A Love Letter to Shalom Park

Three weeks ago, I had the honor of showing three gentlemen from the Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance around Shalom Park. We spent almost two hours talking, and walking, and noticing. Showing off a place that is familiar to me to people who have never seen it gave me a chance to see it through their eyes – to rediscover and find new appreciation for this place.

I have moved thirteen times since I moved out of my parent’s house at age eighteen. Over the ensuing eighteen years, the longest I have occupied any physical living space is just over three years. Sitting in my office last week, I realized that the room in which I was sitting, housed within the building of Temple Beth El on the Shalom Park campus…this place has been home for me for longer than any other geographic space in which I have dwelt since I was still under the care of my parents!

During the interview process that led me here six years ago, I fell in love with the idea of Shalom Park. Los Angeles, the city from which I was moving, overflowed with Jewish organizations. But collaboration is hard in city of almost 500 square miles with a population of four million – and I’m also not sure how many Jewish organizations were actually interested in working together. Here, in contrast, I found a Jewish community who had summoned the chutzpah (audacity), the chesed (compassion), and the koach (strength) to build something greater than the sum of its parts.

Six years later, of course I have a more nuanced and complicated image of Shalom Park. I know that the more Jews in any one place, the more opinions will bounce around the table any time a decision needs to be made. I know that growth and change require hard, important conversations and decisions, and that those conversations are ongoing. But that doesn’t change my gratitude for the experiences that Shalom Park has fostered and facilitated for me.

For me, Shalom Park is the Levine JCC: it is watching TBE religious school kids shine as part of a stellar JSTAGE community theater production, or walking past a weight-lifting 18-year-old former bar mitzvah student on my way to the exercise bike. It is answering rabbinic questions while learning how to throw on the pottery wheel and commiserating with fellow ceramics students over whatever the kiln did to our pieces.

Shalom Park is the Jewish Federation, whose continued support not only bolsters TBE’s own programming, but whose commitment to racial justice education in the wake of George Floyd’s murder offered our community a level of programming we could not possibly have put together on our own. What’s more, the Federation’s willingness to help monitor and support people, particularly students, in the wake of increasing antisemitic incidents allows all of us in the Jewish community to feel safe, seen, and know we have powerful allies in our corner.

Shalom Park is CJDS morning assembly and the opportunity to teach our community’s children Torah and Talmud. It is wading through hallways full of three and four-year-olds in swimsuits and oversized kipot on their way to Gorelik or Lerner Hall on Friday mornings, and then dancing and singing along with them as they “bring in the light, bring in the light, bring in the light of Shabbat.”

Shalom Park is access to a strong, resourced Jewish Family Services, whose food pantry benefits from the produce grown in the community garden run by Shalom Green, whose staff are incredibly responsive and provide support to our congregants in some of their hardest life moments, and who help organize Charlotte-area clergy to offer in-home Shabbat experiences to the most senior members of our Jewish community.

Shalom Park is smiling knowingly with other TBE staff as b’nei mitzvah guests show up at our front door at 9:00am on a Saturday morning with a confused look, on their way to services at Temple Israel, and getting to tell them, “don’t worry, you’re almost there – it’s just across the parking lot!” Shalom Park is the graciousness with which Temple Israel makes space for us to use the mikveh in their building to bring new Jews into the covenant. And Shalom Park is a Reform congregation and a Conservative congregation coming together multiple times a year to teach and learn and pray together.

And more than all of those organizations I have mentioned and the programs and initiatives and resources they have offered, Shalom Park is people.

My Shalom Park is made up of phone calls and check-ins, of conversations and support. My Shalom Park is made up of human beings who have help me shape a home in a part of the country so far from everything I had previously known.

Six years ago, I arrived in Charlotte, just five months before one of the most divisive presidential elections in our history. Over these past six years, almost every organization on the park has navigated significant shifts in staff and personnel. And, we have all somehow weathered a two-year global pandemic. I can’t take Temple Beth El with me, or the Jewish Federation or Temple Israel or Jewish Family Services or any of the organizations that have touched my experience here. But you better believe I’ll be carrying my relationships with all of you and the lessons we have learned together into my next adventure. Which is why I love l’hitraot as a Jewish leave-taking – it’s not goodbye; it’s just “’til we meet again.”

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