The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh recently sat down with Linda Simon, a JCC board chair from 2004-2007 and hands-on volunteer who has held an almost uncountable number of leadership positions at the JCC.
JCC: Linda, you have been an active part of our JCC for years, contributing and leading in so many ways. What got you started?
LINDA: I grew up in Philadelphia and came to Pittsburgh to go to Pitt. I married Ken Simon, a Pittsburgher. I never had even used a JCC until I became involved with the planning and building of the South Hills JCC, which opened in 1999.
JCC: How did you get involved?
LINDA: My friend, Sam Braver, was on the Board of the JCC and for years there was a push to build a facility in the South Hills. Sam pulled me in — first to community meetings, then I ended up chairing the fundraising campaign. Then when it was built, I headed the steering committee that was running the South Hills JCC before it got morphed into the JCC Board. This happened under Brian Schreiber – that’s when the JCC became the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh and it was all brought under one house.
JCC: What other organizations are you involved with?
LINDA: After I was board chair, I went to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and got involved with the Partnership 2Gether program; this involvement evolved from being part of a JCC trip to Israel; I ended up chairing P2G for about 5 years. I also served on the board of the JCC Association. But the JCC is my first love.
JCC: What makes you so passionate about the JCC?
LINDA: I’m not so much a user as I am a believer. It’s not so much about the core programming. Mine is more about the JCC’s role in the community. I believe in the JCC and what it can do for a community. The JCC’s mission, which really is the same as the mission of the Jewish people, gives the JCC the opportunity to show the people and the community the light. I think of AgeWell at the JCC and the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement, just to name some JCC programs, the diversity of our community and even of our Jewish Community — at the JCC, it doesn’t matter what kind of Jew you are and it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish. It’s a belief in the JCC movement, and our JCC and what it has to offer. It’s a very unique and special kind of place.
JCC: How have your feelings about the JCC evolved?
LINDA: Back when I was raising money for the South Hills building, it was about bringing the Jews together: Jewish + Community + Center. What amazes me now is that I believe it is not so much about bringing Jews together but it is more about what can we, as Jews, do for the community. Jewish Values are universal. They are everyone’s values. People want personal connections. People want relationships. You can’t get that anywhere else. The JCC is the town hall of the community. I had an experience this year in Rabbi Symons’s Ethical Wills Class; of 13 participants, only myself and one other person are Jewish. We got to know each other in the class and when the class was ending, something happened that I’d never imagined: Three people came up to me and thanked me for having been involved in building the JCC. All three, who are not Jewish, told me how important it was to them when, during difficult times, they were welcomed by the JCC. I had no idea of the depth of the JCC’s impact. I’m reminded of a concept of the JCC as it was articulated at a recent JCCA conference: “There’s magic in our spaces and in our people.”
JCC: Why did you choose to make a Legacy gift?
LINDA: With privilege comes responsibility. You’ve got to leave the world a better place than you found it. If things are working really well, you have to make sure they continue. Legacy, to me, that’s the easy word. If you want this to continue, it’s not just physical, it’s the values of what you want to leave behind. What if this building wasn’t here; what would you do? How would this community be different? There would be an emptiness in the Jewish Community and the Pittsburgh community, a hole in it if the JCC wasn’t here.
JCC: What is your hope for the future?
LINDA: The JCC has a unique place in how we can build future generations of Jewish leaders and a unique place in the responsibility for the survival of the Jewish community. I believe in what the JCC stands for and what the JCC can do for the community and for our place as Jews in the community. We have to be that light.