A Mensch with a Wrench: A Reflection

October 11th, 2018

Matthew Flyer, Yachad’s Construction Manager, reflects on his experience as a Yachad volunteer-turned staff member.

By Matthew Flyer, Construction Manager

Today I want to talk about my transition from the corporate world to what I refer to as the real world.  I spent the past 35 years working for large, multi-national corporations in various positions, first as an engineer and finally in the management ranks.  While I enjoyed my time, I look back on how progress was measured – productivity, efficiency, return on investment, shareholder value and all those good things you normally think of when you think of corporations. 

When I stopped working a few years ago, I felt it was time to try something different.  I felt if I spent my career being tough and bottom line driven; it was time to start being nice and compassionate.  I have always admired individuals with careers in the service professions.  My mother was a nurse, my wife and sister-in-law educators, and they always seemed fulfilled in their mission.  I was looking for some of that passion.  

I dabbled in a few projects and fully expected to just volunteer here and there but then ended up with an organization called YACHAD – Hebrew for together.   

What began as volunteering to paint, build ramps and pull out carpeting a weekend or two a month, evolved into being a member of their board and ultimately a position as Construction Manager, or as my wife like to refer to me – “a mensch with a wrench.”   

I haven’t totally disavowed all my corporate skills.  In helping the organization grow, they’ve enabled me in areas such as supporting new grants, new programs and with organizational development. Like a corporation, missions keep changing and there is always a need to follow the money. However, my way of measuring progress no longer has corporate overtones, rather it’s measured by smiles and hugs.   

In talking about my transition, I want to touch on three aspects – the organization, the work and its impact, and what is has meant for me.  

What led me to YACHAD was their mission and how they focus on it. 

For generations of white American families, homeownership has been a fundamental means of accumulating wealth… serving as an asset against which they can borrow for education or other purposes.  But others have been shut out of programs that promoted homeownership financial well-being.  

This missed opportunity to amass wealth that white Americans took for granted is evident to this day with a black-white wealth gap and an even worse gap in health, living conditions, and educational opportunities. 

I know this is true because I now see it every day.  Less than 20 minutes away from where we are, here, in our nation’s capital, poor families are living in overcrowded houses with roofs that leak into bedrooms and onto dining room tables, through lighting fixtures and through drywall. Electricity comes from one extension cord snaked through the house. 

Open stoves are often the only source of heat during the winter, and residents have to fill up buckets of water just to flush their toilets. Again, I’m talking about Washington, D.C., not some underdeveloped country thousands of miles from here. 

For those who live in these conditions every day, often for many years, this is not just a “social problem,” it’s a personal crisis.  

Yachad’s mission is to help bridge this gap by assisting homeowners to stay in their homes and build on what it means for their personal situations. 

As the Construction Manager at Yachad, I, along with hundreds of dedicated volunteers, provide direct services to low-income families who are living in overcrowded, dangerous, and substandard housing. 

At Yachad, while we use many skilled tradespeople, we rely on skilled and unskilled volunteers to work alongside these families to repair untenable living conditions. Most of our clients are one roof leak, one electrical or plumbing failure away from being homeless. And, even as they hang valiantly on to a dwelling that’s crumbling around them, their existence isn’t even close to what we in this room would consider normal and nurturing. 

These families are often providing housing to their children and grandchildren. The aging and deteriorating housing stock they live in is the last line of “affordable” housing in the region. Losing these units would pose another serious threat to the dwindling supply of housing available to low and even moderate-income families. 

What is so different is the way I looked at social issues in the past versus now. Now I see it first-hand. It’s one thing to raise money for a cause, donate money or work behind the scenes.  But at YACHAD, I’ve approached it differently. I now see those in need every day.   

I am invited into their homes, I work with them hand-in-hand to help improve their lives.  I hear stories about their families and life. Seeing their smiles and offers of thanks creates a completely different perspective for me. 

