When one thinks of a JCC, images of holiday celebrations, lecture programs and fitness centers come to mind. Jewish Community Centers are all that, but they are also much more. Along with synagogues and Jewish social service agencies, they are a core institution in the magnificent web that is Jewish life in America.
Now, in reaction to two recent national tragedies — the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh and the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County — we learn that JCCs are also vital hubs of emergency community assistance.
Our story on recovery efforts in Chico describes a winter coat donation program launched by the JCC Sonoma County. Because so many lost everything in the fire (14,000 homes in all), there was a dire need for warm coats. When the call went out, the JCC’s leaders stepped up and collected more than 1,300. People lined up around the block to receive the coats.
On the other side of the country, Pittsburgh is still reeling from the Oct. 27 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. With 11 mostly elderly congregants shot dead, this was the deadliest act of violence against Jews in American history.
Two months later, JCCs have stepped up to the plate via the newly created JResponse. A partnership between the JCC Association of North America and IsraAid, the program trains select JCC professionals in crisis-management skills, and then sends them to JCCs in communities where that help is needed.
As we report this week, professionals from at least two Bay Area JCCs headed to Pittsburgh last week to lend a hand and a heart to that beleaguered community.
Week in and week out, JCCs do the little things that make our communities stronger, even if they don’t make headlines.
For example, the JCC of San Francisco’s Green Initiative is still going strong, reducing carbon emissions at the institution by some 804 tons a year since 2009. The Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, like many other JCCs in the region, sponsors a Mitzvah Day around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with Jewish volunteers fanning out across the region to do community service projects.
Then there are the blood drives, the bone marrow match drives, the social justice initiatives, the senior lunch programs, all of which draw in Jews as well as non-Jews, and all of which do indeed make the world a better place.
The JCCs of the Bay Area and beyond should be praised for their tireless work in building communities during the good times, and lifting up communities during the bad times.