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JRC is an amazing, vibrant, dedicated, and participatory community. At last year’s annual meeting, we described how JRC had managed to adapt to the unexpected lockdown as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Like many other organizations, we tackled new challenges with innovation and creativity. We improvised to make Zoom work for us, while maintaining a strong sense of community. A challenging year later, we continue to improvise, to learn, and to grow from our experiences. JRC has responded in thoughtful ways to the rapidly changing world around us.

As we got used to praying, meeting, and learning on Zoom, we learned the importance of a key new job — the Zoom Gabbai. Like a traditional Gabbai, our Zoom Gabbaim troubleshoot along the sidelines of a service, ensuring everything runs smoothly, so our clergy and speakers can focus on leading and speaking. Thank you to all our volunteer Zoom Gabbaim.  As we plan for in-person services resuming in fall 2021, we hope to remain hybrid and to continue welcoming remote attendees, so our Zoom Gabbai role is here to stay. If you are interested in learning more about this great way to help JRC be JRC, please reach out to Executive Director Micky Baer.

JRC has been trying to take on our challenges through creative improvisation for several years. In 2017, JRC became one of nine local congregations to participate in the CHIdush program. CHIdush led a team of members, clergy, and staff on a journey embracing “design thinking” to JRC’s Religious School. Design thinking entails identifying our challenges, trying out new ideas to help address them, and sharing learnings from our successes and our failures. Shifting our religious school to a single session and adding family education days came out of this process.

jrc-jewish-reconstructionist-congregation-pandemic-torah-transfer-1Innovating beyond CHIdush, Rabbi Rachel and our awesome Rebbetzin Julia Tauber created a new ritual object, a custom Torah dedicated to the current 7th grade celebrating their B’nai Mitzvah during this pandemic year. Our members have brought  us a slew of outdoor gathering opportunities as well as  daily visuals on social media, as #JRCcounts through the 49 days of the Omer. Clergy and members are collaborating to expand this innovation approach across other parts of JRC and to ensure that as an organization, we continue learning from our successes and our failures.

Recognizing the many challenges JRC-ers have faced over the last year, we reiterate our hope that family economics will not bar full participation in JRC’s congregational life.  Just as JRC as an institution is not ashamed to acknowledge that we needed the two federal PPP loans we received to keep our staff engaged in the work of JRC, we don’t want members facing economic hardship to feel ashamed about reaching out privately to discuss challenges to their full engagement.

Another way we help ensure JRCers are OK is maintaining our Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) work in Immigrant Justice, Racial Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion, and Gun Violence Prevention.  We have  attended outdoor protests and marches, have filed on-line witness slips in Springfield, and organized Zoom panels and film discussions. Our board brought an anti-racist focus to examining new and existing policies, and we endorsed the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.

Our leadership has worked to make thoughtful decisions about the ways in which JRC affects our physical and mental health. Since the very start of the pandemic, we have benefitted from the wisdom of JRC members who are medical, mental health, and public health professionals. Thank you to these professionals for being an incredible resource and sounding board. Anyone wanting to join an advisory group of health care and education professionals refining plans for next year’s Religious School, can reach out to Rabbi David Eber.

This summer, we are offering in-person activities, including summer camp at the Early Childhood Center, and our ever-popular lakefront services. Every Friday evening all summer, these services will also be livestreaming on Facebook.  Looking ahead to indoor services this fall, we will ask everyone attending in person to be vaccinated if eligible, and we’ll continue offering remote options.  Please reach out to Micky Baer if you need help making or getting to a vaccination appointment.

I enjoyed Zooming into a recent Erev Shabbat service featuring our awesome clergy, and performances by members. I loved the description of JRC as a campfire, kindled by clergy, stoked by our Zoom Gabbai, and fed our talented members’ own light. Over this challenging year, our health care professionals have added their light, board members have adjusted the flames with their service, and our religious school families and teachers enlarged our fire’s warmth.

Thank you to all of our adaptive innovators who have kept JRC’s fire burning brightly.


By President Elliot Frolichstein-Appel