by Ellery Lew and Rebecca Asbell
(Edmonton) – It’s almost as if we’re getting married.
The Jewish Federation of Edmonton and the Talmud Torah Society are acting on the direction that the Jewish Community gave both organizations; namely to start discussing the placement and building of a new Jewish Community Center on land adjacent to the Talmud Torah. If successful, these discussions will yield two significant outcomes – a new JCC building, and a contract defining how these two strong and vital organizations will get along now and into the future.
In many respects, the building of the JCC is the easier of the two simply because (as any married couple can tell you) the building of a long-term relationship, one that can last a lifetime, is very complex.
The Jewish Federation, and the Talmud Torah Society – each with their own need for due diligence – must not only understand the implications of changing land use but also of changing relationships. In a marriage we symbolically use a Ketubah to represent our commitment to each other as well as our responsibility to each other.
For the new JCC to flourish for future generations, we must carefully consider the words that go into a contract that, like the Ketubah, defines how we get along.
As with any other relationship discussion, both sides will have to define, explicitly, what they want and what they need. It sounds boring, but it’s important for each party to understand the requirements for our relationship to work. To help with that understanding, we will be asking questions like:
- Based on the community feedback we have received, what can we realistically build and sustain long term?
- What is the benefit to Edmonton’s Jewish community having the JCC built upon Talmud Torah Land?
- What does the Talmud Torah gain from having a JCC attached to its building?
- Who will pay for and who own what, now and into the future?
It may seem obvious the benefits to the community and to the Talmud Torah. But how often have unspoken words, the obvious words, not been obvious to others? It is vital, for this to be a success, that we have those hard and awkward conversations, that we make explicit what only seems obvious. We must do this because the stakes are so high.
Building a new JCC in Edmonton is not simply an act of building a structure or enhancing a relationship between the JFED and TTS, but an even more complex process of community building. Of adding as much value, both financial and community based, as possible to Jewish Edmonton.
Building a great, inclusive facility takes time. Time to understand the needs that the facility will serve, now and into the future. Time to understand the impacts that facility will have on the land and existing organizational structures. Time to understand how to best build the relationships needed to maintain the structure for the life of our grandchildren. And finally, time to understand how to add value to our community, to build it up and make Jewish Edmonton more resilient, welcoming and understanding.
In the coming weeks the TTS and JFED will be forming committees to begin negotiations. Using the feedback received at the town hall meetings as a starting point, we will work together to identify the issues – both the challenges and the opportunities – that will help us define our relationship as well as our needs in a JCC. We expect our kickoff meeting to be sometime in early January and we will provide updates as frequently as reasonably possible.
It is important to remember that sometimes you must go slowly to go quickly.
Ellery Lew is President of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton and Rebecca Asbell is President of the Edmonton Talmud Torah Society.