Jackie Congedo — In Conversation
With the City as His Classroom, HUC Fellow Learns Community (and Human) Relations
Jewish values drive our work at the JCRC, and so it was with great pleasure that we welcomed HUC rabbinic student and Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati Fellow Jason Cook to our team this summer. Jason brought richness and insight based in Jewish text and values to meetings, outreach, initiatives, programs, relationships, and conversations. His perspective enriched and better informed our work protecting Jewish security recognizing that Jewish security depends on a just society for all. Take a minute to read his reflection on the power and importance of relationships below. – Jackie
One of the major themes and core competencies of the third year of rabbinical school is Human Relations. To that end, Hebrew Union College−Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC) students have the opportunity to serve throughout the Cincinnati community to gain experience in Jewish community relations. Some work in synagogues, learning how we, as rabbis, will interact with our community from the pulpit. Some work in education, focusing on how to build connections between people in and out of the classroom. This summer, I have been lucky and privileged to work at the Jewish Community Relations Council and learn from Jackie Congedo and Justin Kirschner how our relationships can help build, grow, and affect change within our community.
Rabbinical students are not unfamiliar with the concept of human relations. We often speak in class about relational theology, that is, that we as individuals have relationship with G-d and with other humans and that these relationships are the foundations for how we live and understand our religious existence. At the same time, we have fewer opportunities to put these ideas into action. My time with the JCRC has given me the opportunity to see how relationships between individuals have real world, significant consequences and how these relationships serve to build community.
The JCRC, at its core, is a convener; it is an organization that brings people together, putting individuals in relationship with each other. Often, that means convening in a board room, looking around a table and seeing those who look different and have had different experiences than our own. Sometimes, that also means having lunch with colleagues and falling into a casual conversation about Biblical history. Always, being a convener means being able to look at another person and have a conversation. Those conversations are how we build relationships, and those relationships are how we build community.
My work at the JCRC has been centered on finding new ways to create these relationships and helping support the existing structures that already facilitate our communal connections. It has meant marching, canvassing, and organizing events. It has also meant sitting, listening, and remembering that the priority is people and relationships.
One of my professors at HUC often reminds students, and models himself, on the concept of tzimtzum. Tzimtzum is a belief in Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) that in creating the world, G-d had to contract and condense G-d’s infinite presence to create space for a finite world. This professor emphasizes that we also must often exercise tzimtzum—we must create space for the people with whom we are in relation. Without that contraction, without creating the space for the other, we have no opportunity for relationship.
Though my time with the JCRC is quickly drawing to a close, I am looking forward to bringing my experience working and serving this community into my studies and incorporating the lessons I have learned into my future rabbinate. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked and learned with Jackie and Justin, be a part of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, and find new and meaningful connections to the Cincinnati community as a whole.
The Jewish Community Relations Council is one of more than fifty programs and agencies funded by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati: We look at the whole picture, taking into account the diverse needs of the entire community. Together we can do almost anything.
Thanks to you, the JCRC is protecting Jewish security, recognizing that Jewish security depends on a just society for all.