Message from Michael
Towards an Israeli-American-Jewish Identity
As our building and facilities renovations reach completion over the next several months, I am looking forward to refocusing on our real construction business — building Jewish identity, creating community and enriching lives. For me, that is why the JCC exists and why I do the work I do. I believe we can best accomplish all three of these goals when we connect Jews of different backgrounds and traditions with each other, with Israel and with the broader community through programs rooted in Jewish values. With that intention in mind and following a year of successful teen, holiday and communal program partnerships, I am excited to share with you that we officially entered a joint venture with the Israeli American Council (IAC) DC Chapter to establish an IAC Center (Merkaz) at the Bender JCC.
Hosting the IAC Merkaz is a natural step in our efforts to better serve the multiplicity of communities that come together at the Bender JCC. This partnership will leverage both IAC programming and JCC programming and facilities to create more opportunities for encounters among Jews from Israel who have made their home here, Jews from America, Russia and other countries who live here and members and participants of other faiths and backgrounds.
Today, identity can be understood as the product of the social encounters that we have. In a recent article, Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, Ph.D. (author and head of school of Kehilla Jewish High School in Palo Alto, California) states that, “Identity is not a psychological category that describes who one ‘is,’ but rather it is a sociological category that describes one’s affiliations, or encounters.” This would suggest that the more social interactions we have with different people, the more our own identity reflects overlapping characteristics. As Jews living in this country’s diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society, our identities reflect our many affiliations with our Jewishness being but one aspect.
Our partnership with the IAC recognizes the importance of bringing Israeli Americans together with American Jews and Jews of other backgrounds for more frequent social interactions and learning opportunities in order to better understand each other’s culture and worldview and take steps to create a shared Jewish identity. When we open ourselves to understanding our similarities and differences, and valuing each other for who we are and what we bring to the community, we strengthen our community and enrich our lives.
Already we are in the second year of offering IAC’s Eitanim program which brings together Israeli-American and Jewish-American teens to develop leadership, entrepreneurship and critical-thinking skills. It is amazing to see how these teens interact and how they express their ideas about their Jewish heritage with each other. The IAC Center is already offering a range of additional programs for adults and families with more forthcoming. We are working together, along with the Jewish Federation, to make Israel Fest, here at the Bender JCC on May 21, a celebration of Israel at 69 that will be enriching for the entire community.
When we are successful in our work together we will see a more involved Israeli-American community, stronger connections between Israeli Americans, American Jews and Jews of other backgrounds, increased connection to, and support for, the State of Israel, and a stronger, more enriching Greater Washington Jewish community.