This has been an exciting time in Reservoir Hill. Any neighborhood, particularly one whose diversity is somewhat rare in a largely colloquial city, must navigate any number of competing interests or concerns: Shall we focus primarily on safety or beautification? Which is preferable: commercial property or green space? Is school reform a priority?
This is why I was so pleasantly surprised by the near universal goodwill generated by our recent push to build a state-of-the-art playground in the heart of our neighborhood. There are literally hundreds of children in Reservoir Hill and a dearth of clean, safe and beautiful outdoor spaces in which they can congregate. These children need a place to play energetically and imaginatively, where they can meet their neighbors and build lasting relationships.
The irony of playgrounds is that they are, quite literally, the perfect blending of structure and boundless exploration. Slides, swings and sandboxes, the equipment of play, help to channel the energy of childhood, the wood, metal and plastic raw materials of these structures providing a common and unspoken language of meaningful youth interaction. Playground rules emerge organically, developed as needed amidst the shifting numbers of children present on a given a Saturday afternoon. In other words, play done “right” lives in the tension between the “structures” of play and the unstructured manner in which playing is done.
In a way, playgrounds are also a wonderful metaphor for Jewish living. Judaism is about as structured as any culture or faith tradition can be! Our holidays are replete with ritual, our prayer books chock full of fixed liturgies composed and assembled across the centuries. And yet, Jewish living is hardly an exercise in simply “going through the motions.” The upcoming festival of Passover is a great example. The holiday is stuffed with ritual much as the Seder’s participants are stuffed with brisket and matzo meal. But no two Seders are alike. Families create their own rituals, developing meaningful customs which evolve over time. Within the framework of Jewish observance is a reminder that the “structures” of Jewish life – the texts, songs and stories of our tradition – are meant to be interacted with and played upon.