Lisa, Open Doors Fellows

My Soul Story: Building Community one Bike Ride at a Time

lisaI learned a new term during the Open Doors Fellowship: “Soul Story.”

The way I understand it, a soul story is the one that’s a level deeper than the narrative that one would tell at a happy hour amongst acquaintances. It’s a bit less polished. It’s the one that isn’t influenced by the expectations of others. It’s the one that makes you more vulnerable. For me, it’s the one a step closer to the truth.

This is mine.

I missed the deadline to apply for the Open Doors Fellowship. I had the application written, but I didn’t know if it was the right time, or if it was right for me at all. What I did know was that after years of being frustrated and ostensibly powerless to make any impact on the Jewish Community – my Community – I had the chance to do something. To make a difference. To stop sitting on the sidelines.

So I hit send and hoped it wasn’t too late.

I determined that my goal for the Fellowship was to find disconnected, apathetic, and/or unengaged Jews and inspire them to connect, care, and engage. I wanted to “bubble up the Jews.” If it was easy as standing on the corner of 14th and U St. and singing, “Come out, come out wherever you are,” I would have done it. But, what I found instead through conversations and observations was that one or two bad experiences at a Jewish event was all someone needed to write off Jewish life for good. And, it’d be pretty hard to get ‘em back.

I called this my challenge.

A Jewish event full of Jews wasn’t going to be good enough to attract the disenfranchised. My hypothesis was that a Jewish event full of likeminded Jews with similar interests is what they wanted – a micro-community.

This resonated with me and was pretty validating, actually. My mom would send me articles all the time about this Jewish event or that happy hour. “Mom,” I’d say, “being Jewish isn’t a hobby of mine. I don’t want to just stand around with other Jews being Jewish together.”

So when it was time to think about my Fellowship capstone project, I held that micro-community concept tightly. I’m a Jew. I love Jewish rituals. And I like to ride bikes. I wonder if anyone else would be into riding bikes around the city with me, stopping for Havdallah, and then grabbing a drink? Surely there would be a few people.

As it turns out, there are many.

With the confidence, connections, and community building skills I received through my Fellowship, and supported by Gather the Jews and Sixth & I, I organized a Community Havdallah Bike Ride. And then another. Nearly 70 Jewish Young Professionals attended each of our first two rides, and we’re not slowing down. Now, we a have a planning committee full of dedicated lay leaders. We have people coming to ride that haven’t done Havdallah in years. We have committed Jews riding who haven’t been on their bike in years. I’m literally kvelling.

Out of a desire for connection, a community was born: DC Jews on Bikes. On August 15th, 2015 we’ll ride again, and I hope you’ll join us.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that Jewish Community isn’t something that you join, it’s something that you build. My community is comprised of seekers, pray-ers, and, now, riders. I learned we are each empowered to build the community that we want, where we fit in. And we do it by walking through open doors.

Learn more about applying to be a 2015 Open Doors Fellow HERE!

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  1. […] full reflections from former Fellows here: Lisa, Kelley, Rachel […]

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