. . . Bearing little resemblance to an office and more to the crummy medical exam room it probably once was, the cramped space holds a filing cabinet filled with papers from previous editors, a desk, two really ugly chairs that make for some difficult maneuvering (you can't quite open the door if the one for visitors isn't positioned just so), and a bookshelf brought from home, my one concession to "moving in." Well, "moving in two months" stretched into "moving in the spring" and then the fall, then the next winter, the following spring and so on through another year. I continued to put out the paper and refused to hang anything on the office walls.
I lost one and then another assistant, both of whom needed to move on for personal reasons. My current assistant has been here almost a year and the paper is finally starting to feel like "home." Which is probably why now is as good a time as any to uproot. Anytime you get too comfortable in the Jewish world, it's definitely time to move on.
On the other hand, I have to say, with an office like mine, I really can't wait to move. Ugly, cramped, windowless, dingy - need I say more? My new office, like my current one, is within the office suite of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County. The newspaper is an agency, as is the Center for Jewish Education of Rockland, of the Federation in a way unlike the JCC, Hillel and Jewish Family Service are agencies with their own offices with overhead and staff expenses. Instead the newspaper exists within Federation, as part of it.
Yet all of us - the Federation, CJER, the Jewish Reporter, JFS, the JCC, HUVPAC and Hadassah - will be moving to our new home within days. As I'm writing this, I'm looking at the empty bulletin board I just stripped of papers and wondering what really needs packing and what can be filed in the trash can. The new building is in the former Champion Paper building, highly visible from the nexus of the Palisades Parkway and the New York Thruway. It has been completely gutted, renovated and veneered to be the kind of central home for the Jewish community that organizers have been dreaming of for years. It is the kind of Jewish community center that a county with 90,000 Jews should have.
I grew up in Dallas and it seems that there was always a Jewish Community Center there. It had a huge outdoor pool where we spent every blazing hot Texas summer day, a nursery school that I attended and a summer camp where I was both a camper and a counselor (about a decade apart, not at the same time!). It had a thriving sports program where my brother played baseball and basketball, art classes from oil painting to ceramics that imbued me with a life-long interest in art and Hebrew courses that I took in high school after Hebrew school had run out of classes for me.
Later renovations since then have added to the Dallas "J": racquetball courts, a spa and an indoor pool. As is here, the Jewish Federation's offices are at that location and at one point, Jewish Family Service was also on the same campus.
The JCC offered so many activities that I took for granted. Attending events there was simply part of my Jewish upbringing. And I don't think I was alone. Having all of those resources available in one place provided a tangible focus for the entire Jewish community, one that synagogues and scattered agencies don't.
One thing Jews often seem to do better at when they live in the real diaspora -- that is the scattering of Jews beyond the New York region, not the exile from the Holy Land -- is band together. Jews in the New York area take for granted the proximity of other Jews, reckoning there will always be some more just around the corner for a minyan, or to raise money, or to build a community. Outside the New York area Jews simply need each other more. So perhaps that's why a place like Dallas has always had a JCC and why it's taken awhile for a place with as many Jews as Rockland to create enough momentum for such a facility.
"All over the country, the smaller Jewish communities that exist within larger gentile communities, they need to be closer together," says Barry Kantrowitz, the president of the Rockland Jewish Community campus board who has dedicated an enormous amount of time to the new building. "Because they are small, they need to spend time together, to seek each other out. But in our community, there's a significantly larger Jewish community. Everyone is very comfortable here. That comfort level is a blessing at times and it's a curse. There's a level of complacency in the Jewish community."
Well, fortunately for this community, that level of complacency appears to have been overcome. With the hard work of Kantrowitz and his RJCC committee, builder Arnie Garelick and JCC Executive Director David Kirschtel, the Rockland Jewish Community is about to have a place it can really call home. The cover story on page TK will fill you in on the details, but it's very clear that organizers have created a Jewish center of which we can all be proud.
Right now, in the throes of moving it doesn't feel very promising. There's a lot of confusion and anxiety and really wish it weren't happening on my deadline!But all moves, even planned ones are painful. So ask me in another month, when I'm sitting in my light filled office what I think of the growing pains that got me there.
I'll probably be too busy looking out the window to care.
Marla Cohen is editor of the Rockland Jewish Reporter.