A blessing for the community

My previous office was something of a dungeon. The whole Jewish Federation office suite, where the Rockland Jewish Reporter and the Center for Jewish Education also lived and breathed, was an afterthought in the minds of the community, if you ask me. But it doesn't feel like that anymore. The Federation, the newspaper and CJER are much more accessible now. People from the community stop by and it no longer seems as if they've done so because they're lost.

Our suite happens to be on the same floor as the JCC offices. We interact more with its staff, and the atmosphere is more collegial. All the things that go on in the building aren't some big mystery happening elsewhere anymore. And while Jewish Family Service is downstairs now, instead of across the hall, I feel that I've had more interaction with the members of that agency in the past few months than I did in the entire two-and-a-half years that I've been employed at the paper.
I think this has had a positive impact on my work. As the person who is responsible for producing your Jewish community newspaper, I feel much more connected to the community as a whole since the move. I'm saying this from the perspective of someone who already led an involved Jewish life. I feel tied to the community beyond my shul and my kids' school in ways that I did not before.
I'm a fairly cynical person, so for me, that's quite an admission. Whoever thought a building would make such a difference?

But it has -- not only for me, but also for many here in the Rockland Jewish community.

I see this first thing in the morning, when I arrive to work out in the gym. The place is bustling with those of us hell-bent on cheating our genetics with a good work out. Later in the day, when I'm stuck in my writing, I like to prowl through the building, just to see what's up:

There are young moms in the building having lunch in the café, their babies parked nearby in strollers. Seniors are playing cards in their center. And there's almost always someone learning, as CJER holds Florence Melton Adult Mini-School classes and Ulpan Hebrew lessons. In the afternoon, elementary school kids are laughing in the hallway outside my office, on their way to one of the many after school programs.

In the evening, teens have lounge nights and Mitzvah Maker planning sessions. CJER held its annual Community Night of Jewish Learning here and it was tremendous. More than 400 people showed up to participate in an evening devoted to Jewish education. And more recently, another 300 filled Schwartz Social Hall when the Holocaust Museum & Study Center of Spring Valley launched its Kindertransport exhibit here.

Hadassah and HUVPAC are here, too. By nature, Jewish Family Service's work is confidential, so the work it does, I do not see. Yet that agency too has been able to expand with the move.

Now that we've got this amazing place, people just have no end of suggestions on how it could be better. The primary one, of course, is the addition of a pool. I grew up spending every hot Texas summer day at my JCC pool. Most of us would like the same experience for our own kids. But of course, that has a price.
This RJCC is a tremendous asset. In it we have a place that serves as a true focal point for our Jewish community. That it finally happened after so many years of planning, hustle and ingenuity, is the testament to some very hard work and a lot of fundraising.

The catch is, of course, that none of that is over. The debt on the building after all the current pledges are paid stands at $6 million. A pool would cost another $3 to $5 million. I may be cynical; but I also recognize that if the RJCC is worth having, it's worth paying for. Each person in the community who can make a commitment to the campus should.

Perhaps as important, is the need for the kind of commitment not found in a checkbook, but in the actual day-to-day involvement that makes the place tick. It's the kind that involves time, energy, persistence and probably, a very thick skin. But it, too, is absolutely necessary.

The people who built this place turned an idea into a bricks-and-mortar reality of which we can all be proud. But as the RJCC moves into its next phase, new faces with new ideas are needed. If this is a place to be proud of, it's one we should be proud to serve, as well, by giving our time and commitment.
At the end of the Shabbat Torah service each week we say a prayer to bless the congregation. Because of its particularity, I like best the part of the prayer that mentions those who give "funds for heat and light, wine for kiddush and Havdalah, bread to the wayfarer and charity to the poor, and all who devotedly involve themselves with the needs of the community...."

While the prayer's intent is to bless those who provide for their congregations, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the praise is intended beyond that. Behind the institutions that we use and cherish are electric and water bills, heating and cooling costs, staff members to pay and, hopefully, people who care, and get involved. The weekly blessing serves as a not-so-subtle reminder how important it is for each of us to participate.

In the case of our RJCC, it's time for each of us to become one of those people whom we bless.

Marla Cohen is the editor of the Rockland Jewish Reporter. Email her at mcohen@jewishrockland.org.


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