JCC Global |

One People, Many Communities

As one of the largest networks of Jewish engagement in the world, JCC Global uses innovative programming to connect millions of people affiliated with over 1,000 Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) from California and Caracas to Tel Aviv to Tbilisi

Rebecca Kopans
Promoted Content
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Women in the Kol Isha program from Palo Alto, Ramat Hasharon and Krakow visiting Poland together
Women in the Kol Isha program from Palo Alto, Ramat Hasharon and Krakow visiting Poland togetherCredit: JCC Global
Rebecca Kopans
Promoted Content

Even during the height of the pandemic, JCC Global forged meaningful connections among Jews from diverse communities around the world, providing unique hands-on opportunities to learn about each other and their common heritage. Although most JCC Global activities moved to online formats in the past two years, the organization’s unique programming for different age groups continued to focus on developing a global leadership committed to the concept of Jewish peoplehood.

JCC Global was founded in 1977 to serve as an umbrella organization for the members and leaders of more than 1,000 Jewish Community Centers spread out on every continent, including North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Asia and Israel. In many towns and cities, the local JCC is the most important Jewish institution in the community, attracting people of all ages and backgrounds to engage in activities that strengthen their connection to their heritage and to each other. JCCs are social, cultural and religious centers that welcome everybody with open arms and invite all members of the community to take part in programs and events that resonate with them.

Remarkably, 20 new JCCs were inaugurated around the world during the pandemic, including in such diverse locations as Izmir, Dubai, Helena and Sydney. Regardless of their location, JCCs share common goals and contend with similar challenges. By being part of a global network, the community centers are able to learn from one another, as well as share resources and work together on joint initiatives.

JCC Global MekoRock participants from Dnipro, Chisinau, Emek Hefer and New York performing in JerusalemCredit: JCC Global

JCC Global has spearheaded numerous innovative projects that bring together people from Jewish communities around the world, many of which were part of the Amitim-Fellows flagship program. Amitim, which created a global leadership network, launched 23 different projects over the years. So far, there have been two cycles of Amitim, each of which lasted three years. Following the success of the first cohort, which ran from 2014 till 2017 and included 20 JCCs, more than 40 JCCs chose to take part in the second cohort, which started in 2017. All in all, Amitim has connected over 15,000 participants from 65 JCCs in 15 countries.

The highlights of most Amitim projects were events where participating JCCs hosted their partners from around the world in intensive people-to-people encounters. Inevitably, participants were surprised to learn how much they have in common with fellow Jews from different countries. Many strong friendships were formed and endured over time.

Kol Isha: Empowering Jewish women

One of the most interesting and ingenious projects developed by the second cohort of Amitim-Fellows was Kol Isha – an ambitious three-year initiative that spanned three continents and linked women’s empowerment with Jewish values, art and communal involvement. JCCs from three very different communities partnered for this project: Palo Alto, California; Krakow, Poland; and Ramat Hasharon, Israel. Each partner enlisted a group of women aged 40+ who are active in their home community. In the first year, the 45 women from California, Poland and Israel held biweekly meetings via Skype or Zoom, where they learned about strong Jewish women in the Bible and in modern days, and discussed issues related to women’s empowerment.

After one year, the group finally met face-to-face: the Americans and Israelis travelled to Krakow, and together they conducted a series of workshops and learned about the local Jewish community. “We became true friends during the first year, but we really connected during that week,” recalls Dovrat Weiser, who headed the delegation from Ramat Hasharon. “The climax was when we visited Birkenau and took part in the March of the Living together. It was very emotional. We stood in a circle and we each talked about our personal connection to the Holocaust. We all really connected to our history and felt that we have common roots.” The group then flew from Krakow to Israel, where they toured the country together. Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented the women from meeting again in Palo Alto, as was originally planned.

Jewish Lens winning photo by Ilya Ryabkov, Shabbat at Menorah JCC, EkaterinburgCredit: JCC Global

During the third year of Kol Isha, each of the three JCCs planned an experiential project based on Jewish values. The Ramat Hasharon contingent recruited 14 women from their community who have powerful personal stories to tell about “emerging from darkness to light,” such as surviving sexual abuse, and each of these women was matched with a female artist who is also from Ramat Hasharon. The artists then created works of art based on the women’s personal stories and these were exhibited at a local venue, where they attracted a great deal of interest. The Krakow group chose to produce a Passover Haggadah based on women’s stories. The Kol Isha women are still in contact. In fact, last Hannukah they held a joint virtual candle-lighting ceremony.