Just this week, I visited a home of a single mother with two children with special needs.  She had some health concerns which caused her to lose her job, and she is now in jeopardy of losing her home.  Her home has major repair needs: the roof is leaking, there is no viable heating system, and mold is a serious health hazard.  These conditions are compromising her health condition, which then impacts her ability to hold down a job.  As I assessed her house to determine eligibility for our program, she was apologetic for her home’s disarray, when in fact I was amazed at what a great job she was doing trying to keep things in check.  She’s a perfect fit for our program.  There are no state or federal programs to provide assistance and without our help she’ll be forced to leave her home.   

One of the most interesting conversations I had was with a skeptical homeowner whose home we were working on.  When I showed up with a small group to do some repairs that our sub-contractors could not do, he very assertively asked, “Why are you doing this?”  It caught me by surprise and I fumbled a bit – it was the usual answers of tzedakah and Jewish values. None of us gave very convincing answers.   

He continued with his view on how he was raised, “it’s every man for himself and God will sort it all out in the end.” He admitted he hadn’t seen the best in people, especially at his current position as a prison guard.   

While he continued to look for the “strings-attached,” in the end, I think we won him over. 

On the other side of the spectrum I was working with a women well into her eighties, still the matriarch of a multi-generational family.  Her home was in desperate need of repairs.  When trying to set up our next visit she was overwhelmed with the help we were offering but a little embarrassed by her only request – could we not work on Tuesdays since that was her day to work in the church’s soup kitchen.   

This has been a common thread. I see many people in need, yet they themselves are always giving back. 

The impact of our program is far-reaching.  Two recipients come to mind.  Once their homes were stabilized, they were able to focus their efforts on self-improvement and being successful in the job market.  One went on to be employed by the DC government in a position that helps others in need.  The other went to school and has launched a career in social services.  Both exemplify the impact of a stable home environment. 

Even what may appear to be minor, impacts lives every day – things that we naively take for granted – a mother who can finally cook dinner for her family, another states “with her new floors she can now sleep lying down and without her nebulizer,” a new access ramp now allows a child to go outside – the stories can be endless. 

Beyond the homeowners there is also an impact on the volunteers, who develop such a sense of rapport and satisfaction.  We have a group of guys who started a project and now their monthly get-together is doing repair work on a new house; one woman celebrates her birthday by adopting a home and bringing her friends to do repairs; and a contractor donates a new kitchen every year – again, these stories can be endless. 

The combination of homeowners and volunteers truly embraces the meaning of YACHAD – together, a real sense of community. 

I find I have grown a bit in my transition:

  • Although my wife may disagree, I think I’ve become a little more patient and a bit less judgmental.  Standing on the outside, we are always quick to develop an opinion, but when you get intimately involved you learn quickly that there is a lot more to the story.
  • I’m surprised by how many people out there are trying to help.  From the families I work with, who they themselves are helping others, the volunteers who are busy yet finding time, and the range in ages and backgrounds of all our volunteers.
  • I’ve seen how much difference a little boost can make.  Once a person’s home situation is stabilized, it allows them to expend their energy in so many other areas.
  • I’ve learned that people have a lot more in common than we would think.  What they want for themselves and their families is no different than us. 

I want to finish up by referring back to the homeowner who asked “Why would I do this?”   

…………………….. I think my answer now is “Why wouldn’t I?” 

 Shanah Tovah! 

Ramp It Up! 2018 Reflection

July 13th, 2018

Yachad’s Ramp It Up! summer program offers high school students an opportunity to build a wheelchair ramp for a local family. One of the students reflects on his experience.

By Isaac, Ramp It Up! 2018 participant

The first day of camp we all arrived and introduced ourselves, we also discussed what
we were going to start doing and the overall plan. The first day was the hardest because we
started by drilling into concrete, and it was also difficult to get used to the flow of building. It was
hard to start meeting new people. At the end of the day, I made lots of new friends and was very
exhausted. At first, It was hard to visualize the ramp because after two days of work all we had
where a bunch of posts sticking out of the ground.

