By Gail Luxenberg, CEO, Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta
I’ve been the CEO of the Marcus JCC in Atlanta for three years now. I know that everything we do is about building community — whether it’s preschool, camp, book festival or Melton classes. But the week of March 23 I learned what the “C” in JCC really means.
That week we were knocked off our feet. Our beloved tennis coach, the guy who had a kind word for everyone, the guy who knew everything about each one of us AND our families, the guy who trained the top players for miles around, and the guy who took kids in wheelchairs out on the tennis courts so they could experience some fun. The guy who mingled with the support services team and the board members. Yes, that guy. The one we all loved. The one whom we would unanimously vote as the nicest among us. The one who made us all want to be better. Well, that guy, Juan Pablo Arico, left us too soon.
And that’s when I learned what the community in JCC means.
First, we came together as a staff so we could figuratively rend our clothes and howl with outrage. We sobbed, screamed and sat in silence until we could gather ourselves.
Then we went to face our community.
And with tears welling in our own eyes, we shared our heartbreak. We watched the tennis players suffer, and we suffered with them. We watched the kids ask why, and we answered as best we could. We looked at each other and saw who needed a hug, and we grabbed them close. We went through counseling sessions together. All week, we laughed at memories and mourned together.
We devised a way to share our grief; we wrote tributes on tennis balls and affixed them to the chain link fences of the tennis courts.
We told each other stories and posted on Facebook. We talked together — staff, members, campers. People who didn’t even know Juan but learned of his wonderful reputation joined in our grief.
On, Friday, the fourth day of our pain, we held a communitywide memorial with hundreds expected. Each of us who considered ourselves Juan’s friends grieved together. We helped one another through. We shared our memories and created new ones. We let his family know so that they were heartened by the legacy their son and brother left behind.
This is our JCC community at its best. I am so proud to be a part of it.