Fresh but unfamiliar faces were seen at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh recently as representatives from JResponse worked throughout the Squirrel Hill building stuffing envelopes, welcoming guests and helping out wherever needed.
Conceived of by the JCC Association of North America, JRepsonse deploys trained JCC professionals to “assist when disaster strikes,” said organization representatives. Its personnel were in Pittsburgh to offer a break to communal professionals who had been working around the clock since the Oct. 27 anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue building.
In an effort to grant these employees either a long Shabbat or extended weekend, representatives of JResponse arrived — some for Friday service, others for Monday duty — eager to bid their colleagues adieu.
Tina Kaplan, who works in fitness reception at the JCC MetroWest in West Orange, N.J., assumed a similar function in the Squirrel Hill center. Standing beside Lauren Dworkin of the Bender JCC of Greater Washington, the two professional transplants aided patrons entering the building.
“People are really appreciative,” said Kaplan.
Hours earlier, she saw how her Pittsburgh counterpart reacted to being told to take the day off because of the hard work she had been doing until then.
“She was really happy. She was in disbelief. She was very sweet,” said Kaplan. “You could see directly that’s why we were here to give some relief and a little bit of joy and show community support, and I think you could see it sinking in.”
Dworkin, who is the family engagement and parenting center director at the Bender JCC, echoed the delight in serving such a role.
Whether it is the people or the facilities, “there are similarities between this center and ours, and recognizing how similar the communities are, it deepens the feelings of empathy,” she said.
Pittsburgh was JResponse’s first deployment. It is being supported by the JCC Association and participating JCCs, said Doron Krakow, the organization’s president and CEO.
“Each JCC is contributing directly by providing these staff members on loan,” said Krakow.
Transportation, housing and related costs are covered by a strategic action fund established by members of the JCC Association’s board.
Created last year, the fund provides “flexible resources for innovative programming,” explained Krakow. “In this instance, we are providing a subsidy to each participating JCC JResponse participant for the first $250 in costs. Beyond that, participating JCCs are picking up the difference.”
Thus, staff members of JCCs around the country are able to alleviate their colleagues in Pittsburgh without it costing either the traveler or the Pittsburgh JCC any money.
The goal, said Krakow, is to raise enough funds so that each participating JCC can ultimately send its JResponse members and never have to worry about contributing additional money.
As part of the initial deployment to Pittsburgh, responders have served as lifeguards, in concierge roles at the fitness desk or for AgeWell at the JCC, in member services, at the front desk and also as facilities and security support. JResponse representatives from around the country will continue to serve their Pittsburgh colleagues throughout the end of 2018, explained Alexis Winsten Mancuso, assistant executive director at Pittsburgh’s JCC.
Steve McGarr, youth operations director at the JCC of Central New Jersey, participated in JResponse training last year. The experience, he said, readied him to serve in the Steel City.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s facilities or fitness or seniors or [early childhood], or whatever they ask us to do while we’re here,” said McGarr, who drove six hours from New Jersey in order to work here last Friday and Monday.
Sam Aboudara, who oversees the JCC affiliated camp system for New Jersey, flew in Thursday evening after finishing work in order to aid his Pittsburgh counterparts all day Friday.
“Today I am working with Emma Kaufmann Camp and just helping them with some administrative support,” he said while seated next to a stack of mailings.
Aboudara has been working within the JCC system for more than six years.
“I think that the beauty of being part of a national network organization like the JCC movement allows us to be able to help the people we work in partnership with,” said Aboudara. “I know that if we were to go through a disaster like this in our home territory of New Jersey that we too would want kind of the assistance of being able to have professional people who do the work that we do, and be able to step in, allow us to take care of bigger priorities or support us just during tough times.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.