Won’t You be my Neighbor?

Rachel Petroff Kessler
June 10, 2014
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After renting for the better part of a decade, my husband and I bought a home a few months ago. The American Dream brought to life – single family house, more bedrooms than people (for now, anyway), big back yard, and, perhaps most importantly, a great neighborhood.

Before we moved, I had rosy visions of our neighbors showing up in droves to welcome us with casseroles and cookies and introducing us to their children – all either perfect playmates or responsible babysitters for our toddler. Surprise surprise, this is not quite how things went down. Which is just as well I suppose – our daughter was over-stimulated as it was and probably wouldn’t have reacted well to a steady stream of visitors. And the last thing we needed while trying to unpack and kasher our kitchen was treife dishes brought over by well-meaning neighbors. Still, I was a bit disappointed. I didn’t know what sort of welcome wagon to expect, but I was certainly hoping it would be more than a handful of junk mailings with coupons to local businesses.

This isn’t to say we haven’t been making some connections – we have met our next door neighbors, and they often thoughtfully drag our trash can up from the curb to our garage (helpful when trying to get a clingy post-daycare girl into the house). A member of our congregation lives farther down the block (particularly exciting to me, as even in childhood I didn’t have any Jewish neighbors) and it is surprisingly delightful to be able to say “hello neighbor” when encountering one another during Sunday School.

We might not have the instant neighbor-family that I was imagining, but I think we could get there. After all, we are, God willing, in this home for the long haul. My husband and I both have fond memories of impromptu playdates with kids on our block and adults we could turn to for assistance when our parents weren’t home. It is especially important to us to build a strong local support network since our families don’t live nearby. The synagogue provides a lot of that, but with congregants spread across the county and beyond we’d love to build more localized support too. It might not happen as easily as it used to, but I’m not ready to give up on the neighborhood dream. Our first step will be to welcome the family who just moved in a few houses down – they have a toddler too!

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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