As an executive director, I normally live with one foot in the present and one foot in the future. My focus on the present involves making sure that the Center has a positive Jewish impact on our community, delivers excellent programs, engages our participants in meaningful ways, attracts and retains the best staff, and executes in accordance with our annual financial plan. I also think a great deal about the future. What will be the new trends? How will our community change? What will be the keys to successfully engaging our community tomorrow, next year, in ten years? This duality is very natural for me. This year, however, has been very strange because I have been spending a fair amount of time focused on the past as it is our centennial anniversary year and, by the time you read this, I will have completed seven years of service at the Center.
When I reflect on the last seven years, I mostly think about the relationships that I have developed and remember the stories that have made an impact on me. The stories that I remember best generate a range of emotions from heartwarming to sad, and from tragic to inspirational. I want to share with you one of my favorite stories. Those of you who regularly work out in our fitness center know that there is some consistency to who shows up during certain days and times. It is not uncommon to develop friendships through this regular interaction. At a minimum, you recognize people enough to greet them and engage in some small talk. A few years ago, a couple of members who exercise at a regular time realized that another regular had not been around for a while. They didn’t know his name so they asked our fitness director at the time. She not only found out which member they were asking about, she found out that he had a recurrence of cancer and was in the hospital. These members then took it upon themselves not only to write get well cards, but to visit the member who was ill. For me, that story says what a fitness center in a JCC is all about. That spirit is what makes us a community center and distinguishes us from the anonymity of commercial fitness centers. Mostly, it makes me proud to be here and inspires me to expand our community-building efforts because from community comes caring. (And, yes, the member who was sick made a complete recovery and has been here regularly ever since.)
Thinking about stories has really changed my perspective on our centennial celebration. When
I walk through the centennial photographic retrospective that we have on display, I can’t help but wonder about the stories of the individuals pictured over the last one hundred years. Last month, when President Obama visited Israel, I happened to be in our fitness center on an elliptical trainer watching the arrival ceremony on the Israeli television channel that we broadcast. The greetings and speeches were all in English and the newscasters were simultaneously translating into Hebrew for the Israeli audience. Shimon Peres was discussing the long history of the relationship between Israel and the United States, when I heard the newscaster translate “history” to “historia.” I did a little research and found out that there is no uniquely Hebrew word for “history.” Maybe our people recognized that history is really about “memory” for which there is a Hebrew word. In our tradition, there are many commandments about what we should “remember.”
Throughout the planning for our centennial year we thought about how to tell the history of the Center. But, the Center is not about creating history. We are very much about creating Jewish memories. As I look at the photographs, I now see a collection of individual and communal memories that the Center helped create over the last one hundred years. This centennial year involves pausing to remember these moments, both big and small. As we move forward, our goal is to create new stories that will come from turning everyday minutes into Jewish memories that people will cherish and share over our next hundred years.