In the weeks immediately following the North Valley JCC shooting, one of the most incendiary articles to come out was headlined, "Where Were the Rabbis?"
The column in New York's The Jewish Week quoted an anonymous JCC executive from L.A. saying things like, "We felt the hand of humanity, but the hand of God was not extended from our own rabbis."With a year's perspective on the incident, local rabbis - who spent the hours, days and weeks following the shooting counseling their congregants, many of whom were at the JCC that day, and visiting the victims in the hospital - are no less infuriated by the charges, nor do they lend them any more credibility.JCC officials, especially when going on the record locally, are more constructive in their approach than they appeared in the unattributed comments in the New York paper one year ago.
But while the column caused some local blood to boil, it did open channels for rabbinic leaders and JCC executives to address the perception that rabbis did not fulfill their duty, and to determine how to build a better relationship.
Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, who was then interim executive vice-president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, asked Federation president John Fishel to convene a meeting with Board of Rabbis representatives and Jeff Rouss, who was then executive vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, and Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCC's asso-ciate executive vice president.Goldmark says that while the JCC executives felt it was obvious the rabbis should have immediately come to the scene of the crime, rabbis felt it was far from obvious.
First, Goldmark says, it was an active crime scene, roped off by police and FBI, and until Buford O. Furrow Jr. was captured the next day, protected by a SWAT team.
Instead, rabbis were dispatched to hospitals, while others in the most immediate vicinity tended to their own distraught congregants, many of whom were members of the JCC.
But beyond the chaos and legitimate danger of the day, Goldmark acknowledges there were "turf issues.""Rabbis want to help, we want to be of assistance in any way we can, but there is an old rabbinic concept of hasagat g'vul, overstepping of boundaries. People don't want to intrude upon somebody else's territory," Goldmark explains. "Many rabbis feel very strongly that they are not going to burst into a place where they have had no relationship in the past."
That is a concern, rabbinic and communal leaders agreed, that could be addressed by constructive efforts to develop the relationship between rabbis and JCCs so that calling upon each other - for rituals, educa-tion, programming collaboration or crisis response - seems the natural and expected way to go.Giladi of the JCCs said the situation made clear that build-ing relationships was necessary so that any Jewish institution in crisis should "be able to call on the rabbis of the community to serve in a chaplaincy role and be able to give the religious, spiritual and emotional guidance and support that a Jewish institution needs during a crisis."
The JCC central offices set up meetings between local JCCs and rabbis in the neighborhood.Giladi says those initial meetings happened over this year, and the format of the meetings differed according to the needs and makeup of the locality.
Some programs have already emerged, Giladi says. Adat Ari El in North Hollywood is setting up a program to offer religious school programming at nearby Valley Cities JCC; an area rabbi delivered a prayer at a JCC preschool graduation in Conejo; collaborative programs such as Purim carnivals and festivals continue in many areas.
"With certain synagogues we have membership reciprocity, we share releasing of information so we can encourage our member-ship to support local synagogue programming and events, as they do for us. Our professional staffs have collegial relationships to share resources on things like staff education and early childhood," Giladi says. Much of this programming existed before last year, although more collaboration is still emerging.
"We need to establish the kind of chaplaincy where JCC's have a group of rabbis that is part of their structure, and the JCCs can call local rabbis with whom they have an ongoing relationship and say we need help, or the local rabbis can call the center and say can I be of some assistance. That is the most valuable kind of thing," says Rabbi Gilbert Kollin, president of the Board of Rabbis.
Rabbi Steven Tucker, rabbi of Temple Ramat Zion in North-ridge, says while there was some collaborative programming with his synagogue's nursery school and the one at the North Valley JCC after the shooting, "in terms of an ongoing relationship it hasn't happened very much in any formal way."Tucker says he does have an ongoing relationship with the senior program at the West Valley JCC, looking toward the North Valley JCC as well.
Kollin believes it is a task that should be at the top of the agen-da for Rabbi Mark Diamond, who became director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California last week, and Zev Hymowitz, the interim executive vice-president of JCC, following Jeff Rouss' departure.
Meanwhile, the Board of Rabbis has worked on its crisis response efforts.The board has offered itself as a Jewish contact to local Red Cross chapters, and has listed itself as a crisis contact at all the L.A. area airports.
"When the Alaska Air crash occurred off Point Mugu in January, we were able to do what I think was important. We called upon one of the rabbis in Ventura and made sure that she was present to give comfort to the families," Goldmark says.
But, he adds, there is no way to script a response to a crisis."In essence what we need to do is show caring and concern, but we need to recognize that so many of these things just can't be planned out, because they are so unique."
At the suggestion of Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the American Jewish Committee, the Board of Rabbis circulated a letter encouraging all of its members on this sad anniversary to speak from the pulpit about peace, tolerance and understanding other cultures.
Giladi sees the emerging relationship as the silver lining in the cloud of the shooting."Although there was a time where clearly everybody was feeling the stress and distress of going through a crisis, I think some wonderful community building has resulted from it," she says.