Spark that Ignites


If you’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a family led by an artist, as I have, then you know that the power of art to transform acts not only on those who passively behold it, but perhaps more profoundly on those who create it.

Such is the story of Baltimorean Arnold David Clapman, a curious musician who has played with and for the greats, but discovered who he truly is returning five years ago to the city he hadn’t called home since 1962.

The journey back, as you’ll read in this week’s JT, had Clapman’s proverbial tail between his legs. But the Weinberg House is now a regular fixture of the resident’s social — and musical — scene, and for those who know him or have heard him play, Charm City is a richer place because of him.

Today, Clapman is living the very Jewish ideal of being an agent of change.

“Music is at the core foundation of Judaism. … That’s the spark that ignites when everything of consequence takes place,” says Guitars of Pikesville owner Joshua Polak. “It’s at the core of who we are. I’m not just talking about music, I’m talking about any sort of artistic expression where all artists find ourselves.”

Clapman discovered his calling and through it, found himself. That’s an inspiring lesson for life: Other traditions place an emphasis on contemplative journeys faced alone, that one’s true spirit emerges when he is walled off from the world outside. The Jewish worldview, on the other hand, demands engagement with the world, entangling oneself in the demands of the moment, in the needs of others. It requires a creative mindset, a dedication to improving the ground on which you stand and the people with whom you interact.

The reward in the midst of this transformative journey is true self-actualization, the idea that you — along with everyone else — serve a crucial role of infinite importance.

It’s a message that has bearing on our interpersonal relationships and on our relationships with our inner selves. And, projected more broadly, it implies that efforts to build actual or symbolic walls are ultimately designed to fail.

We can see this at play locally, where communities that have walled themselves off — or have had figurative walls built around them by others — are stagnating. For the last couple of years, city planners across the United States have been touting the benefits of zoning that creates mixed neighborhoods made up of high, middle and low-income housing, with all three taking up space on the same block or in the same development. But in the areas of Baltimore ravaged by the late-spring riots, along with the lack of jobs, there was little in the way of the kind of forward thinking that comes from people of different backgrounds and experiences interacting together as a community.

On Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan took the occasion of a celebration of private funds reinvigorating the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center in West Baltimore to announce $3.3 million being made available by the state to provide summer jobs to the city’s youth. It wasn’t so much the idea that the state was funding community projects — it should — that was inspiring. The real news was that a fire dispatcher got local businesses and organizations,including the Baltimore Jewish Council, to add to his contribution of $30,000 to the center for technology improvements.

The action is emblematic of the kind of “we’re all in this together” mentality that will transform our community, and the kind of spirit that animates Clapman and so many other people of goodwill who call Baltimore home.

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