Wanted: clever Jewish quotes for new JCCSF site

When the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco inaugurates its glittering new headquarters in December, visitors will have more to admire than just its art and architecture.

Many of the building's interior walls will also be inscribed with the sustaining words of the Jewish people down through the ages, uttered by everyone from Maimonides to, say, Woody Allen.

Dubbing the effort the "Quotation Project," the JCC aims to compile a bushel basket of Jewish sayings, witticisms and insights, intended to grace various locales within and around the new facility at 3200 California St.

"In planning the building, we sought ways of creating Jewish ambience," said JCC Executive Director Nate Levine. "What better way to turn the JCC into a place of learning than to incorporate the abundance of Jewish thought into our building?"

Many of the quotations will be engraved on a 30-foot-wide "Language Wall" in the Pottruck grand lobby, a three-story atrium topped by a glass skylight. Visitors will also find quotations engraved on the donor and bookstore walls, pool area, gymnasium, library, theater, classrooms and administrative offices.

To sift through the veritable haystack of quotations, Levine has assembled an ad hoc volunteer committee composed of various local scholars, including Rabbis Stephen Pearce, Alan Lew and Ed Harwitz; Charlene Akers; Dr. Warren Browne; and Bruce Burnam.

While members of that panel will surely nominate their own selections, the committee expects many, if not most, suggestions to come directly from the local Jewish community itself.

That's why Levine is asking the public to send in their most quotable quotes.

"What makes a quote quintessentially Jewish?" Levine asks. "It could span everything from the Torah to Allen Ginsberg. So many people in the community have quotations that are particularly meaningful to them."

Adds Pearce of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El, "This is an attempt to capture the rich pastiche of Jewish thought, life and culture."

A press release announcing the project spelled out several guidelines: All quotations should be grounded in universal Jewish values and sources, such as Torah, education, Jewish culture, humor, klal Yisrael (Jewish peoplehood), tzedakah and social justice.

Submissions need not come only from Jewish sources, but all should reflect those values. Moreover, sources for every quotation must be provided in order for the committee to consider them.

Presently, the committee members have their hands full. "We've already received over 330 submissions to date," says Levine. "We'll probably have as many as 40 permanently inscribed in the building, but there's no limit to how many additional quotations we will use in other ways."

Other ways? Levine cites the JCC's Web site — www.jccsf.org — and multiple printed materials as possible quotation destinations. "We produce a lot of materials," he says, "and if one particularly good quote doesn't fit on a wall, it might fit on a T-shirt. Who knows?"

Though no single quotation has an early lock on selection yet, one particular submission is one of Levine's favorites: "Dare to dream, and when you dream — dream big," uttered by Henrietta Szold, a pioneer of modern Israel and the founder of Hadassah.

Pearce has a few choice epigrams of his own. "I like quotes from the Bible such as 'Awake and sing' from the Book of Isaiah, or something from Albert Einstein: 'Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.'"

But, according to Pearce, even off-the-wall ideas can make it on the wall. Another quote he likes (though he's not sure who said it): "The lion and the lamb shall lie down together…but the lamb won't get any sleep."

The deadline for submissions is Monday, Feb. 17. Meanwhile, Levine and his fellow committee members feel like kids in a candy store as they sift through the virtual mountain of material.

Notes Pearce, "This is fun. How often to do you get a chance to do something that will have an impact for generations to come?"

Adds Levine: "Words are powerful, and Jewish words carry a special meaning."

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.