Life with 3 children and a career can be very challenging and finding quality time to do something other than keeping things afloat felt scarce. For years, I spent most of my spare time volunteering at my children’s schools, both secular and religious, and I found that I was floating along in my own little bubble. This “me bubble” was a safe, familiar place — a place where I was not a stranger to most of the people I interacted with, and most were not strangers to me.
As my children got older and became more independent, I decided to expand my bubble and take on the role of co-chair of Temple Beth El’s Sisterhood. I hoped that by getting more involved in something that was meaningful to me, I could make it meaningful to others, as well. This new responsibility affected not only my life, but the lives of those in my Beth El community as well – yet it was merely an extension of the “me” bubble. Then a moment came when I felt called to extend myself beyond my everyday circle.
When I was co-Chair of Sisterhood, our group was responsible for hosting a night of Room In the Inn. TBE had been involved with Room In the Inn for 18 years at the time; along with other organizations on Shalom Park, we were responsible for housing 12 homeless guests for 10-15 overnights during the winter months, providing them with food and shelter. Not knowing anything about Room In the Inn, I did as I was supposed to, taking direction from the RITI coordinators. That is when it all shifted for me.
Up until that time, I had been feeling a bit stuck in my world, a bit selfish. I loved my job. I had a loving family and great friends. However, something was missing from my life – the ability to give of and connect to something bigger. The people I met through RITI and the connections I made burst my insular bubble — opening me up to a broader sense of community and purpose. Beyond providing the basic needs for 12 people experiencing homelessness, I bonded with these neighbors, most of whom had temporarily reached hard times in their lives. Our neighbors gave me a greater sense of meaning.
That was the day I decided to take on the task of RITI coordinator and make a difference, 12 guests at a time. Five years later, I have built so many connections and relationships, not only with the unbelievable volunteers with whom I have worked, but with the new faces that come into our Shalom Park home through stories, faith, and friendship.
Today, I find that my “bubble” is about to expand even further. Shalom Park Room in the Inn has made a change which promises to broaden all of our horizons. The Jewish community is partnering with the Muslim community to create Abraham’s Tent: A Muslim Community-Jewish Community Room in the Inn at Queens University of Charlotte. This winter, each of the Saturday nights that we host our neighbors at the Belk Chapel at Queens University, we will extend an open invitation for a potluck dinner for any members of the Jewish community and Muslim community who want to expand their circles of friendship, connection, and community. In addition, we will hold Abraham’s Tent: Bridge Building programs at Shalom Park and at local mosques, for RITI volunteers and others to connect, socialize, and learn.
Two simultaneous circumstances led to the birth of this new RITI venture. The cost of security became so high in Shalom Park that offering to host our homeless neighbors was becoming counterproductive – we could have put all of our guests in hotel rooms for the same money! Around the time we made this discovery, the Muslim community reached out to the Jewish community with a desire to build and deepen relationships with us.
Fifteen years ago, when I was a mom shuttling toddlers around town (who so quickly became teens then college students), I never imagined my connection to the Jewish community, the homeless community, and now the Muslim community would grow in the ways they have. Perhaps I needed the bubble fifteen years ago. Today I need more.
I invite you to join me on this next stage of the Room in the Inn journey to broaden all of our horizons and enrich all of our lives.
Patty has been in Charlotte for 18 years. She is a mom of 3 young adults, The Early Childhood Director at the Jewish Community Center, and TBE Religious School teacher and Music Specialist. Please reach out to her (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Bridget Cohen (email@example.com), if you are interested in participating in RITI this winter.