I’ve been thinking a lot about community this week.
There is nothing that diminishes the horror of what happened on July Fourth in Highland Park, Illinois. Saying that it revealed something good is not to say that is caused something good. The stories of instinctive, unstoppable human kindness are wonderful, but their price is far too high.
But the story also uncovers truths that were there all along. I was astonished to get not one but two stories written by people who live here now, but grew up there, in Highland Park. Both Rabbi Cathy Felix are Bill Lipsey are deeply involved Jews, Rabbi Felix as a spiritual leader and Mr. Lipsey as a lay leader and creative philanthropist. It is possible that both of them might have followed those paths had they come from a less connected, less Jewish and also less American, less idyllic small town, but that would be a counterfactual. They came from where they came from.
It’s also fascinating that Highland Park, Illinois, and Highland Park, New Jersey, which are different in many ways — to begin with, no one would mistake Jersey for the Midwest — they’re both such strong Jewish communities that you can’t say “You know, the Jewish one,” when you’re talking about Highland Park. You really have to specify. They’re both the Jewish one.
This weekend, I was in Maplewood, one of many idyllic small towns in north Jersey; towns with lovely town centers filled with local businesses and houses, ranging from cozy to palatial, from many periods, many of them accurately painted for their periods, almost all of them gorgeous. The towns are open to the world but tight-knit too. To a confirmed city person like me, they are glimpses of an entrancing other life.
This weekend, for the first time in three years, Maplewood was able to hold its annual, paid-for-by-sponsors, not canceled-for-covid-this-year music festival, called, perhaps inescapably, Maplewoodstock. (No, I don’t know how to pronounce it. It’s harder than it looks.)
The park in the center of town was absolutely packed; when I walked through it with my dogs early on Shabbat morning people already had set their chairs up, even though the music wasn’t set to start for hours. There were vendors and food smells and little kids running around with obvious joy and huge numbers of people, of all ages, in their chairs, loving the music. It was Shabbat, so we walked there, but that would have been a wise call anyway. It would have been as easy to find a parking space as a diamond in the grass.
One of the festival’s slogans was “All Together Again,” and it worked.
We are living through a very bad time in our public life right now. It’s unwise to pretend that we’re not. The level of polarization and hatred is terrifyingly high; it’s entirely possible that the shooter in Highland Park was a random monster with a stupidly complicit father, but if he hadn’t had an assault rifle, seven dead people would be alive, an orphaned toddler would have both his parents, and gravely wounded people would have intact bodies. Abortion, guns, January 6, voting rights, climate change, the legitimacy of the Supreme Court — all of these are hot-button issues, and there are many more. And for Jews who love Israel, the country’s pending election, its fifth in three years, the result of its hair-trigger political system and the instability of its government, and the lack of respect, understanding, and compassion that different segments of the Jewish world, both in and out of the country, have for each other are profoundly troubling as well.
It seems that the hatred comes out of abstractions, and support and love come from being together, from sharing food and laughter and the feeling of sitting on a blanket on the grass, the way it’s supposed to feel good but actually the grass is pretty stiff and what are you supposed to do with your shoes? Of watching the sun move across the sky until you finally realize that it’s dinnertime. Of being together.
I hope that our readers are able to spend time outside with the people they love this summer, and that they will glory in it. –JP