After spending thirty five years working on behalf of the Cleveland and then the Pittsburgh Jewish communities, my late wife, Tina, and I moved to New York City for the last five years of my professional career, after I assumed the Presidency of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Our children lived in the city.Our first grandchildren were born there. There was so much to do Jewishly.All of that was great.But on the down side, we felt the absence of community.
How ironic that one could live in the second largest Jewish community in the world, yet feel isolated.It was a feeling we never had in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Some might attribute this to the fact that we were newcomers.But I believe that something gets lost in the sheer magnitude of the place.More can sometimes be less.
Our challenge in West Rogers Park is not the absence of community; rather, our challenge is to figure out how, through new and creative ways, to turn more into more.To better occupy our public spaces. To make better use of Lerner Park and other potential gathering spaces.To create new reasons to walk our commercial streets.
While we have focused on strengthening the public face of West Rogers Park by advocating for the elimination of blight, enhancing our recreational and park amenities, bringing a new building for the Northtown branch of the Chicago Public Library, and promoting new business development, if we are to be truly successful, we need to find additional ways to bring our Jewish community together so that we overcome barriers and build connections that will redound to the benefit of all of us.
In the words of the late Jane Jacobs, who wrote extensively on the nature of healthy cities, we need more “eyes on the streets.”That is what creates a safer neighborhood.And that is what builds community.
Manhattan and West Rogers Park are on two ends of a continuum.In New York City, public space utilization is sometimes beyond capacity, while the personal sense of Jewish community is hard to achieve. In WRP we need to reoccupy our public spaces, something that has been neglected over the years.
Both sides of the equation are important for a healthy community.