By Ariel Nathan
Fellow, Repair The World Baltimore
What a weekend! It began at Temple Oheb Shalom, a Reform Jewish congregation located on Park Heights Avenue. Temple Oheb Shalom has a 13-year partnership with Bethel AME Church (the AME stands for African Methodist Episcopal). Each year on MLK weekend, church members attend Kabbalat Shabbat services Friday evening at Oheb Shalom and on Sunday morning synagogue members attend Bethel’s morning mass.
Friday night services were awesome! The two choirs joined together and sang, and the best part was when the Bethel choir sang on their own. Their voices were gorgeous and the musicians were excellent; everything about it was beautiful. It absolutely gave me chills.
Sunday morning services were equally as impressive. Bethel AME church was welcoming and energetic. I have never been to a church like this one. Rabbi Fink of Oheb Shalom gave a powerful sermon on Sunday morning, and he asked for members of both congregations to work together to improve their communities. It totally resonated with Repair the World’s mission in Baltimore City.
The Rabbi and the Reverend mentioned us during the service as an example of what young people in Baltimore are doing. This was the first time I had done anything particularly religious in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King and I am already looking forward to doing something similar next year.
I haven’t even gotten to MLK day proper yet. On Monday we (as Repair the World Fellows) volunteered with The 6th Branch and Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC). The 6th Branch is a local organization that engages veterans in their community. We gathered in a park near Johns Hopkins Hospital on Monday morning, and I was completely blown away with how many people were there, eager to volunteer and spend their day doing something meaningful. There were probably upwards of 200 people there.
The aim of the day was to revamp this park and surrounding playground as well as pick up trash from neighboring streets. We had a reflection afterwards and one idea in particular has lingered. It came up in relation to Tu B’shevat and how we can find meaning and beauty in our own landscape.
We noted that although there were so many volunteers from 6th Branch and JVC, many, if not most of them, were not from that neighborhood. Tons of people streamed in, volunteered for many hours, and then streamed out. It is a very interesting phenomenon and one that has come up in conversation several times this year.
I do not want to be someone who comes into a community, provides manual labor for several hours, and then leaves. And I know this is not Repair the World’s intention.
On one hand, it is great that so many people came out and volunteered, but on the other hand I have to imagine that there is a need for those volunteers to work in their own neighborhoods. I wonder if it is possible to change this, or on National Service Days such as MLK day it is better have these people come in from outside neighborhoods, and accomplish a lot (due to the numbers). My main reservation is that I think one person’s work is going to mean more to them if they see the effects of it every day. Think about it — if you walk by a garden or a plot that you helped seed every day, you’re going to feel a bigger sense of pride than remembering a park somewhere across town that you helped clean up one day a while back.
I believe that sense of pride is important in order for people to be more likely to come back out and volunteer again. I think they need a personal connection, and what’s more personal than cleaning up your own neighborhood or block!
Yes, someone from Northwest Baltimore helping in Southeast Baltimore is bettering his or her own city, and there is definitely something to be said for that. But there is a huge sense of neighborhood pride in Baltimore, so it would seem that people would have more pride helping in their neighborhoods than helping somewhere across town. I don’t really have a solution here, but this idea of staying close to home, in terms of helping others, is certainly thought-provoking.