On Sunday afternoon, October 8, I drove my car into the parking lot of Solel, where I was greeted by many extraordinary women. These women, who have hearts of gold, had their hands full of fresh-baked challah, homemade brownies, cookies, and cut up fresh fruit. We filed into several cars and headed South to eat, drink and celebrate Sukkot with friends.
Our destination was the corner of 75th and Stewart in the Englewood neighborhood. Englewood has been known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city, and the corner of 75th and Stewart is a place where the difficult realities of life sometimes combust into altercations. This corner formally was a high-traffic intersection where drug deals were known to happen, people stayed out drinking late into the night, and tempers tended to flare. Forty percent of Englewood’s residents live below the poverty line, and nearly a third have no high school diploma. A fifth of the community is unemployed, and many of the area’s young men have criminal records. Tamar Manasseh, a resident and a mom, hoped to stop any retaliatory violence by recruiting other area moms to “take over” the corner with her. Her organization, MASK, Mothers Against Senseless Killing, is saving many lives by sitting on the corner, being a presence, feeding children and providing a safe place for them to play.
When we arrived at our destination, we saw a beautiful, magnificent sukkah. We saw adults and children making decorations for the sukkah together, and a group of musicians played incredible Jazz music. There was laughter, hugging, and a feeling of safe and calm. We made new friends, and rejoiced, as we celebrated the beautiful holiday of Sukkot. We smelled the Etrog, shook the Lulav, said the blessings over wine and challah, and helped by contributing and serving a meal to the children and families on this corner, which was once only known for violence and despair.
Tamar Manasseh spoke at Solel last year and her story touched our souls. We can learn a lot from her and others, who are not afraid to take action, step up, and help to make our world a better place. Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), is one of seven organizations that was recently awarded a capacity building grant from the University of Chicago (U. of C.) Medicine Construction of a playground is now underway. Tamar said she wants the playground to be a “place where everybody in the community can come together and talk and meet each other.” Tamar is thrilled to have seen a decline in shootings in the one-mile radius surrounding this corner in Englewood, but believes there is still more work to be done. This was not the first time Solel congregants have joined forces with Tamar to help with her mission. In July, a group of congregants went to feed and play with children. Solel has supported MASK in the past and present financially, and we plan to continue to be a part of this amazing effort in the present and future.
Tamar grew up attending Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, an African-American Hebrew Israelite congregation on the South Side, as well as Akiba-Schechter, a local Jewish day school that was affiliated with the Conservative movement at the time. Although she was born and raised Jewish, at age 30 Manasseh decided to undergo a confirmation of her Judaism, which involved immersion in a ritual bath, supervised by Rabbi Capers Funnye, who leads Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken. Her children underwent similar processes at the time of their bat and bar mitzvahs. Tamar is often heard saying, “I was always taught that Jews were survivors… Black people were never taught that we were survivors.”
I hope Tamar will come back to break bread with us this year at Solel, as we bring in the light of Shabbat. Those amazing Jazz musicians are welcome too! I arrived home with such a feeling of love and hope.
– Holly Krakow