Monday, December 28, 2009

Building Blocks

A few years ago a family that had moved on to our block recently had the idea to give a kiddush and invite all the frum people on the block. Since she wasn't sure that she knew how many of us there were, as she asked one person she asked them to give her another name until she had all of us. We were a pretty diverse group that arrived for kiddush, from many different shuls. But we had one thing in common: we were neighbors.

We range in age from a couple in their high 70s to a young newly married couple in their early 20s. What came out of that kiddush was a newly heightened feeling of achdus. The young children on the block have been beneficiaries of this achdus. They skateboard and ride their bicycles up and down the block and have people they can wave a cheery hello to. And those kids know that if an emergency of any kind occurs away from their house there is another house they can ring the bell at and get some help. When one neighbor family was going to be away for a week they left with the peace of mind that a different one of the neighbors would check that the mail was taken in. When a different neighbor's wife was away for a week he had an abundance of invitations for Shabbos meals and for weekday meals as well right here on the block. When one neighbor's wife went into labor in the middle of the night there was no problem of what to do with the other children in the house. A quick call to a neighbor brought over someone to stay with the children until a grandparent could arrive. When bad weather hits, and even when it doesn't, borrowing from a neighbor if you suddenly run out of something you need is common.

Yeah, so what? I can hear you saying. Well, it's a big so what. There are thousands of frum people living in NYC who have no idea who their neighbors are. There is no attempt made to welcome new residents into the neighborhood or onto the block. Social groups are drawn from shuls perhaps, or perhaps from among fellow classmates of high school or seminary or yeshiva. These friends live all over, most not on our blocks. One of my sils has been sharing a driveway for decades with someone whose face she might recognize if she saw him off the block--or maybe not--but she can't give you his name for sure. They don't run in the same circles. She's not atypical.

What are the building blocks of achdus in Klal? Well, building relationships on your block is one of them. No one is saying you have to become best friends with everyone on the block. But you should know who these people are. Let me give you a practical reason, if you can't think of another one. Snow removal can be a pain in the patoot. Lots of people have purchased a snow blower or removal machine. These are NOT inexpensive items. Now let's say there are 20 frum families on your block. That would mean that each house made an outlay of $300-500 to buy the snow machines. Why? Two or three should suffice for the whole block, and the cost goes way down if neighbors buy the machines jointly. The same goes for for gas and electric lawnmowers. We did not buy the machines in use on our block jointly, but we all gladly share and lend each other whatever is needed.

Winter is upon us and our block is in action. We check with each other to make sure that everyone has what they will need if the weather is nasty. Older people are not isolated and left to feel as if they no longer matter. And younger couples with little children are not left to flounder when they simply cannot get out with the whole crew. One of our block members cannot make the round trip to shul Friday night very easily in bad weather. He gets a car lift from someone on the block before Shabbos so he only has to walk home, and that walk is not alone either. Three others walk with him just to make sure he gets home safely. If someone is ill on the block the neighbor grapevine works efficiently so we all know and can offer whatever assistance we can give. No, we are not each other's best friends, but we are friendly neighbors. We understand the benefits of physical proximity.

How can we build achdus in Klal? One block at a time. Start with your own neighbors and then go from there.

Note: LOZ recently had a post in which he complained about the neighbor problem in his area. I'm not sure that what I'm suggesting would work for all the blocks in that "B" area, but it might in some. And if it doesn't, take heart anyway--it works in lots of other places.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I would, however, suggest that people make an effort to get to know all of their neighbors, not just the jewish or frum ones. I don't think you meant to suggest leaving out the non-jewish or non-frum neighbors, but the post can be read that way. I have found over the years that being a good a neighbor does not necessarily mean sharing the same religion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous that neighborliness transcends religion, and there's no reason to exclude a nonfrum neighbor when everyone is going in on a snowblower together (although I don't think this is such a great plan, but I realize that it's just an example).

I'm lucky that where I live, even people who don't travel in the same circles and who attend different shuls, all get along. But I think people who move to my neighborhood are more open minded about meeting new people and making new friends.

ProfK said...

