Feeling Inspired: Eric Maurer's Summer at CJE

Eric%2C%2029Nov.jpgDriving down Park Heights Avenue on an early summer morning, I notice the signs that seem to follow me on my journey.  “The Associated:  Inspiring Jewish Community.”  Left and right the signs continued.
I find myself reflecting: “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Ok.  My name isn’t Dorothy nor have I ever been to Kansas, but where was I?
Born and raised in Boston, I found myself in Charm City as part of my graduate studies in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University.  As part of the dual MA degree program, we spend the summer in between our two years working at a Jewish organization and applying what we have learned into the Jewish communal field.
Honestly, I did not know quite what to expect.  I have a few relatives who live in the surrounding areas.  And Baltimore had gotten quite a bit of media coverage prior to my visit, but I was not sure entirely what I was getting myself into.
The Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE) is a special place, unique in the landscape of Federation agencies.  Across the country Jewish Federation education agencies have closed, unsupported by their communities and unable to overcome the financial hardships of the recession.  Prior to my departure my professor explained that CJE in Baltimore was the exception to the trend, flourishing under exceptional professional and lay leadership, as well as support from the community.  What was the secret behind CJE’s success?
In a professional development session with the renowned Jewish educator Erica Brown, the CJE’s success was credited to its attitude towards education.  Brown explained that too often education is viewed as a luxury in the Jewish communal world.  However, CJE – and the Baltimore Jewish community for that matter – understand that education is a necessity.
This attitude permeated in the initiatives that I worked on this summer.  One such project that I worked on was the 29November initiative, aimed at commemorating the UN vote on partition in Israel in 1947.  Taking a multi-dimensional approach, 29November aims at providing resources for educators, families and individuals to learn about and celebrate the miracle of Jewish statehood.  The project will be launched with a celebration of miracles, Al  haNisim, on  December 9th, combining the miracles of Chanukkah and 29th of November.
This summer I experienced first hand the passion and professionalism that infuses the work at CJE.  If I had to sum up all my experiences into three take-aways, here they are:
1. Dream Big
Echoing the words of Theodore Herzl, “If you will it, it is not a dream; and if you do not will it, a dream it is and a dream it will stay.”  Inspiring and at times overwhelming, I saw firsthand how CJE professionals are encouraged to dream big.  Under the wonderful supervision and mentorship of Amalia Phillips, a powerhouse of ideas at CJE, I was encouraged to set the bar high.  
2. Be a Thickening Agent
Brown explained that there are two types of identity – thick and thin.  “Thick identities reflect core aspects of a person’s sense of self that remain somewhat timeless and relatively unaffected by change… Thin identities are malleable, less significant, and often bounded by place and time.”  As Jewish communal professionals and educators we must be thickening agents of Jewish identity, building identities that transcend time and place.
3. Don’t Be a Silo
The Jewish communal landscape is full of other individuals and organizations committed and invested in similar missions, values and initiatives as our own.  By building bridges and partnerships, whether between departments or different organizations, our programs and services can be deeply enhanced.
Little did I know when I first arrived, but “The Associated: Inspiring Jewish Community” signs would foreshadow my departure.  Just as the work that CJE does inspires the Jewish community, so too I am leaving Baltimore feeling inspired in the work that I will do.  The lessons and experience that I gained this summer will follow me into my future career endeavors and I look forward to when I can return to the Baltimore community.  Thank you to everyone from CJE and the Baltimore Jewish community who welcomed me into your city. 

CJE is an agency funded by THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. www.associated.org