The New Jewish Neighborhood (Part 8): Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Earlier this month, we launched the new phase of our exciting community building initiative.  Here’s an excerpt from the sermon I gave on Shabbat morning:

…I’ve been speaking about trust and the importance of seeing one another face to face. This is hard when it comes to our fellow Jews. It is perhaps even harder when it comes to our fellow human beings. This afternoon, a number of you are planning to attend a text study which kicks off a Beth Am leadership development opportunity aimed at broadening and deepening our relationship with Reservoir Hill… The seven sessions of this initiative are designed to generate a systemic and thoughtful approach to our community with an eye toward fully exploring how we might be “in, for and of” our neighborhood. Sessions will include learning Jewish sources, community organizing, advocacy and relationship building. We will talk to one another and we will talk to our neighbors. I honestly don’t know exactly where it will all lead. I trust the well-designed process to show us the way, but I can say this: our initiative is founded on the principle that we ought to know, at a minimum, our neighbors’ faces.
And so I offer the following: when I first came to Beth Am, I was duly impressed with the post-Neilah Yom Kippur tradition of taking our lovely potted flowers to our neighbors’ doorsteps. Raise your hand if you have done this beautiful mitzvah. I love this! In fact, the first year I was here, in my attempt to learn all the peculiarities of a Beth Am yuntif, I completely forgot to remind people to do this. And some of you didn’t. And people from the neighborhood who had received a plant for years came up to me and said, “Hey Rabbi, how come I didn’t get my plant this year!” So, the next year, I remembered to announce it! But here’s the thing, my bet is many of you have been leaving a plant on the same doorstep each year for several years. What I wonder is how many of us have ever met the people who live behind the door? How many of us have gone beyond the initial and lovely gesture to hear someone’s story? To tell them yours? To see them face to face? Perhaps not just after Yom Kippur when we’re hungry, but some Saturday after shul or Sunday after Lab, might you knock on that door and say, “Hi. I’m not here because I need a thank you, but I’ve been leaving a plant on your doorstep for five years. My name is Daniel. What’s yours?”
This, and much more, I hope we’ll learn how to do together!

*(Full Text of the sermon can be found here).

As we head toward summer, there’s a lot of wonderful activity in Res. Hill.  A book signing is being planned along with a Baltimore Heritage Tour.  A congregant of mine is rekindling a wonderful old neighborhood tradition – art around Druid Lake.  All of this is happening May 19th! The Whitelock Community Farm is hoping to expand this summer.  We expect new commercial development to come to the neighborhood within the next couple years, and Beth Am’s own “Eutaw Place” continues to thrive with its one-year anniversary concert fast approaching on April 11, 2013.

But for all this activity, I’m reminded of the impetus for this blog in the first place.  Community development is first and foremost about people.  What gets me excited each morning is the opportunity to soften boundaries, to exchange stories and life-lessons across the membranes that so often appear as daunting barriers.

What began as one rabbi’s musings in cyberspace is now a full-blown initiative involving dozens of people from my synagogue and (soon to come) many others from our neighborhood.  Contact me if you’re interested in future sessions.  The next one is this coming week!

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