A Look Back with Lael Gray, CEO
By Lael Gray, CEO of Jewish Silicon Valley, March 2021
I lived in Miami Beach when Hurricane Andrew struck in August of 1992. Throughout the COVID pandemic, I’ve often found myself referring to that experience as I try to find some context to understand the current natural disaster we are going through. There are some similarities between living through the pandemic today and that one long night of sheltering in the dark while a terrifying and powerful storm wreaked havoc all around us. We are spending a lot of time stress-eating and trying to be brave and cheerful while waiting for this to end. And only when the storm is over will we be able to fully assess the damage, identify what is needed to recover, and begin to deal with the trauma. That one night in Miami was life changing. It is impossible to imagine right now how the COVID pandemic, with its staggering amount of death and destruction, will forever alter each one of us.
Looking back, it has been an intense 12 months, with so much to mourn and so much to feel grateful about. In keeping with the many conflicting stories and confusion that have surfaced all over the world, our JCC has both struggled and in some important ways thrived this past year. COVID restrictions have been devastating to our typical revenue streams, forcing us to make painful cuts to our staff and operations and to absorb significant losses. Yet this shakeup drove us to keenly focus on what we could do to support people’s well being: keeping people connected to each other through our strong community; providing programs for children to keep them learning and socially engaged; and giving people access to a variety of fitness options — virtually and onsite — to support their physical and mental health. It’s taken tremendous fortitude and creativity on the part of our staff to regularly adapt our programs, methods of delivery and schedules while striving to reduce the risk of COVID transmission. But the shared sense of purpose and the tremendously positive feedback we’ve received from our members, families and participants keeps us going. We have a better understanding today than we did a year ago of how impactful our work is in improving people’s lives.
We’ve also been bolstered by looking to the future. The Jewish Federation and APJCC’s decision to merge into a single organization preceded the pandemic and was temporarily shelved as we worked to find our balance in the midst of COVID. Once the merger effort was revived, it became clear that the mission and vision of our combined organization, Jewish Silicon Valley, had even more resonance now that so many in our community were taking stock of how to function in the “new normal.” The sudden accessibility of video conferencing allowed us to meet with numerous stakeholders and community partners and to gain a deeper understanding of how the new entity can best serve our entire Jewish community. We have now successfully brought our staff and a new Board of Directors together around our new mission to “harness the power of community to improve lives, build bridges of understanding, and strengthen the Jewish people here, in Israel, and around the world.” I can’t overstate the excitement all of us have for bringing the strengths of these two organizations together to better serve our community.
Like all of you, I have had my ups and downs this past year. There has been a lot of fear and sadness. I’ve felt lonely at times. I’m Zoomed out and tired of saying “You’re on mute.” I’ve also felt tremendous gratitude for my family and friends, for my health, and for the people I get to work with every day — the staff and volunteers who show up with energy and enthusiasm in spite of whatever might be bringing them down. The kindness and generosity of the people in this community is inspiring. I truly look forward to emerging from this storm together to rebuild in innovative ways that will carry us into a very bright future.