Working Together in Teshuvah: Building Homes out of Shared Foundation Stone / by Ross Weissman, Recruitment and Digital Media Associate

Advice for good love: Don’t love

those from far away. Take yourself one

from nearby.

The way a sensible house will take

local stones for its building

stones which have suffered in the same cold

and were scorched by the same sun…”

This poem is entitled “Advice for Good Love,” and it is written by Yehuda Amichai. It is written about a beloved, but like all good love poems, it shines more broadly onto the cultivation of nurturing and intimate space between friends, family and amidst community. His poem begs his readers to consider, with whom will we build our home?

As discussed in my last post, a lot of the work of teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a process of returning to beginnings. Home is the symbol of many of our beginnings and beginnings yet built. So, this question seems fitting this holiday season. It has particular resonance with individuals in transitory phases, like those in our Social Change program who have just traveled across the ocean to start a new home and also with whole groups who are facing important decisions about their future together: young couples, families, and even entire communities.

The Ethiopian-Israeli community, one of the largest recent immigrant communities, came to Israel to fulfill a dream of returning to their ancient homeland. In order to do this, a lot was sacrificed. They entered into a world with a different religious discourse, a culture where Amharic and Tigrinya were not spoken on the streets and where the daily rhythm and work environment were tremendously foreign. To exacerbate all of this, the community has faced the realities of overt and structural racism. The process of building a home has been a struggle.

One of the most simple and I think powerful contributions to this process of settling and building a home, is echoed in Amichai’s voice. The foundations for home come from local stones. A community’s power lies in the people themselves and everything they carry with them– the cultural wisdom, the history, the inventiveness, personalities, and the love they share. Investing in each other and working together seems to be the most concrete formula for this work.

Let us not underestimate the power of protest and policy change, however the focus of our work at Yahel is from the ground-up.  We provide a unique method of service learning, where our participants explore the meaning of and build community together, while investing in the broader community in which they live and work. We partner with local nonprofits and run programs for youth and elderly in the local neighborhood to encourage community engagement and to develop local social-resources. Yahel works to support its participants and at the same time strengthen the community they live in by supporting its people, the inheritors of and builders of these new homes.

The work of teshuva is a personal task, something that only an individual or a community can do for themselves. But there is also room to influence one another in the process– we can be the stones and the hands that help build or the reinforcement and support for them. My hope for our Social Change participants, the community they will be joining in Gedera, and for all of us is that we may be blessed this holiday season with the open eyes and hands to do the work of teshuvah. May we may go back to our foundation stones to rebuild our homes, communities and ourselves and we may be graced with support from each other in this work. Shanah tova, vgmar chatimah tova.

Ross Weissman is Yahel’s Recruitment and Digital Media Associate. He has studied at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Yeshivat Hadar in New York and will begin studying this Fall for his MA in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.

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