by Adam Levine
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which is about as far from Washington, DC as you can get while still in the United States. Coming from the suburbs of a mid-sized city an hour south of Seattle, I wasn’t exposed to the same American Jewish culture that a lot of other American Jews (from larger cities) grew up with. The closest JCC to me was a 45-minute drive north to Mercer Island, an affluent and very Jewish suburb of Seattle. Most of my friends from Jewish sleepover camp grew up in that area. They went to the JCC and to them it was just a part of being an American Jew. “You don’t have a JCC?” they would ask me in surprise and confusion. “You mean you don’t have a place to go to Hebrew High on Wednesday nights?” they would say.
The answer is simple: No, I did not frequent a JCC growing up. I had never heard of a Jewish Day School until I roomed with other American Jews while living in Israel. And the idea of having Jewish friends outside of those I met at summer camp was completely foreign to me. I envied my friends for having so much more exposure to a Jewish community; for being able to attend the same high school as their Jewish friends. This was something I just didn’t have growing up.
September 2nd, 2008 marked my first day of work at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Ironically enough, it also marked the first day I ever stepped foot into a JCC. I had no idea what the JCC was and didn’t really know what to expect. The fact that the building has a gym, a preschool, a café, a theatre, an art gallery, a library, a conference hall, and numerous offices all under one roof was all too overwhelming for me. After weeks and weeks of working here I still asked myself, what is this place?
Although the answer still isn’t completely clear, I now have a much better idea of what the Washington DCJCC is and its overall mission. The DCJCC is unique unto its own. For one thing, it is only one of three urban Jewish Community Centers in the country. Aside from the abundance of programs, events and opportunities it provides, it is also a place of great diversity. I have never walked into this building only to find people of one age group, one race, or one religious background. And that’s one thing I love about this place. I love that it can bring both Jews and non-Jews together. Together for athletics, theatre productions, literature readings, community service events, parties (and the list goes on and on).
So, in some ways, there’s no wonder why I was so confused and overwhelmed when I first came here. But now I know what this place is for. This place is here to provide Jews and non-Jews alike a place for community. I place to participate in anything and everything that comes through these four walls, right in the heart of Washington, DC. For a city with so much hope, so much drive and so much diversity, the Washington DCJCC is a place that welcomes it all, and that is what I will miss most about this place.
Adam Levine spent the last year in Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps working in the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service’s Behrend Builders program.