To bring in Shabbat this week, we journeyed downtown to Downtown Synagogue. We joined the congregation for Friday night services and dinner. At dinner, we were given the opportunity to meet and talk with the local congregants. I sat at a table with my friend Jael and we introduced ourselves to one of the congregants, Douglas. Douglas told us that this Friday night had been his fist Jewish service and Shabbat dinner. After discussing the customs of Shabbat and the meaning behind them, Douglas continued to tell us about his move into a new home. He had just moved into a new neighborhood with a mix of lower and middle class people. Douglas told us how the middle class people acted afraid of the lower class people. They lived in bigger houses and kept their doors locked, windows shut, curtains drawn and did not interact with the lower class people on their own blocks. As his contribution to his community, and those like his, Douglas is trying to get his neighbors to interact with each other and lose their preconceived stereotypes of each other. Douglas is still not sure how he will break the barriers in his new community.
C*A*N TEEN BLOG “Community • Action • Networking ”
Our experience walking and driving through Detroit can be summed in one word, stunning. There was a stark contrast economically and demographically from neighborhood to neighborhood and even block to block. The outskirts create a depression and pessimistic attitude about the city due to the consistently huge amount of abandoned buildings and vacant lots.
When we walked downtown and explored the riverfront, the revitalization effort that was evident there gave us relief and reasons to be optimistic about Detroit’s future. Although we have very different views on solutions to the issues in this city, we both feel it is undeniable that there are huge problems. The glaring problems include a dysfunctional education system, and poor social services and infrastructure. We feel most personally affected by the problems affecting the education system, such as school closings, large classroom sizes, and lack of funding.
It was my very first day of my AJSS trip to Detroit, Michigan, and my group was heading to Belle Isle to introduce ourselves and visit a major Detroit landmark. Once we arrived and were walking through the park, we asked a black man to take our photo. He gladly accepted and followed by asking what AJSS stood for. Once we told him it stood for the American Jewish Society for Service, the man immediately thanked us due to the Jewish people helping his ancestors during challenging times in history. That moment sparked pride in myself because of the values the Jewish people display, such as equality and relationship-building. This occurrence encouraged me to learn and discuss the prominent roles Jews played in the civil rights movement with my trip leaders and peers. An example of a Jewish historical figure which we discussed was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He was an inspirational advocate for black people, and had a meaningful relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. The connection between these two community leaders who have fought for human rights in different periods in history inspired me to build my own community in Detroit. Forming bonds and learning about other people is a crucial aspect of living life, and I am very thankful to AJSS for pushing me to realize how important this value is.
Food fights. Those are the two overall themes of this week’s Torah portion. Well, food, and fights. One we try to get as much of as possible, one we try to avoid as much as possible. But both are important aspects of who we are as humans.
This week’s Torah portion, Shelach, is a mixed bag. At the beginning of the parashah, we jump into the story of the 12 spies. Moses sends these spies into the land of Canaan to get a sense of what their community will soon encounter. The verdict: that well-known phrase of a land flowing with milk and honey. The problem, however, is that along with bountiful food and resources, are the inhabitants, described as giants. 10 of the 12 spies, and most of the Israelite population complain that the land isn’t worth fighting over and dying for. God decides that this generation, who started out as slaves, will not be able to enter the land of Israel. They will wander the desert for 30 years, until a new generation, unconnected to the slavery their ancestors were raised in, are ready to proceed. This seems like a missed “teachable moment”, but who am I to judge?
On our two week journey through Detroit, it is inevitable to learn about others as well as ourselves. One experience that stuck out to me was our encounter with Syrian refugees. On Monday night we joined the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit and the Syrian American Rescue Network for a welcome dinner and Iftar — the nightly breaking of the fast during the Muslim month of Ramadan. This meal gave everyone the chance to talk about our different lives and religions. Throughout our meal I was able to grasp the similarities and differences between Judaism and Islam. Although our religions have different values and beliefs, fasting plays an important role in both. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Like Ramadan, Jews fast on Yom Kippur and other times during the year. Although our fasts are only for one day, both show a sign of respect and reflection. We take this time to think about ourselves and what we are thankful for since food is often a distraction. This experience opened my eyes and made me feel connected to the refugees. I put their experiences in perspective which made me feel extremely grateful for the life I live. I saw how happy and appreciative they were to be in the U.S. Although some were still new to the states and weren’t fluent in English yet, they still strived to communicate and showed their energy and desire to talk. This experience made me proud to be a part of AJSS.