Anon and Tesyaa,
I certainly did not mean to only include the frum neighbors. We are on excellent terms with both of our next door neighbors--one a Korean Pastor of a local church and one a reform Jew. We have shared fences that were purchased together. We always give shalach monos to our nonfrum neighbor, and she purchases from a kosher supplier for us. Everyone knows just which children live on the block and as kids walk to school or to school buses we keep an eye out on everyone. It's one reason why children, even fairly young ones, still walk to friends houses unaccompanied here. There are eyes watching in EVERY house. When a car got parked on the block that didn't belong to any of the neighbors and remained without being moved it took only two days before the police were notified--turns out it was a stolen car from a different part of the island that someone was storing here.We were blessed for many years to have a NYPD Sargeant, a non frum Jew, living on the block. He was a treasured resource for all of us neighbors. Our Italian kitty corner neighbor is a widdowed nonagenarian who taught everyone on the block how to garden correctly for our climate, including lending tools and giving out cuttings. All the men on our end of the block, regardless of religion, make sure that her sidewalks are cleared in snowy weather in case she should have to get out. We all wish each other a happy holiday regardless of who is celebrating which holiday.

For socialization purposes, Shabbos and meals, and for borrowing food items and for sukkah help etc. it's the frum people on the block we turn to though.

Neighbors said...

It is possible to have a friendly block, even in Brooklyn, even if not everyone is "great friends" with everyone else.

My family and friends and I live in Flatbush and Marine Park. Block events vary from block parties organized by the non-Jewish neighbors but contributed to and enjoyed by everyone, to a Shalosh Seudos backyard meal (block eiruv) before people leave for the country. We all get phone calls/flyers when there's a block simcha, and homemade meals are scheduled and delivered when there's a new baby.

When I moved in, neighbors came by with veggies from their garden or with homemade cookies, and I hosted the pre-Shavuous recipe party in my yard a few months later, to meet everyone else. The block's phone list is distributed every Tishrei, and there's a "simcha fund" so there's a gift from the block at every neighbor's kiddush, shalom zachor, shabbos kallah, or sheva brachos. At a recent bar mitzvah, there were 2 or 3 tables just for the women neighbors!

Delivering shalach manos on the block takes about an hour on Purim morning -- after one neighbor leins for all the women who didn't make it to shul.

Several houses w/ enclosed backyards connect their driveways with an eruv, so it's possible to go out with a baby or borrow a cup of hot water on Shabbos, in Brooklyn!

Tuvi said...

It wasn't until we moved from Brooklyn to Jersey that I learned about being a neighbor. In our community people on a block know each other. Like the posting said, we may not all be best friends but we know to keep in touch and we watch out for each other.

The day we moved in the Rav of our new shul, who we had contacted before the move, contacted two people he knew lived on our block. The moving truck arrived and so did our two neighbors. One brought over drinks and snacks for during the move. The other got a short list from my wife about any food we needed immediately and went shopping so that that night we weren't going to starve. They brought a few toys so that the kids would have something to play with until the boxes were unpacked. And for that first Shabbos we were invited out for all the meals.

I admit I was a little suspicious at all the friendliness at first, but it's something you get used to really fast.

Anonymous said...

Until recently I lived in one of those neighborhoods where neighbor is just a word in a dictionary. None of the neighbors, jewish or not, were particularly friendly. When we were leaving I realized that there was exactly one person I knew on the block that I would say goodbye to--one person!

Where we live now is very different. There is more of a sense of community on the block. We may not all socialize together but we all know each others names and what the kids look like. If a package comes and a neighbor isn't home we take in the package and then give it over when they are home. It's a very safe feeling to know that someone is there in case of an emergency.

Lion of Zion said...


"I admit I was a little suspicious at all the friendliness at first"

when my first friend left for the suburbs i went to visit him for shabbat. people came over friday night after shul to ask me who i am, etc. i must have been suspicious too, because to this day my friend swears that i rolled my eyes at the third person who came over to me.


"It is possible to have a friendly block, even in Brooklyn"

possible, but far from common. also, even the blocks i know of (through my wife's friends) that are friendly, the makeup is very monolithic.

true that marine park is much better than flatbush, but only to a degree. a lot of the same nonsense goes on there too.

Lion of Zion said...


i love the post title