Monday, January 18, 2016

To Build A Home

The thing that most scares new AVODAH applicants and most excites alumni is the communal living. Now, I know I've already expressed my deep love for my home and communal living (and I am so so happy to say that I still feel that way), but AVODAH utilizes a “spiral curriculum.” By that I mean that we revisit topics again and again each time in more depth. Having recently completed mid year evaluations and a quarterly reflection, I find myself circling back to the communal living.

At first glance, intentional communal living seems to be something fun and perhaps a bonus. It is helpful in our daily lives and in adjustmenting to the city and new jobs. It's a built in support system for us folks doing the often difficult and sometimes emotional work of direct service. But, like everything in AVODAH, the choice to have intentional-living-community was in and of itself intentional.

In an experiential learning experience so perfectly crafted it took me nearly four months to understand, AVODAH gave us the space to gain some of the most important soft-skills for social justice organizers. Communal living is not just something tacked on to the program; communal living teaches through day-in day-out member interaction the soft skills required of social justice leaders: non-violent communication, connected decision making, active listening, etc. etc.

It is one thing to learn these skills in classrooms and role plays, it is quite another to apply them every day at house meetings resolving issues that come up. And if you think we haven't faced house conflict, please remember that we grocery shop and cook communally for thirteen people with different diets and allergies including folks that are vegetarians, carnivores, vegans, allergic to gluten, allergic to nuts, allergic to peppers, kosher, not kosher, enjoy spicy food, enjoy bland food and much much more.

The AVODAH bayit (house) is a safe and supportive place to practice skills and find peer mentors to help us with skills we want to improve because we're all in this house together, and we all have to make it work. There is no out, and even on our most frustrating days, I don’t think anyone in my house really wants out.

In a sense, it's trial by fire, and in another it's trial by putting us in the best possible situation to grow. Comfortable and in relationship with each other--even from the start--we had a lot in common.  This makes the community form a bit easier but, even so, we are constantly being nudged ever so gently to the edge of our comfort zone.

None of us spilled our entire selves the first week as the systems were being created, and so as people become more and more willing to share their anxieties, their frustrations, their needs and wants, we, as a house, have had to find ways to make sure both the individual and the house are safe, healthy, and most importantly, comfortable. This often means reconciling multiple priorities and finding ways to make sure these priorities work in harmony rather than in hierarchy. I know this sounds paradoxical because aren't priorities inherently hierarchical? By doing this work, have we learned ways to acknowledge everyone's priorities and help people feel heard, supported and recognized in a way that allows us to exist in a better world?

And I think all of this brings it back to why I felt my interfaith training provided such good context for the work I am doing here this year, especially in community. Because to value the relationship so highly, that everything else comes secondary, to work so hard to find solutions for everyone, and to recognize that with the right mindset, everyone's needs and wants can all be accounted for eventually, this is what interfaith can be and this is what the world can be. This is what social justice can look like and I know it's utopian. I know thirteen Jewish women living in a house together cannot and will not be the model for this future that I long for. Still this house, these women, this program gives me the skills to replicate this feeling in the future communities of which I will be a part and hope for the greater world as well.

P.S I am certainly not the only corps member to be having theses thoughts. My wonderful housemate, Sarah, works at an organization whose mission is to teach emotional intelligence to high school students through a running/mentoring program. She recently wrote her reflections on her service year and communal living here.