Even if the bomb threats were not based in anti-Semitism, we are nonetheless witnessing an increase in anti-Semitic acts across the country. Yet, based on a recent survey of U.S. adults, the Pew Research Center again reported that Jews are the most popular religious group in the country. This seems like a contradiction, but we can feel threatened and harassed even if it is the work of a minority. At Passover, I will be thinking about the ways in which all of the other faith communities expressed their support and stood with us as we felt under attack. The same Pew study found that Muslims were the least popular religious group in the country and we have certainly seen a large increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. It is not a big leap for me to imagine what Muslims in our community are feeling. In what ways will I show support and not stand idly by while the Muslim and immigrant communities are under duress right now?
How can our JCC better serve our Jewish community? Over 100 years ago, JCCs were founded to help Jewish immigrants become part of American culture and became vibrant centers for the Jewish community. Fast forward to the 21st century and we have seen seismic changes in the American Jewish community. Jews are exercising their freedom to choose whether and how to identify Jewishly, synagogue affiliation rates have declined, there is less interest in belonging to Jewish institutions in general, there is less of a connection to Israel, and there are more dual faith families. In the Torah, before the Israelites are freed, God tells Moses to tell the story to their children and children’s children. The future of the Jewish people is presumed. Our opportunity, as a JCC, is to expand the ways in which we provide onramps to a Jewish journey by providing connections to our traditions, culture and values in ways that support community and create meaning to help ensure a Jewish future that enriches lives.
What is the role of the JCC in serving the broader community? At our core, JCCs are welcoming and inclusive for both the Jewish and broader community. We are encouraged to welcome the stranger at our Passover table and invite all who are hungry to come and eat. To create a more inclusive and thriving community we can provide more opportunities for our Jewish and non-Jewish communities to come together, as we did with our recent MultiFaith Film Festival.
What do the last two and half months mean to me? The arrest in Israel was for many of the phone-call hoax bomb threats. I am wary about the ease with which copycats can follow. I am thankful that all of the threats have been hoaxes, but I also know that there have been many other anti-Semitic acts in our community. With safety and security on the forefront of my mind, we will not become complacent. We will continue to be vigilant, keeping in mind the importance of maintaining the warm and welcoming environment that you expect. To accomplish this, we will need to devote significantly more of our budget to security. We need to generate the necessary financial resources so that safety and security do not come at the expense of creating community, building Jewish identity and enriching lives.
I live in a neighborhood that reflects that diversity of our county. We recently put in a lawn sign that says, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” It is written in English, Spanish and Arabic. Many have stopped to read it and we even received cookies from one Muslim neighbor. At our J, you can hear many languages reflecting the background of our diverse membership and participant base. As I think about the four questions above, my goal is that even more of our neighbors will feel comfortable participating here and that we will embody our core Jewish values of “loving the stranger” and “not standing idly by.” It will take a great deal of work, but we can be encouraged by the Jewish precept that we are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to abandon it.