Update from Phil Malcom

In June of 2018, my wife and I packed up a rented RV and hit the road for a truly epic road trip. More than five thousand miles, eleven national forests, and five national parks all across the Western United States. Coming along with us on this trip were Laura’s mom, aunt, and uncle. Five people in a five-person RV for eleven days. What could go wrong?

We planned our routes and stops carefully; we planned our meals equitably to ensure everyone had the opportunity to go to the places they wanted to go; we even brought a giant poster with ground rules for conversation and a buzzer to keep everyone civil. No politics, no family drama, be nice. Only fun memories and the Beach Boys allowed.

Well, the ground rules lasted about two hours. My wife’s uncle Brian hid the buzzer for several days because he was tired of being buzzed. We all argued about speed limits. We argued about politics. Brian and I debated the merits of paper maps vs. Google Maps ad nauseum (hot take: Google Maps is much better). I got more frustrated than I’ve probably ever been trying to coordinate the parking of a 25-foot RV in a tiny parking lot in the Redwoods.

And we also had more fun than we’d ever had. We made memories on that trip that will last a lifetime. We met interesting people and saw truly breathtaking sights. We experienced new places, new foods, new friends. And sharing the journey with our loved ones was what made it so special. We regularly talk about how amazing that trip was. We joke about the arguments. It was messy; it was complicated; it was at times chaotic. It was family.

Your family is both an inherited and a created thing. You are born into (or married into) a family, and yet each day you make choices that actively build that family’s dynamic. I’m a fairly reserved person, and I prefer to sit back and observe; yet over the years I’ve learned it’s best to lean into the most complicated parts of our relationships. That’s how you build a family.

Building a community is no different. It’s filled with rapturous moments of shared vision and mired with conflicts and disagreements. Sometimes we feel that we can conquer any challenge together, and sometimes we wonder if we can agree on what color the sky is. We succeed, and sometimes we make mistakes. Yet all of this is how you create relationships. A community that doesn’t experience all of this isn’t a community. There’s a phrase I sometimes use with our staff: lean into your hardest customer. Sometimes you find that that hardest customer can become your most engaged partner down the road. If we all do this enough, we find that the community we sought to preserve grows even further beyond what was laid before.

We are blessed to have a rich and varied history in Omaha. (In fact, I would encourage you to hear more about that history at the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society’s 40th Anniversary event on Sunday.) None of us built that; we inherited it. But despite this rich history, every day we make the choice anew whether we will build a community or tear it down, whether we will tend to this garden or let it become overgrown.

We have many opportunities for you to engage your community on this campus. I often say that what makes the Jewish Federation of Omaha unique in the city is that we offer services and programs for every stage of life all in one building. If you haven’t been on campus in a while, come on out. Try a new program. Join a committee. Complain about the speed bumps. (Okay, maybe don’t do that one.) However you engage, whether at the JCC or the JCRC, whether on a committee or a basketball team, whether in an RV or a sukkah, I hope you join us as we build and sustain this Omaha Jewish community, now and into the future.

Shabbat Shalom,
Phillip Malcom
JFO Interim CEO