Amid this debate over whether to shutter the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park, Michigan, a side conversation has sprung up. On Monday night, 800 people turned out for a town hall meeting. Doors were locked and further comers turned away due to fire hazard. So last night, another meeting was held to hear what everyone has to say on the matter.
One question: where were all these people in the decades of the Center’s existence?
Are they paying members? Do they use the Center? Or do they merely like the idea of its presence, what it symbolizes, what it represents?
And so the side conversation spins, about how everyone shows up when there is a threat or a fight and they want to throw their support in the ring.
Yesterday’s blog has been passed around and commented on. I’ve had phone calls lauding me on a balanced perspective. I’m utterly flattered. Really. I just wonder why it takes a hot issue and an imminent closing of a communal institution to rouse the masses.
You see, in most of our daily goings-on, we keep to ourselves. We shuffle along in our cars, chugging heat in to keep warm. We rise early to make lunches and get children off to school. We spend our days working. Perhaps there’s time for a yoga class.
And as the sun falls below the horizon line, we return to our homes, crank up the heat, and gather for a dinner meal, shower the kids, make sure homework is completed, and fall into bed exhausted.
Most conversations are quick and efficient. How are you, what’s new, let’s make plans.
Some of us don’t even have time to make plans, really. So we whip off a text to show we’re thinking of the other person but to fend off any notion of actually spending real time together, let alone a soul-level deep and involved conversation.
Perhaps on the weekend we get together with friends or other couples. We might have a dinner party to linger at, or a glass of wine beside the fireplace. And then the weekend ends and it’s another whirlwind week.
Life goes on like this, week in and week out, and we scarcely notice what matters and what holds meaning around us. Certainly not in the form of a community center.
We don’t ponder the idea that perhaps our shrinking community, which we lament and acknowledge, doesn’t need all these big buildings but we don’t make any time to wonder over what that means, let alone discuss it in practical and logistical terms.
It would be sad to see these magnificent synagogues close, but as we see at weekly services, there are more vacant seats than full ones.
Isn’t that something worth pondering, discussing, planning about?
It would be awful to lack community gather spaces. But if we don’t gather there on a regular basis, why do we have them?
These are BIG questions with answers not readily within reach. I know. It’s easy to ASK, much harder to RESOLVE.
I’m typing in all caps because these are IMPORTANT ISSUES. Important. Issues.
It’s exciting and easy to plan for a community’s growth. It’s frightening and difficult to plan for its shrinking.
I don’t know how many Jews live in metro Detroit, but I know it’s a shadow of a number compared to when I was growing up.
Ours is a country in constant flux. The United States was built on the idea of the free flow of peoples across our borders to a place of freedom they could call home. Inevitably, we all assimilate into the masses called Americans.
Some of us continue to identify with our roots. I do. I proudly do.
Some let it go, trading Jewish or Hungarian or Croat for American. When you don’t wear it on your skin, it’s easy to do.
I realize that some generations down the road will likely reclaim it with fierceness, as we are now. My grandfather’s goal as a first-generation American was to assimilate and fit in. My goal is to connect to my long lineage and proudly live my heritage on my sleeve.
We ebb and flow with the generations. And our communities must respond.
I’m so glad to see so many people come out for these town hall meetings. I wish we could gather en masse like this more often. For less important matters. Just to be connected to one another.
After all, isn’t that the main purpose of a community center or a house of worship anyway?