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A piece of Detroit (and a bit about community)

I had the opportunity to connect with a special group of leaders from Detroit, who were in Israel for a leadership and study tour. I was supposed to have been on this trip and it worked out for me to meet up with them while they were here. Meeting up with the trip came at the right time. I had been feeling a little lost – not that my people in Israel weren’t taking care of me, but as I settle into the year there is definitely a reminder of what I’ve left behind. Connecting and reconnecting with Detroiters was just the spark I needed of “home”. Additionally, the trip was full of interesting speakers, educators, and the participants themselves represented such intelligent conversation, thought processes, and leadership that it was inspiring to be around for a few days.

Let me talk about Detroit for a minute.

It might get sappy, as much as I’m about to say how special Detroit and Detroiters are, I’m fairly certain there are a number of other communities that you could say these same things about, but I have to speak to my own perspectives.

Detroit and Detroiters always represent. When I first moved back about five years ago, I was really resistant and didn’t like to agree with the statements that many would make in meetings or presentations about Detroit being “the best” and at the forefront. I really believe that communities can learn from one another. Beyond that there are innovative and “cool” things happening all over the place, we should always be learning and growing. However, I have to agree that there is some sort of special sauce in Detroit. I still believe the above, but I also believe and can see that Detroit brings that extra something to the table. (Again, I’m totally biased.)

Walking in the footsteps of those before us, and creating our own.

We know we have had a history of strong Jewish communal leadership in Detroit. In fact I often feel the weight of our Detroit Jewish community on my shoulders as I travel and navigate my own way through global Jewish community, to not only live up to our reputation, but to make sure it continues to be strong.

I watched leaders of our community do the little things. Accept everyone, make space in conversations for strangers and differing opinions, and show kindness. Something as simple as taking extra fruit and snacks outside to a man who had been sitting on the sidewalk and not thinking anything of it. Rapt attention paid to speakers with interesting and relevant questions asked. Creating an impromptu collective davening (praying) experience in front of the Kotel (Western Wall) for Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night service), allowing space for people from multiple backgrounds. It’s reminded me that with a little bit of patience, a lot of bit of kindness, and the room and time for understanding, community comes together. It takes all these things to build and create change as well, something I think this group of leaders from Detroit is specifically equipped to do.

It’s the little things.

I also recognize that none of this is a surprise, these aren’t huge shocking examples. Yet we often need reminders that it’s the little things matter. When we talk about building community we often talk about it from the top down, but building community is small and slow. To allow people to connect over things they care about, to create space for organic conversations, interactions, and connections, this is what helps build community. We also have to acknowledge the types of communities we are building. Do we have all the voices in the room? Do we need additional voices to be represented, etc?

This group happened to made up of individuals belonging to different synagogues (or not belonging at all), involved with different agencies, various industry and career backgrounds, and various stages of life. Each person has their identity and communities to connect with, but the way that the group came together shows the strength of community. Respect was given despite differences in opinions and practice, space was also given to make individual decisions and create smaller communities of bike riders, shul goers, or museum goers. There was space in the community for each of these to coexist.

Multigenerational. Standing on other’s shoulders.

Finally, a takeaway from this experience was a reminder of how important it can be to have multiple generations talking about the same issues all together. Too often we get caught up by defining groups for young adults, seniors, parents, etc. While there should and can be specific spaces for each of these types of groups, it’s important to have moments where there is a mix.

There was a significant age gap between the oldest and youngest members of the group, roughly 30 years, in that a few of the participants have kids the age of the youngest participant. Despite these age differences very rich conversations were had, with everyone learning from someone else. Having that representation in order to ask questions, begin to truly understand perspective, and allowing yourself to learn from one another is important.

I’ve come to recognize that few of the boards/committees I sit on I’ve been the youngest or one of the youngest in the room (barring the young adult groups – there I’m inching my way to oldest)! What I value about this experience is that my voice is heard. I also recognize the importance of listening to those who came before me, the experiences they have had to inform their decision making. Too often we think it has to be the “old” way or the “new” way, instead of working together to figure out what is the best way. This takes not just listening to what those young “millennials” are saying but also respecting and really hearing what the “older generations” are saying. (No offense is meant by either of these generalizations – I’m never sure how to refer appropriately to these age demographics).

What did we actually do?

I recognize this is mostly reflections around community and much less about the experiences had, places visited, and complex issues and conversations we/they had. All that and more existed. Conversations about Israel’s borders, East Jerusalem, diversity in prayer, nonprofit leadership, what stories about Israel, about the Jewish people are being told, government, and much much more!

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