Choosing Blessing & Connectedness in Challenging Times

Choosing Blessing & Connectedness in Challenging Times

Last Monday morning, Terri, Amanda, and I arrived to Makom to see our windows defaced. It was gut-wrenching to arrive at a place that is holy to us and see someone else’s anger and frustration placed on our windows in spray paint. Later in the day, one of our first graders responded in such a deeply empathetic, Makom way when she asked, “Why did they have to do THAT with their big feelings? Couldn’t they have done something productive?” 

Drawing from our pedagogy, Jewish Placemaking, we began by asking, “What do our learners, parents, educators and stakeholders need in this moment?” We wanted to make sure our educators, learners, and parents could continue to experience Makom as a place of safety and connection, and our stakeholders were in the loop on how we were responding and what values were guiding that response. Amanda, Terri, Gaby, and I quickly divided up so that I could work to be ready to welcome children that afternoon and support all of those folks and their needs. 

A board member with a pressure washer was already on the way to Makom to help us remove the graffiti from the window. I went next door to the restaurant Wilder to ask to use their hose when he arrived. They kindly offered to just clean up our windows for us. While we were out front cleaning up the windows, countless neighbors who had not been previously connected to Makom stopped to check on us, offer care, and even offer to join in cleanup efforts! 

Parents and grandparents gathering at lunchtime to paint together and support each other meant so much to all of us. We each came in rattled by the events of the morning, and left feeling reassured by each other’s presence, getting to gather at Makom, and getting to brighten our kids’ afternoons with our own handiwork. We are so grateful to have our families show up and also support our team at Makom with community, hugs, and food.

Then we prepared, with our educators, to welcome kids for the afternoon. We asked educators to stop at the corner of our block and share with the kids that there had been graffiti on our windows overnight, that their parents had come to paint a much more beautiful message to put on the window, and that we’d have time to talk about it in our classrooms that day. All they needed to do was bring in their observations and questions. 

Amanda, Gaby, and I each sat with a group of learners to help them begin to make sense of this safe and sacred space being graffitied. We opened by asking, “What did you notice? What did you wonder?”

As each of us sat and discussed this situation with our learners, we placed this moment in the context of the story of Chanukah. Chanukah was the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, where according to Maccabees 1 & 2, Jews were not able to celebrate the pilgrimage holiday of Sukkot. Chanukah, as a moment of rededication, allowed the Jewish people to try again at their observance of Sukkot that year. Our learners reflected on how many people it took to rededicate the Temple, and it was a powerful moment for me to share reflections from the morning on the way that neighbors, parents, and fellow Philadelphians all came together in a powerful and holy way to make sure we could continue to feel safe at Makom and valued as their friends and neighbors. 

Closing on that reflection allowed us to think about how, in turn, we can be good neighbors and contributing citizens of our city. We left feeling ready to engage with neighbors with a deep sense of the incredible divinity that all humans hold, empathy for the challenges everyone faces, and a deep knowledge of how much a helpful neighbor means on a difficult day. Last Monday morning we felt scared and alone and seeing the array of ways our community came together, from near and far, was another reminder of Makom’s mission to embrace and challenge Jewish wisdom and maintain our nourishing connections to generations of Jewish community. 

We want to thank everyone who showed support through hugs, food, phone calls, text messages, and donations. There are still a few more nights of candles to support Makom Community over this Chanukah Holiday.


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