This cover story was first published as “Life-changing journey: JCC staff trip to Israel deepens one man’s connection” in JWeekly.
“I never thought I would make it this far,” Art Lucio said as he stood at the Western Wall in Jerusalem earlier this year.
If you didn’t know Lucio, you probably would have thought he was talking about the long plane ride from San Francisco to Israel. But his co-workers with him on the JCC of San Francisco’s annual staff trip to the Holy Land knew he was actually referring to a very different kind of journey — one that cannot be measured in miles.
Though he’s now a respected employee at the JCCSF, where he has worked in the maintenance department for six years, Lucio, 40, has had a rocky road. Born to migrant workers from Mexico, Lucio was raised Catholic before he dropped out of high school in his hometown of Salinas. He was in and out of jail for most of his 20s.
Ten years ago, he never could have imagined one day feeling so at home in the Jewish community, as well as in the Jewish state.
Things began to turn around for Lucio when he was introduced to the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco through the Jericho Project, which bills itself as “a state-licensed, residential, 12-month program for recovery from substance abuse and criminal behavior.” What was at first a temporary job turned into a permanent position and an ongoing association with the Jewish community that has helped Lucio stay clean and out of trouble.
“Art’s journey has been so extraordinary,” said Jhos Singer, a maggid (Jewish spiritual leader) and teacher who accompanied Lucio and 11 other JCC employees on the Israel trip in January. “A profound thing has happened for him since he stepped into the JCC. He is accepted as a human being and his past is not important. He has gained a sense of respect and belonging, and that helps him maintain the teshuvah [repentance] he has made,” Singer explained.
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©2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.