Out of darkness comes light. On the night of November 18, the Springfield Jewish Community Center was enveloped in darkness because of a fire that significantly damaged areas of the facility and closed the building, impacting our ability to provide childcare, wellness activities, and other critical services.
Despite the darkness of that evening, it didn’t take long for the light to begin shining again.
As natives of Birmingham, AL, my family – myself as a white Jewish woman, my Black Jewish husband and our biracial child – is no stranger to the implications of racism and prejudice being woven into the fabric of a city. In fact, part of the reason we moved to Springfield, MA in 2021 was a yearning for a more inclusive and diverse community.
With staggering increases in antisemitic incidents nationally and the continued inequities the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities face, never before in our country’s recent history have relationships with those who are different from us been important. Similarly, given the divisiveness plaguing our country, never before have those critical relationships been more difficult to navigate.
What I have witnessed, however, in the aftermath of the JCC fire is an illustration of what our world could be if each of us – regardless of our religion, race, ability or gender identification – rises to support one another. A true model of a caring and selfless community, right here in Springfield, MA.
The morning after the fire (Saturday), I received a message connecting me to Educare Springfield Executive Director Nikki Burnett and Holoyoke, Chicopee, & Springfield Head Start CEO Nicole Blais. Within an hour, my phone was pinging with messages from Nikki and Nicole, along with SquareOne CEO Dawn DiStefano and The Davis Foundation Executive Director Paul Belsito, who shared that the 75+ JCC families in our early childhood center would have a home on Monday at Educare Springfield. All of this happened within 18 hours after the fire.
That same Saturday morning, as I walked through the JCC to survey the damage, I became overwhelmed with tremendous gratitude. First, for the Springfield Fire Department, which responded quickly to address the fire, and for the many community leaders (organizations listed below) that offered help, some of whom I had only met a handful of times. City of Springfield’s Mayor Sarno’s continued support and engagement are deeply appreciated.
As I considered the impact of their collective mobilization, I couldn’t help but think of a story in the Torah where God directs the Israelites to construct the mishkan — the tabernacle. “Take from yourselves an offering to God,” the Torah says, to make the mishkan. The offerings – gold, silver, copper, wool, and more – were abundant and overwhelming. Moses – their leader – eventually had to ask them to stop giving.
The mishkan transforms into a beautiful structure with a candelabra and gold-plated walls, an almost holy place for communal gathering. The mishkan is special in that it is movable, adaptable, and unique. It has become clear that our Springfield community is a living example of the mishkan: beautiful, flexible, rich, and multi-faceted. A sacred place for all, to which we all have contributed.
As we make plans to reopen our JCC after completed fire remediation efforts, we have worked to ensure many of our services continue uninterrupted at various sites. We have only been able to do so because of the generosity and selflessness of the Springfield community, mirroring the Israelites making the mishkan.
Along with Educare, Tate Behavioral, the temporary home of our KidSpace afterschool program, has provided a warm and welcoming space in a familiar environment across the JCC’s parking lot. Our sister Jewish agencies have opened their synagogues so we can continue our cultural arts & adult education programs. Local community centers and fitness centers have welcomed our members with open arms. Each example, in its own way, illuminates the beauty of our collective efforts; of what our world can look like if we understand our shared responsibility to one another.
When we first moved JCC programs and services to alternate locations, we believed we would be displaced for a day or two, at most. When it quickly became clear that our stay would need to be extended, each agency unequivocally and without hesitation committed to hosting us for as long as we need. Often, when we have asked, “What can we do to repay you?” almost every organization responded: “Nothing. This is what community is and does. This is who we are. And we will get through this together.”
While our physical facility is damaged from the fire, the mishkan is more intact, vibrant, and beautiful than ever before. As we say in Jewish tradition, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” which means we are all responsible for one another. This is who we are as a JCC and certainly as the Springfield community. We recognize our collective impact and our responsibility to one another, and we will get through this together.
May the light of our beautiful mishkan continue to inspire caring and meaningful partnerships on behalf of the entire community for many years to come.
With gratitude for our community partners:
Bay Path University
Enfield Tennis Club
Healthtrax (East Longmeadow, Enfield, and West Springfield)
JCC of Greater New Haven
Longmeadow Adult Center
Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy
Ludlow Boys & Girls Club
Rachel’s Table – Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts
Scantic Valley Springfield
Springfield Boys & Girls Club
Temple Beth El
The Davis Foundation
YMCA of Greater Springfield