The hardest part of the building process was putting in the posts since we didn’t know
how to put the metal rods in and hammering nails into a post inside a small hole is very hard.
The day we started to get the first deck put in it started to rain which cut our work early. The next
day all the mounds of dirt where turned into mud and the holes were full of water. After that, I
always came home covered in mud. Although it was very dirty it was a lot of fun and we
accepted the dirt and continued with our jobs.

Every day I came home exhausted and dirty, but I had a sense of accomplishment and
eagerness to go back the next day. After the first deck was finished it was a lot easier to
visualize what we were doing and soon we had the first ramp finished and decked. Next, we put
up post for a railing but to tighten the post we needed to get underneath the ramp. Underneath
the ramp, there was a lot of mud and sawdust. Although it was hard, when we finished I felt very
accomplished and proud. It was also nice to have other people who were just as tired as you
were working with you.

I had a great time at Yachad and made lots of new friends, and although the work was hard It
was very rewarding.  I learned a lot of valuable skills about building, and I was informed
about disabilities and housing costs. Overall I really enjoyed my time during Yachad and I had
lots of fun.

Helping Families Breathe Easier

May 1st, 2018

by Robin Renner, Yachad’s Director of Construction

[On May 1st World Asthma Day, Yachad highlights the importance of making homes healthier for families with asthma.]

Asthma is the leading chronic disease in children. It is also the top reason for missed school days.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Asthma in Schools.

When my children were in elementary school a friend of theirs died from an asthma attack. It was devastating to everyone and affected the whole community. The child had a history of asthma. His parents lacked health insurance and managed his symptoms with emergency room visits since they couldn’t afford regular care. They were good parents but lived in an apartment building with poor maintenance. Since then I’ve found out how much living conditions affect children with asthma. My work at Yachad helps me to address this serious health and housing issue.

A child’s home should be a safe place, a place of rest and comfort. If it’s hard to breath, or you always have a cold or cough, it’s hard to be comfortable. Children living in poorly maintained housing are more likely to have chronic health issues, particularly asthma. “Exposure to the things that stimulate asthma is probably greater in poor households. Cockroaches in inner city homes, air pollution in industrial neighborhoods, gas and other chemical fumes, lack of air conditioning, and inability to modify the home environment (for example, unable to take up a bedroom carpet or correct water leaks into a moldy basement) are some of the ways that poverty might predispose to worsen asthmatic inflammation of the bronchial tubes.” Partners Asthma Center

A few years ago, Yachad’s work focused on a family’s home where respiratory triggers were causing severe wheezing and coughing fits for the entire household. We pulled up all the carpeting, replaced moldy drywall, patched the roof and exterminated the house. The coughing and wheezing stopped, especially for the children. Everyone was better. This is just one example of Yachad’s work. Our homeowners almost always report less colds in the family, less problems with asthma and respiratory conditions, and general overall improvement in the health of the family. We make homes safe and healthy, so folks can live their best life.

Help us do more—be a Yachad healthy housing advocate and volunteer.

Yachad Brings Communities Together to Preserve Affordable Homes

January 5th, 2018

Yachad was recently featured in our partner LISC’s newsletter. Local Initiatives Support Corp is a nat’l nonprofit investing $50 million east of the Anacostia River to support affordable housing and more.

Yachad, which means “together” in Hebrew, is a nonprofit whose mission is to bring communities together by preserving and repairing homes owned by lower income, elderly and disabled homeowners. Recognizing that the most fragile families have the greatest need for stabilized homes, but often don’t have the disposable income to spend on repairs, Yachad addresses D.C.’s affordable housing crisis by mobilizing people and resources.

In 2017, LISC provided a $30,000 capacity building grant to support Yachad in their efforts to expand services to neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, including communities within the boundaries of our Elevating Equity initiative.

