Our Push to Enhance Jewish Life in Baltimore

Barak Hermann

In my role as CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, I believe that one of the critical roles of our organization is to provide relevant Jewish engagement for the Greater Jewish community.

As with other Jewish communities nationwide, Baltimore is seeing growing rates of intermarriage and decreases in JCC and synagogue participation among its non-Orthodox population. While these trends influence and impact our community, we believe the J provides unique opportunities for Jews of all denominations and practices to engage in Jewish life.

In mid-2015, we convened a task force to review the role of the JCC in providing meaningful Jewish experiences for our members and participants. The process involved strategic conversations with key stakeholders at The Associated, its agencies and other Jewish community leaders and partners including synagogues. The purpose was to identify the most effective ways to position the JCC as a convener, connector, collaborator and facilitator for enhancing Jewish life in Baltimore. The resulting recommendations presented a viable plan and vision to advance this role for the JCC. It also sparked other exciting changes, including the launch of the J’s new Center for Jewish Life led by Rabbi Jessy Gross.

In her new role, Rabbi Jessy is working to strengthen JCC participant culture around the rhythm of the Jewish calendar and the values associated with Jewish tradition. Imagine large-scale community gatherings for holidays and festivals, such as a Chanukah Lego Menorah event at the Gordon Center, an indoor Tu B’shvat seder amid trees and greenery or other multigenerational Shabbat celebrations.

After intensive discussions over the past year, the JCC board adopted the following new mission statement for our agency: “Inspired by Jewish values, we create meaningful experiences and opportunities to enrich, connect and celebrate a vibrant Jewish community.” While we still need more time and resources to enhance areas such as adult Jewish engagement and deepening our connections with Israel and global Jewry, we are excited about our progress so far and our commitment to living the value of hachnasat orchim — welcoming ALL into our thriving Jewish home.

Last Friday, we hosted a Shabbat celebration that included an indoor picnic and laser light show in the Gordon Center for our J campers and their families. More than 500 people attended! We hope you can join us as we work together to identify
innovative ways to inspire Jewish curiosity around Shabbat, Jewish holidays and Jewish values. Follow us on Facebook or sign up for our e-news at JCC.org to stay updated.

Barak Hermann is CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore.

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