The New Jewish Neighborhood (Part 6): Building Blocks of Community

Please take 2.5 minutes to watch this video….

I think the Japanese model raises some deeply evocative questions about the nature of community.  If in America the streets are named and blocks are the “unnamed spaces in-between,” what does that say about the occupied space?  After all, we don’t live in the street.  We live on the block.  Our houses and yards (not to mention people, plants and pets) are in those unnamed spaces.

The New Jewish Neighborhood is about paradigm shift — reimagining the way we conceive of Jewish communities and communities in general.  In Jewish tradition, naming has creative power.  Adam names the animals and then his partner.  Parents name children in memory of loved ones, hoping to invoke their convictions and values.  Jews-by-choice name themselves as they emerge into their new religious selves.  Cancer or trauma survivors select an additional name to acknowledge their “rebirth” into life.

Perhaps the NJN is a place where blocks, not streets, are named.  If so, how might we name them?  We might choose names based on shared interests or values: “The Cooking Block” or “The Reading Block.”  Or we could select names that reflect the diversity of a given block: “The Block of Six Religions” or “The Block Representing Nine Decades of Life.”

If we think about blocks as dynamic spaces humming with life, might we find new ways to come together?  One new way would be to use technology to deepen connections between and among residents of the same neighborhood, the same block!

Here are a few intriguing examples of websites proposing to do this (thanks to Miriam for the heads up): and  Try one out in your neighborhood.  Then, post here or on my facebook page and share how it’s working.

When a Tree Falls in the City…

A few days ago, I was looking out my upstairs window when I saw a huge branch fall off an enormous dead tree in my neighbor’s backyard.  I had been watching this tree for sometime, particularly because I often walk down the alley beneath it.  The scene of the branch falling was really quite dramatic; a live power-line came down and rotten wood splintered everywhere.  I couldn’t help but think that had someone been walking underneath, he or she would be dead or seriously injured.

The occupant of this house tells me he has called BGE (Baltimore’s power company) but has been told that, as owner, he is responsible for the (substantial) cost of removing the tree.  He, a man of limited means, cannot afford to do so.  Meanwhile, it is clear that with a strong wind, this tree will soon be falling in one of several directions, including onto/into my neighbor’s house.  

View of the dead tree from my window.  Even after the clean-up, a large branch remains in the carriage house.

This is a common challenge in any city with limited resources.  Like in the case of a prospective transplant recipient who suddenly jumps ahead on the waiting list when she takes a turn for the worse, resources are often directed toward a dire or immanently dangerous situation.  Instead of engaging in healthy preventative care, we are left to rely on miracles.

In Nehardea there was a shaky wall that had been in the same condition for thirteen years.  Nevertheless, Rav and Shmuel would not go past it.  One day, Rabbi Adda bar Ahavah came [to visit them].  Shmuel said to Rav: “Let’s walk around the wall.”  Rav replied: “Today it is not necessary, for Rabbi Adda is with us whose merits are so great that we don’t have to be afraid [of the wall].” – Talmud Bavli, Ta’anit 20b

Perhaps the world has changed, but I do not know of people who have the power to stay a shaky wall, or arrest a falling tree. Walls must be buttressed, and dead trees must be removed before people get hurt or worse.  In the vicious cycle of not-so-benign neglect, there are real consequences.  One can only pray that the people charged with keeping our citizens safe realize this before it’s too late.  After all, even the Rabbis of the Talmud recognized that miracles are hard to come by…

Rabbi Yanai said: “A person should not stand in a dangerous place and say, ‘A miracle will occur for me,’ for perhaps a miracle will not occur….”

In other words, “Chop down the damned tree!”