Following a uniquely challenging year, supporters of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh had much to reflect upon at the organization’s 124th annual meeting, held Sept. 9 in the JCC’s Katz Performing Arts Center.
But the prevailing theme of the evening could be found within the name of the organization itself: “Community.”
The meeting included the presentation of several awards to JCC volunteers as well as interfaith leaders from the broader community who join in the work of the JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness.
James Ruttenberg, outgoing Pittsburgh JCC board chair, kicked off the evening by emphasizing the “core values” contained within the organization’s mission statement: “nurturing people, connecting community, each day through every age, inspired by Jewish values.”
Those values, Ruttenberg said, were “our North Star before, during and after October 27.”
The interfaith, community-based work of the JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness, headed by Rabbi Ron Symons, the JCC’s senior director of Jewish life, was highlighted as the inaugural Loving Kindness Award was presented to Daniel Tabares of Parkland, Florida. Tabares, a junior at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, came to Pittsburgh last April along with a delegation of other students and adults from Parkland, to help Pittsburgh heal from the devastating effects of the massacre that occurred at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27. The visit was organized by the Center for Loving Kindness.
The Parkland constituency, including Tabares, who spoke at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School and to teen participants at J-Serve, was “so instrumental in this community’s healing and resiliency five months ago,” noted Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of Pittsburgh’s JCC.
“Both our communities have witnessed hatred and devastation,” Tabares said in accepting his award. “Through love and kindness we have supported one another and begin to heal and find our new normal.
“The beauty of kindness is that it is shared,” he continued. “We should build bridges, not walls. Having kindness and love in our hearts creates a much more peaceful existence for all.”
The Ida & Samuel Latterman Volunteer Mitzvah Award was presented to Tim Smith, president and executive director of the Center of Life; Geraldine Massey, the family engagement coordinator at Center of Life; and Liddy Barlow, executive minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. The Center of Life is a community organization in Hazelwood that helps to provide underserved families with life skills, education and training.
“The time we live in now, more than ever, we need to be able to link up and be able to not just come together, but get together, so we can do something that has never been done before,” said Smith in accepting his award, a tzedakah box. “And I believe that is one of our charges as human beings.”
Symons, referring to all three recipients of the Latterman award as “giants,” praised Barlow for her role in fostering interfaith connections.
“You have mentored us in the art of interfaith gathering, helping us to understand the power of congregation, the power of ecumenical work, and the power of how that can spread beyond the Christian world,” he said.
The JCC, said Barlow in accepting her award is “a gift to our region. It is just a powerhouse of creative goodness. It is an inspiration to your neighbors of all faith traditions. And the JCC has also been a gift to me personally, because this has been the place where I have met some of the best colleagues that I have ever had the honor of working with. …It is a joy to be about the work of tikkun olam with you.”
The S.J. Noven Koach Award was presented to JCC board member Ina Gumberg; the Rogal-Ruslander Leadership Award was given to JCC board member Lori Shure; and the Lillian Goldstein Senior Adult Volunteer Leadership Award was presented to Earl Parker, an AgeWell volunteer.
Presidential citations were presented to Cary Klein, CEO of Big Burrito, and in memory of Jerry Segal.
Award recipients were all “exceptional volunteers and leaders,” said Schreiber.
New board members were installed as the only order of business on the agenda, including new board president Billy Goodman.
The evening concluded with a conversation featuring Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments and Doron Krakow, president and CEO of the JCC Association of North America, “to explore the role of community in our civic culture” and “the possibilities of what communities can be,” Schreiber said.
The conversation was moderated by Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a member of the advisory committee for the Center for Loving Kindness. Miller, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at UPMC Children’s Hospital, had been “instrumental as we developed new, inclusive language in our membership policy related to gender identity and expression,” Schreiber noted.
Miller queried Oliphant and Krakow on the meaning of community, and the JCC’s role in fostering community.
Oliphant quoted the Sufi poet, Hafez: “Out of a great need we are all holding hands and climbing. Not loving is a letting go. Listen. The terrain out here is far too dangerous for that.”
“My prayer for all of us is that we will hold onto that notion of community and work even harder to strengthen it,” Oliphant said, “even when we perceive wrongly that we don’t need it. The territory around here is far too dangerous for that.”
Krakow praised Pittsburgh’s communal response to the Oct. 27 massacre, and the role of the JCC in guiding the community toward resilience.
“I think of all the communities in the JCC movement, I have had reason to be in Pittsburgh more frequently than any of the others, and it has never failed to be a time when I am energized and inspired by this community, a community I knew well before it was struck by the tragedy of this past October 27,” he said. “Inevitably, I am moved and inspired by the people of the community and the things that they do, and tonight has been no exception.”
Krakow praised the volunteer leadership of the JCC, and its response to events that “they could not anticipate.”
“Nobody could possibly imagine they would be taking on the roles that lay leadership has in this last term, that they would have to preside and manage and shepherd the community through such remarkably difficult days,” he said. “I want to say on behalf of the JCC Association of North America that we are deeply and profoundly grateful to Jimmy Ruttenberg for his extraordinary leadership during this period.
“Communities are defined by a group of people with common interests, with common values and with common and shared experiences,” Krakow continued. “And the finest of communities are those that are also defined by the degree that they feel accountable to one another and responsible for one another. And it is in moments of crisis or tragedy or need where these defining elements of community are truly put to the test. And this is in Pittsburgh an extraordinary and remarkable example of great community.” pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at