MekoRock: When music meets the Bible

Another exciting project offered by Amitim-Fellows is MekoRock, a fusion between “mekorot,” which means “roots” in Hebrew, and “rock” as in rock music. Originally conceived by the Zait Jewish Cultural Identity community center in Emek Hefer, Israel, MekoRock invites musical teens to create music that is inspired by Jewish sources. MekoRock’s first international cohort, launched in 2015 through JCC Global, brought together young musicians, singers and songwriters from Caracas, Venezuela; Chisinau, Moldova; and Emek Hefer.

In each country, the groundbreaking year-long program was led by two advisors: a music teacher and a Bible expert. Throughout the year, the teens from Venezuela, Moldova and Israel studied the Bible and wrote songs based on its stories and themes. They met regularly on Zoom, and in December they gathered in Israel for a meaningful one-week experience, during which they really bonded. It was a rare opportunity for these teenagers to learn about each other’s cultures and communities, and to discover that they have a lot in common.

“During that week, the teens from the three countries wrote a song together and then they performed it at the JCC Global Conference in Jerusalem. It was a huge success!” glows Adi Nachshon, who led the Emek Hefer contingent. “Most of the kids joined the program because of the music, but they stayed because of the experience. Many had no previous connection to Judaism and thought the Bible was boring, but they became interested in the great stories thanks to the program,” she adds.

MekoRock’s second cohort was equally successful. This time, the participating JCCs were from Ukraine, New York, Moldova and Emek Hefer. Each community focused on a different theme and, again, the highlight was a joint week-long gathering in Israel during which they performed together at a JCC Global event. “Even though not all the kids spoke English well, they communicated through music. Strong friendships continued long after the program ended,” notes Nachshon.

“The kids wrote songs that were relevant to them. MekoRock taught Jewish values and it was an important experience for them. The Venezuelan kids realized that other Jewish kids around the world have the same interests and values as they do. It was also important for the Israeli kids to learn about Jewish communities abroad,” notes Annabella Jaroslavsky, who supervised the Venezuelan group and is the former Executive Director of Hebraica Jewish Community Center in Caracas.

As it becomes easier to travel again, members of JCCs all over the world will once again be able to benefit from transformational in-person encounters, alongside numerous valuable opportunities to engage with peers all over the world through online platforms. These experiences will continue to enable Jews to feel closer to their local communities, to Israel, and to the Jewish People.

Innovative programming

JCC Global’s innovative programs have engaged a very broad audience, bridging cultural differences and creating common bonds across borders. Among them:

  • Jewish Lens (Photo Amitim): A project that actively engaged participants from all over the world to learn about the values that are important in their Jewish communities, using photography as a means to strengthen identity and connect globally.
  • Teen Leadership: Teenagers from the Merage JCC of Orange County, California and the Kfar Yona Community Center in Israel explored Jewish identity and social responsibility together, meeting each summer in a different partner community.
  • Mosaic: A project in which teens from Herzliya, Israel and Krivoy Rog, Ukraine wrote the life stories of elderly people from their community and shared them with their partner community.
  • Adam-Adamah: A Jewish learning and environmental conservation project for young adult leaders from Krakow, Jerusalem and Milwaukee. Together, they explored their connection to Jewish Peoplehood through studying Jewish texts and actively integrating green spaces in their communities.
  • Family Tree: Teenagers from California, Israel and Mexico explored their Jewish identity, heritage and connection to Israel. They built their Jewish family tree and considered how they see themselves and their families as part of both the local and the global Jewish community.
  • Global Arts Project: Participants from the Redbridge JCC in London, UK, JCCs of Greater Toronto, Canada, and Hevel Eilot Community Center in Israel told their Jewish journey by creating art that reflects something “Jewishly” meaningful to them. A joint exhibition of artwork from all three communities took place in all partner communities.

For more information