Jennifer Cobb, a homeowner living in DC’s Anacostia neighborhood, first learned about Yachad from a neighbor and later received an application from her grandson’s elementary school.  Jennifer was hoping that Yachad could help fix her faulty toilet and address the draft issues she was having in her home. She was pleasantly surprised that Yachad did so much more.

“It was the simplest application ever. They asked for information about you and the issues that you are having with your home,” Jennifer stated. “I had no idea that they would fix numerous items that I hadn’t even considered,” Jennifer added.

These items included fixing the air conditioner, repairing the roof, eliminating rodent problem, installing a security door and new doorbell, adding outside lights, painting awnings, fixing the washing machine, installing a new dryer, painting her grandson’s bedroom, cleaning gutters, discarding clutter in the basement, and completely renovating the kitchen – with new  cabinets,  new counter tops, new hardwood floors, new oven, and a new refrigerator.

Yachad partners with homeowners, houses of worship, nonprofits, and other community stakeholders, mobilizing skilled and unskilled volunteers to make repairs to homes.  “The core of our work is the Single Family Home Repair program. Over the course of many months, a home’s plumbing, electrical, drywall and other infrastructure repairs are made,” stated Audrey Lyon, Yachad’s Executive Director.  Very few organizations are doing this kind of work.

“Our Single Family Home Repair program primarily targets the larger, multi-generational households, especially families with children, to benefit as many people as possible,”  Audrey shared. “It is a badge of honor to be partnered with LISC.  LISC’s support allows us to go into people’s homes much more quickly,” she added.

“In my line of work, our clientele are typically super wealthy with seemingly unlimited money to spend on repairs and renovations to their homes. I believe that people of limited means should also have access to safe, clean, and affordable homes,” stated Alan Kanner, a Principal at Added Dimensions Inc. and a contractor with Yachad.

Ms. Cobb in her new kitchen.

Alan, a Yachad board member and a general contractor by trade, renovated Jennifer Cobb’s kitchen, even though the original scope of work did not include any work in the kitchen.  “I walked in her kitchen and immediately knew that work needed to be done in there as well,” Alan shared.  “Every homeowner should have a functional kitchen,” he added.

Alan used his connections to buy new kitchen cabinets and to get granite counter tops, backsplash, and tile donated.  He even enlisted employees from his company to do the actual renovations. The finished product is a beautiful kitchen that in the words of Jennifer, “doesn’t look like it belongs in my house.”  Alan epitomizes what Yachad is all about – bringing people, both skilled and unskilled volunteers, together to preserve affordable homes and revitalize neighborhoods.

Adat Shalom volunteer tackling repairs at the Cobb home.

Alan’s initial interest in affordable housing stemmed from his prior work at Manna, Inc., one of LISC’s key partners in affordable housing preservation. His volunteerism on Yachad’s board felt like a logical place to continue his passion of helping people stay in their homes, especially as more and more Washingtonians are being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Jennifer’s home has been in her family for over 45 years.  She and several of her neighbors got married in her home, so it is not only a special place for Jennifer but also for many other families. As a child, Jennifer’s parents were able to maintain the upkeep of their home, but over the years, Jennifer’s home required several repairs that were out of her budget.  Lack of repairs caused a rodent problem that was a source of embarrassment for Jennifer.

“I didn’t want to use my bathroom.  I was afraid that I would see a mouse.  I felt so relieved when Yachad took care of the leak and replaced my toilet.  Not only does the new toilet have an ‘industrial’ type of flush, but the repairs done eliminated the source of the rodents,” Jennifer shared.  “The mail lady stopped by to talk to me and mentioned the need to use the bathroom.  It felt so good to be able to tell her to use mine,” she added.

By working to preserve properties, Yachad helps families avoid displacement from their homes  and neighborhoods and builds wealth through greater home equity. Yachad accepts applications on a year round basis; however, it can make repairs on a maximum of 40 homes given that each house’s work is pretty extensive.  In 2017, Yachad repaired seven homes within LISC’s Elevating Equity Impact Area, helping to preserve affordable homes in the neighborhoods surrounding the future 11th Street Bridge Park. With just six staff, Yachad relies on the support of its numerous volunteers and subcontractors.

