According to the dream, as Fidler explained it, the local intentional community would be integrated with the Baltimore Jewish community. It would not be dependent on attracting farmers or selling jams and jellies but would bring together a diverse community of artists, educators, doctors, entrepreneurs and other professionals, as well as people interested in living off the land. It could attract people of all ages to create a sense of community that would feed new life into organized Jewish Baltimore.
“Every household would have some connection to service … to Jewish Baltimore. The community as a whole would be a force for good, a destination, a catalyst, a beautiful model and just sparks for the community as a whole,” said Manela, noting that based on the feedback he has received from people who have participated in short live-in opportunities, this is a natural evolution or next step for the community.
“I am not privileged to speak for the community as a whole,” said Fidler, “but in my opinion, we are getting really close. I think there is interest from the funders. I think the economic model is there and … there is interest from potential residents who buy into the concept, as well.”
Manela said these talks have been ongoing, and now was the right time to take it to the next level through the conference and the Intentional Community Initiative.
Fidler has been in dialogue with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
When asked about a local intentional community, The Associated’s chief planning and strategy officer, Michael Hoffman, said, “Pearlstone continues to be on the forefront of creating dynamic and relevant communities that will appeal to the next generation. What is exciting about intentional communities is seeing that there are members of our Jewish community who are not only curious about the concept of collective living within a Jewish setting, but they are eager to fully immersive themselves in this setting and environment. It is exciting, dynamic, and represents a new level of commitment and expression for members of our Jewish community.”
Manela has been examining other local models for stimulation. He pointed out that the Park Heights Orthodox community “has been a huge inspiration to us.”
“There is an intentional Jewish community in Park Heights, for sure. In many ways that is the concept we are trying to build here — living in walking distance from one another, being able to let your kids out the door [to the neighbor’s house] and not worrying about them,” said Manela.
The recent launch of the Comprehensive Housing and Assistance, Inc.’s Supportive Community Network in that area is also an interesting model, where boomer and more senior residents offer services and support to one another in a defined geographic area. The services are volunteer driven.
The Baltimore intentional community would not be religious in nature, but spiritual. It would be pluralistic, explained Manela, but would ideally work for all streams of Jewish religious observance.
In Your Own Backyard
While the proposed community may be the first for the local Jewish community, there are other local intentional communities that are thriving, including one right in the Jewish community’s backyard.
Project SERVE, run by Catholic Charities, brings together five to seven young adult volunteers to live together in a home in Mount Vernon and volunteer with Catholic Charities projects in Baltimore City. Allison Stone coordinates the project.
She said that through the co-housing, participants have support to examine issues of social justice, simplicity, sustainability and community.
“It provides a model for how people can live in the world in a more cooperative way,” she said.
Arthur Krieger, one of the residents of the Project SERVE house, keeps a blog. He wrote that one of his favorite times of day is right after work.
“I get to wind down with one or more of my housemates while someone cooks dinner in our magnificent kitchen, and then we eat together at our big rectangular table and joke around,” wrote Krieger. “Our home-cooked meals are invariably delicious, since we all enjoy cooking and love eating.”
Stone said that while Project SERVE is run by Catholic Charities, it takes people of all faiths; in 2011, there was a Jewish resident. She said the group is encouraged to discuss their faith and how it impacts their lives, so they can grow and learn from a spiritual perspective.
Moishe House, whereby three young Jewish adults occupy a home in Federal Hill and offer programming for area young Jews, is also an example of an intentional community. Resident Vadim Kashtelyan said the group has worked to build community through a “grassroots approach.” He said that each resident has a different background — both culturally and religiously — and each brings their niche friends.
“We’re just three young Jews looking to create an open home and an open place for our fellow Jews to come and hang out,” he said, noting that Moishe House has fulfilled for him a need to have a Jewish infrastructure downtown.
(For a full list of Maryland intentional communities, see “Live Intentional. Live Local.”)
In Israel, fast-growing pocket communities, referred to as the urban kibbutzim (usually forming in Israel’s periphery), are focused on social justice and community building.
Elik Almog founded Kama Community in 2001 at the age of 21. He said he had grown up involved in the HaNoar Oved youth movement and then served in the Israel Defense Forces. When he exited the army, he and his friends decided they wanted to continue giving back to Israel; although Almog is from central Israel, he said he learned of the challenges of those living in some of Israel’s northern and southern communities when he was in the IDF.
“We wanted to change the world,” said Almog. “And we wanted to live with people. Most people in the Western World are very individualistic. They live by themselves or with their spouse for life. We wanted to create something different that has more solidarity, more social responsibility between people so we could meet friends and do things together.”
Most people who live in Kama Community don’t own a TV, for example, because there is constant social interaction.
His community launched an NGO, which now helps others to build similar communities. Almog served as CEO for a number of years. He said his group helps young people define their community visions and supports them through the process.
Similar to Almog’s work, the Jewish Agency’s Ketzev program creates social-activism businesses in Israel’s geographic peripheries, thereby creating economic opportunity and widening the circle of impact of social activism. It teaches groups of idealistic Israeli social activists to add a social entrepreneurship element to their activities so that their initiatives to assist others can become self-sustaining. Ketzev, according to program coordinator Tzur Oren, provides grants, lessons in business and entrepreneurship, mentorship and other support services, connections with sources of initial funding and introductions to potential partners. Oren said that when the program started three years ago it worked with five social businesses. Today, it is connected with 20 and next year likely 30.
“We are definitely growing really, really fast,” he said, noting that the country refers to these young adults as the “new pioneers.”
The Jewish Agency’s Greenvald thinks there is much that North American Jews can learn from trends in Israel. He brought some of the Israeli intentional community leaders to the November conference, and the group is toying with the idea of providing “intentional community shlichim [emissaries]” to people looking to get started in the United States.
“This is a movement going on all over the world, among many different types of people, but there are people who want to live Jewish lives with other Jews in a closer setting,” said Greenvald.
But what if you are not ready to pick up and move out to the periphery or pick up a plow and start farming? Said the activists, that’s OK too.
“This can happen in any form,” said Manela. “Everyone can build an intentional community where they are — within a neighborhood, on a street, in a workplace or family.”
Echoed Stone, “Even if people aren’t going to sell everything they have and move into a commune, they can look for ways to work together more in their neighborhood, apartment or particular situation.”
Higaleh na ufros chavivi alai, es sukas shlomecha [Please be revealed and spread upon me, my Beloved, the shelter of Your peace].
Quoting the above verse, one that is recited every week during Kabbalat Shabbat, Manela said, “Don’t accept the loneliness; embrace the yearning.”
Live Intentional. Live Local. >>
Defining Intentionality >>
Maayan Jaffe is former JT editor-in-chief — email@example.com