The announcement last week that Joy Kurland was relinquishing her leadership of our Jewish Community Relations Council as of August 31 left me with a mixture of emotions.
The first is gratitude. Joy served our community with passion and compassion; she was both advocate and activist on behalf of our northern New Jersey Jewish community. Joy Kurland led our community to transform the JCRC from one that effectively reacted to events of concern, to a proactive force for the betterment of our local community.
Joy is the person who has facilitated the building of strong bridges to the ever-more-diverse population of northern New Jersey by building a network of social action and social justice outreach programs, such as Mitzvah Day and Bergen Reads, and simultaneously created tables for the Interfaith, multiethnic, and intra-Jewish dialogue that are models for JCRCs and Jewish federations around the country. Joy’s passion and her skills as community organizer and facilitator have inspired hundreds of lay volunteers in our community to join in the efforts of the JCRC. As I said at the JCRC board meeting two weeks ago, where her decision to step down was announced, in my 40 years in the rabbinate, I have never met a Jewish leader, lay or professional, who inspired and taught me more than Joy.
My second emotion about Joy’ s departure as JCRC director is a sense of challenge that is best expressed in the ancient words of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot:
“The time is short; the task is great; and even if we do not live to see its completion we are nonetheless required to continue to work ”
While Joy Kurland is on one level irreplaceable, our responsibility today is to call upon our Jewish federation leadership to do a true nationwide search to find an accomplished Jewish community relations professional to take on the task of continuing the work that she has accomplished and the unfinished tasks she leaves for us to continue to bring to completion.
In a world where the cancer of anti-Semitism is reappearing in new strains, where the strains of conflict and competition between and among religious and ethnic communities is on the rise across America, where the gap between rich and poor places ever-increasing stresses on the social service safety nets of both our community institutions and our government agencies, the work of our JCRC is more needed than ever.
Under Joy’s leadership, for the last 25 years JCRC has been the facilitator and convener of intergroup cooperation, including dialogue between our Jewish community and our Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jain, Baha’I, and Christian neighbors; the advocate for our Jewish community to our local, state and national political leaders; and the initiator of a multitude of group dialogues with Korean, Latino, African-American, and Muslim community organizations here in northern New Jersey. The continuation of these programs is essential.
As American Jews we are an integral part both of the fabric of American life and of the world Jewish community. The dual blessing of our Jewish and American identities places responsibilities upon us. Our Jewish heritage and its values of concern for the stranger and the poor and widow and orphan, which are repeated throughout the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, are our inspiration to be advocates for social justice for all of our fellow Americans. Exercising our rights as American citizens, our interaction, friendships, and alliances with both public officials and other communal leaders that we have achieved through our JCRC work plays a critical role in our advocacy for Israel and our fellow Jews around the world.
One example, incised in my heart and on my mind, occurred in November 2012, when northern New Jersey was dealing with the devastation of Superstorm Sandy and rockets from Gaza were raining down upon Israel. In the midst of a local crisis for which our JCRC was mobilizing volunteer assistance, Catholic leaders who had accompanied us on a Jewish/Catholic pilgrimage to Israel the week before Sandy showed up at our federation rally to raise their voices and donate their money to help the people of the State of Israel. While I was honored to be the rabbinic leader of that mission, the idea and the implementation was the work of Joy Kurland.
As Joy moves on to the next chapter of her life, I know that all of us in the northern New Jersey community wish her many years of continued health and happiness. I know that in the spirit of Rabbi Tarfon, she will continue to work toward the goal of tikun olam. May we who have been blessed by her leadership, guidance, and example rededicate ourselves to the work of our JCRC, as we work together with the leadership of our community to continue to make JCRC a major priority of our Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.