Yachad’s work is life-changing.  Accessibility improvements allow senior homeowners to age in place; renovations reduce ongoing maintenance or utility costs; and homes become more stable and safer for the long-term.  “Yachad made my house a home,” Jennifer concluded.

Photo credit: Sue Dorfman

Occasional Thoughts for Shabbat…

October 2nd, 2017

presented by Rabbi Batya Glazer

Z’man Simchataynu – Sukkot the Festival of Booths.

On this festival we remember when we lived in fragile dwellings in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, and we celebrate with joy! One of the central mitzvot of the holiday is for each person to spend the holiday living, as much as possible, in a temporary structure.  A sukkah, roofed by branches, stalks, bamboo or other natural material leaves us exposed to the elements.

“You shall live in huts seven day; all citizens of Israel shall live in huts, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in huts when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.”  Leviticus 23:42, 43

We joyously celebrate our dependence on God and our understanding of our own vulnerability.  We recognize the ultimate impermanence of our world.  Experiencing these spiritual lessons and truths helps us better understand our fundamental responsibility to those who live with a daily awareness of their vulnerability and instability.  To those for whom a temporary structure, has been their permanent reality.

The mitzvah of Kavod haBriyot, to preserve the honor and dignity of God’s creation, insists that it is imperative that each of us is responsible to guard the honor of every other human being.  As God has created us in His image, b’Tzelem Elohim, respect for others reflects our respect for our own Creator.

Many of our neighbors live in unsafe homes, homes in need of repair, homes that are inaccessible. Yachad works to ensure that these individuals have safe homes where they can live with dignity, and gives each of us an opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah by supporting their work. We can appreciate the security we feel when the plumbing and the lights work. Each of us can imagine what a difference it can make in a person’s life when a simple fix creates a hand rail that makes it possible to shower, a ramp that makes it possible to go outside, or a new carpet that makes it easier to breathe.

As we celebrate Sukkot with a sense of joy despite, or even because of, the impermanence of our lives, may we be grateful for the chance to give others the dignity that is due to each of us.

Hag Sameach v’Moadim l’Simcha – A Joyous Festival of Sukkot!

Cross Bridges and Build Community

September 28th, 2017

by Alex Ransenberg

JBG SMITH, one of Yachad’s ongoing corporate partners, joined us mid-September to repair a home in DC. Skilled JBG SMITH team members installed a new kitchen, including cabinets, sink, countertops, and a new vinyl tile floor, while unskilled team members painted multiple rooms and removed basement carpet that had become soiled due to sewage backup issues. Alex Ransenberg looks back at their community service day with us.

I had the privilege of joining Yachad in renovating an existing house in Southeast DC for an afternoon in which I found a combination of teamwork and labor resulted in an improved home for the owners. When I drove over the 11th St. Bridge into Southeast, I realized just how sheltered I was from an entirely different DC than the one that I am used to, living in Northwest on U St. I was pleasantly surprised to find the neighborhood quaint with an abundance of nature surrounding the area. Once I walked into the house, it was clear why some level of renovations was necessary.

Walking up to the house I was greeted by the Yachad organizers who were preparing for the afternoon crew, while the morning shift enjoyed lunch. There was a brief introduction to the remaining work that needed to get done and then we were on our own. One of the great aspects of Yachad is that whether you are acquainted with the people you are volunteering with or not, you all will know each other by the end of the project. Before the project, I was working with strangers and by the end, I had made new acquaintances. The work was physically demanding, but we knew we were making a difference by helping improve someone’s life.

After a few hours of painting new walls, I found myself exhausted by the work but satisfied by what we just accomplished. We were fortunate to be able to meet the owners which, I think added to our desire to produce good work. They were so appreciative of what we were doing and were excited for their renovated home.

