Honour. Favourite. Colour. Notice anything interesting about these words? If you felt that something was just a bit off, that mayhaps there was an extra letter, you would be correct. What exactly am I pointing out? The letter “u” inserted into these words gives away that I’m Canadian. Ten points to you if you ever figured that out from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix’s (JCRC) recent Twitter or Facebook posts. Ten points to me if my Canadian-ness went undetected.
If you were asking yourself, “What on earth is a Canadian doing working at the JCRC?” We both would be asking the same question. Fortunately, we live in an increasingly digital age whereby a simple posting on a website for Jewish job seekers was all it took to connect the Great White North to the Grand Canyon State.
As a first-generation Canadian, I was keenly aware of what it meant to be part of both a local and global Jewish community. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Jews from all over and learn about what their Jewish lives are like and some of the issues they must confront. While each place exists within its own context, we all share the same hopes and confront similar issues.
This is a big reason why I was drawn to the Phoenix JCRC, fresh — OK, maybe no longer as fresh — out of university where I had been involved in campus politics. My student activism made me feel like I was doing something. I was using my voice and tools in the space I was in to do something for my community.
Being given free rein to read and post and discuss what I had an interest in, helped me to grow these interests beyond what was happening at university. During my nine months at the JCRC, executive director Paul Rockower and I would discuss what public diplomacy is and how it’s done, often in ways we think it should not be done. And then, it would have to be put into practice as we confronted real things affecting our local and global Jewish communities.
One of the interesting things I had to contend with professionally is the very human concept of going from times of simcha (happiness) to times of tzaros (trying times or troubles). To be human is to err but is also to go from things that are light-hearted to serious — to awful and back in moments.
When you are working in public diplomacy and your work is social-media related, how do you deal with content when tragedy occurs? I’ll do the second most Jewish thing and answer with a story in place of another question.
Think back to the tragedy at Meron, Israel, in May 2021, where 45 souls were lost in the midst of an extremely joyous occasion. Reports of more and more injury and deaths came in as Lag b’Omer was arriving in North America, heartbreaking reports when the joyous time was finally reaching us. That idea of finding simcha while also reeling from tragedy is something I had to learn how to do.
Not just once, of course. The Colleyville hostage situation, the Buffalo shooting, the Uvalde school shooting, the numerous attacks against Israelis and Jews of all stripes, arson, hate crimes, to name a few, this year alone.
This leads to a question plaguing the Jewish people: How do we move on from tragedy? How do we continue living and finding the good when there is so much heartache and tzaros? This led to the question of what can I do for my global community when I’m physically distant?
My time at the JCRC has helped to answer these questions — and provided a voice and language to other questions that I’m unsure have an answer.
My university experiences were a massive asset coming into my fellowship, but there is nothing like actual experience. I got the chance to be involved with national (Canada included) organizations like The Jewish Federations of North America and American Jewish Committee, as well as connecting with local Phoenix and Arizona initiatives like the Arizona Faith Network and within the JCRC board.
As my JCRC fellowship comes to an end and this work within an American context changes, I hope to continue to be able to collaborate with people of all backgrounds and opinions to continue working towards the goal of unity and public good.
I’ll still be here in the Great White North, but nine months later, I have a bit more inside understanding of what it means to be a Jew in a broader North American context. Having to re-examine the way I saw things and understand the lens I saw through was not the way everyone else did was an important thing to learn.
Being able to compare and contrast ways in which our communities are both similar and worlds apart is an important understanding for me in my Jewish identity and journey. Working with my neighbours to the south has helped me better understand how Jewish communities globally exist within their own contexts, which shapes how they are and their challenges.
Physically, I’m not going anywhere. I’m still at my favourite coffee shops around Montreal. Though my time as the JCRC Fellow is coming to an end, I hope that our ability as a global Jewish community to learn about and support one another only continues to grow. JN
Mettannah Jacobson recently completed a communications and public diplomacy fellowship for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix.