By Raquel Markus-Finckler and Anabella Jaroslavsky
Currently Venezuela is witnessing one of the biggest economic and social crises in Latin America in the last century. The country is evidencing shortages in important items related to food, medicines and supplies of all kinds. The statistics of murders, kidnappings, robberies, drug trafficking among other social evils does not stop growing month after month and the numbers are quite staggering. Unfortunately, it is also true that due to the country’s situation, the Jewish community has been shrinking continually throughout the last 15 years.
In this context, the Hebraica Jewish Community Center has increasingly become the heart of everyday life for the vast majority of Jewish families living in Caracas. Within its space the Community Educational System is also located – with a preschool, primary school and a high school. Hebraica JCC-Campus is a little country in its own right, where children spend their entire day, circulate freely and become acquainted with a way of living in a society of its own. Most families with school-age children attend Hebraica from Monday through Friday, and many of its members develop in this institution their extracurricular activities: sports, culture, dance, fitness, recreation for all ages and complementary education such as belonging to a youth movement and all kind of leadership endeavors. In Hebraica our members find security and tranquility for themselves and their loved ones notwithstanding the turbulence of the world outside its gates. With the vast majority of the Jewish population of Venezuela, both child and adult, making Hebraica their multi-purpose home from home, we have used this opportunity, to create a project that allows us to convey Jewish values as a transversal content in all our activities. Through the Mekorot Project, and with the support of Keren Pincus, we are achieving this goal. Today, belonging to Hebraica JCC is not only to be a member of a club coming to receive a service, it is to be immersed in a Jewish world, in an institution with a Jewish soul.
Although formal education is fundamental for the children and youth that grow within a Jewish community, it is also true that the additional formation provided by non-formal education can be particularly transcendent and significant. That was one of the main goals we wanted to achieve with Mekorot Project, an initiative created in 2015 at Hebraica Social Cultural and Sports Center, located in Caracas, Venezuela.
The Mekorot Project was presented on the occasion of the participation of our community in the Mekorock International Project, founded in Israel, in which, through art and music, contents from the Jewish sources were incorporated for a not easy age to attract: Teenagers.
The success obtained in quality of the content and the educational process reached, urged us to create a crossed-institutional project, and especially with regard to art and culture in which, with the use of Jewish sources, we could establish a curriculum based on values and the expression of what was learned through different forms of art. The project started a pilot phase during the year 2015 and was approved by the Keren Pincus to officially start in January 2016.
The theme connecting literally all parts of the institution – from sports to Jewish studies – begins by choosing a value related with the 10 Commandments given by Moses to the Jewish people on an annual basis. “Honor thy father and thy mother…” for example, was chosen as the initial theme uniting all parts of the institution, as a source of development of the value of respect in a society in which peace is encouraged. Through the Mekorot Project a training process for all the staff working in the JCC began to reach all ages and activities, and especially the one´s related to cultural and arts activities, to reach the goal to use the events produced as a disseminating form of a new way to see values.
Today Mekorot is a project that cuts across all the activities and services of our community center, with a population of about 6,000 people of which 3,000 are under 18. Project Mekorot seeks to impact the life, thoughts and behavior of people that are active in Hebraica, by transmitting the values and principles treasured by Judaism throughout thousands of years of history. This is possible only if ALL the staff – teachers, coaches, madrichim and others are touched by the training process provided by a group of motivating dynamics around the value chosen. The challenge of how to adapt the contents of this training to each specific activity, and convey the depth of the possibility to use values in each action and expression, is part of the courses of study.
With events, activities and services developed by the valuable professional team that works in our community center, each year Mekorot has centered its activities in remembering, strengthening and emphasizing two or three main concepts of the Jewish people. In 2016 we worked on respect and empathy, and in 2017 we are focusing on justice, social justice and commitment. In each case, all members of staff are exposed to in-depth textual study and discussion on this theme, and work out how to make it visible and meaningful within their specific sphere of activity.
To impact the life of a community with values and principles of the Jewish people transmitted through art, culture, music, theater, films, lectures, conferences, shiurim, dance festivals, recreational camps, has required a great dedication, work and preparation of teachers, madrichim, guides, managers, coordinators, rabbis and rabaniot, among the professionals that are part of our institution. We owe them, no doubt, the achievements and success of this journey taken by Project Mekorot in taking values into action.
We are now expanding the reach of the project to engage the formal day school in the training process. We expect in the long run, a major transformation of attitudes to nurture individuals that use the values of their heritage as critical information needed in every decision making process. A JCC like Hebraica is a kind of experiment in community, and through Mekorot we are making it better and full of significance.
Anabella Jaroslavsky has been Executive Director of Hebraica JCC Caracas-Venezuela from 1993, and creator of Mekorot Project in 2015.
Raquel Markus-Finckler is the professional coordinator of Mekorot Project in Hebraica JCC from February 2016.