Although this was only the second Yachad project I have worked on, one thing stayed consistent at both: that by working together, there are no limits to how impactful an organization can be. For volunteers, Yachad provides an opportunity to meet neighbors they might not otherwise get to know and to literally lend a hand with physically demanding, yet satisfying work. For homeowners, Yachad provides access to a better home and life. Overall, by bringing people from different backgrounds together, we are seeing other perspectives and creating a more understanding community.

Ramp It Up! 2017 Reflections

July 13th, 2017

By Max, Ramp It Up! Session 1 Reflections

Yachad’s Ramp It Up! summer program offers high school students an opportunity to build a wheelchair ramp. In June 2017 students helped the Evans family, who has had a string of bad luck: one family member lost a leg last year in an accident requiring him to use a wheelchair, plus a devastating fire by an arsonist damaged their house 6 years ago. In addition to building the ramp, Yachad is repairing the inside of the home to help the family get back on their feet.

I felt really good that through a program like Yachad I could help Mr. Evans and his nephew, two people that really and genuinely needed help. The first day I got to Mr. Evans’s house, the front lawn (where we were building the ramp) was green and grassy. Not for long. The week where I was working was the week where we dug footings for ramp posts. We tore up the lawn and began digging 26 footings. It was difficult work and we had to work efficiently, for we had to get the holes approved by an inspector on Thursday. After we got approved we had to pour concrete, and that was messy business. We finished on Friday by placing posts, and prepping the site for the next group.

The whole experience taught me in many different aspects. I learned how to work hard physically, and I also learned how to work as a team to reach a common goal. Each person had their part, and we couldn’t have finished if one person wasn’t there. I also learned the importance of helping people who really need it. There is a big difference from helping someone who doesn’t need it and helping those who need it. Mr. Evans needed the help and the reason helping him was important is because with our help, he could get his life back to the way it was before the incidents. Mr. Evans was in a situation to need this kind of help and he didn’t do anything that got him in this situation. Spending a week this summer helping people truly deserving of the help made me feel good because I was doing something that was actually changing people’s lives for the better. I could have spent the time helping at a local day camp but those kids really don’t need my help. I also learned about the necessity of affordable livable housing in under served communities. Not only should this housing be affordable but it also has to be livable — the conditions should be good and communities should support the people who live there.

Ramp It Up! 2017

July 7th, 2017

“We are holy people – and all of us are holy – and our worth to others is ultimately going to derive from how we act.” — Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

One week ago today 17 teenagers from our Ramp It Up! program completed building a wheelchair ramp for a family in Capitol Heights, MD. These students from D.C. and Montgomery County opted to kick off their summer in a special meaningful way helping a family that has unfortunately experienced some hardships. The family home was struck by arson 6 years ago, and a family member lost a leg after being hit by a bus last year.

For two weeks, the students worked incredibly hard in the heat and humidity, digging, hammering, drilling, and more to build a life-changing ramp for a stranger they never met. All the students were steadfast and determined no matter the challenge. The success of the project really lies in the group’s ability to work as a team and to collaborate; so many steps required several helping hands, whether navigating wheelbarrows of dirt, mixing cement, moving & securing posts, or measuring & cutting wood. The students supported each other throughout the process.

It was beautiful to watch the construction of the ramp and to see the collective actions of a group; everyone played a vital part. Each person’s work laid the foundation for the next like an interconnected puzzle.

What was even more beautiful to watch was the coming together of individuals to make a difference for a family in our community. As the Talmud teaches us, if we want to be like God, we need to engage in acts of kindness and service.

On the last day of the build, the homeowner expressed his sincere gratitude to the group through tear-filled eyes. This gift the students gave him and his family will be appreciated for years to come—long after the experience has faded from the students’ memory.

What the students said:

“I shouldn’t take what I have for granted.”

“Giving little bit of time can make such a difference for someone else.”

“Spending a week this summer helping people truly deserving of the help made me feel good because I was doing something that was actually changing people’s lives for the better.”

Yachad is repairing the inside of the home to help this family get back on their feet this year. We welcome your financial support for this project. Donate today.

Occasional Thoughts for Shabbat…

April 20th, 2017

presented by Rabbi Batya Steinlauf

At this moment of sacred Jewish time, we are counting the Omer, acknowledging the period between the freedom of the Exodus from Egypt, celebrated on Passover, and the giving the Torah at Sinai, celebrated on Shavuot.   At this moment in our sacred history, we are wandering. The dependence of the generation of the wilderness is a generation of insecurity and fear.  This moment is truly Sukkot in spring.

The connection between a home and a sense of security and identity is central in this week’s haftarah.  God tells David through the prophet Nathan that God will establish a house for David and his descendants, promising that his house and his kingship will be established and eternal, and for the People of Israel God promises: “I will establish a home for My people Israel and will plant them firm so that they shall dwell secure and shall tremble no more.” 2 Samuel 7:10

…י וְשַׂמְתִּי מָקוֹם לְעַמִּי לְיִשְׂרָאֵל וּנְטַעְתִּיו וְשָׁכַן תַּחְתָּיו וְלֹא יִרְגַּז עוֹד

2 Samuel 7:10

As we count the Omer, we remember the vulnerability of wandering in the desert and our journey to receive the Torah in which we are commanded to affix a mezuzah to the door post of our houses.  In the midst of the wilderness, during wandering which will last a generation, we are given the commandment to establish permanent homes, with door posts – the only way to fulfill this commandment.  The Mishnah Torah, Hilhot Mezuzah 6:1 clarifies that a home is permanent and it is a place of honor for people to live in.

Yachad’s work to ensure safe and secure homes reflects the Jewish community’s deep understanding of the significance of a dignified and safe place to live for every human being. Yachad gives us the opportunity, as Jews committed to justice, to act. Each synagogue community and each individual who participates is truly repairing the world and increasing kavod habriot, the dignity of God’s creations.

Just as on Sukkot we recognize our ultimate dependence on God, as we celebrate Sukkot in Spring we also recognize our responsibility to create a world that reflects the inherent sanctity of every human being. Yashar Koach!

Occasional thoughts for Shabbat….

March 3rd, 2017

And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exodus 25:8

This week’s Parasha Terumah, finds the Israelites recovering from their humbling experience at the foot of Mount Sinai listening to the words of Moses. We read the next set of instructions to the people in the beautiful verse, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). These words have inspired musical scores, art objects and the construction of ritual spaces. As I read these words again this year, I am struck by two words; “sanctuary” and “dwell” that resonate with stark new meaning for these times.

The word “sanctuary” is everywhere in our public square referring to our sudden need to create safe spaces for refugees and immigrants. Here the word refers to both physical safety and a mental state of being in that place. Sanctuary offers both physical and spiritual comfort—a place where boundaries create a safe zone. The verse calls out to the Israelite people as a community to create a space so that the Holy One can live among us and in us. Today, we are called to create a safe space among us so that “the other” can be protected.

Similarly, the word “dwell,” has sudden new meaning. This verse occurs when the Israelites are wanderers after fleeing the prosecution and slavery from Egypt. They are not setting out to create a permanent residence anytime soon, yet they are told to create unique place for God to not just take up temporary residence but to live among them. To dwell implies more than just being there for a bit. To dwell is to be a presence—a moral and responsible presence. To make that point even clearer, the parasha continues with exacting instructions and intricate details about how to construct that sanctuary so that it stresses the important function and purpose of the place.

As Yachad begins its home repair work this spring, we are all reminded of our unique responsibility and work to create functional dwellings that create sanctuary for those in our community who find themselves in unstable and fragile conditions. As Judaic scholar Dr. Erica Brown shares, “In Jewish life we move from house to house, imbuing sacredness to each space by virtue of the activities that take place there. A person needs a home, an anchor of stability; in this changing, chaotic world, every soul needs to be an island of repose.”

Yachad, working with hundreds of volunteers, makes that a reality for people of all faiths.