February 4, 2022
A friend of mine was recently talking to her daughter about the tight-knit metaphorical “village” that we live in. She described a supportive community as an environment where you “give what you can and take what you need.” In other words, if everyone gives what they can, then anyone who needs support will find the resources they need to get through either an immediate crisis or a chronic challenge.
There’s an unspoken assumption, accepted without judgment, that not everyone in a village will give and receive at the same rate, but on balance, the system works to take care of the community. Political Scientist Dr. Daniel Aldrich refers to this as “horizontal social capital,” the networks that connect us and the ties that bind and bond us. They are the people who show up with a meal and who feed pets and take care of children when you aren’t able to. The stronger your social capital, the more resilient you are and the better able to handle either a personal crisis or a community-level disaster.
We see these villages at work in formal and informal ways, from Meal Trains and Go Fund Me campaigns to the formal structures of CHAI’s Northwest Neighbors Connecting Village. The idea of communal responsibility is baked into every aspect of Jewish tradition, from the idea that “All Israel is responsible one for another” to the creation of a communal tzedakah fund in every village and town with a Jewish presence. We’ve always known that it takes a village.
Indeed, social capital and informal villages are at work everywhere you look. Wherever there is a person sleeping on a neighbor’s couch after being evicted, we see a village at work. Wherever we see neighbors out shoveling their street together, regardless of whether they personally have a car or were promised a visit from the snow plow, we see a village at work. And wherever we see a community holding a mourner through the week of shiva, we see a village at work. In this FEMA “Prep Talk,” Dr. Aldrich presents research that shows that the ties that exist before a disaster are predictive of the ease with which a community will be able to recover should a crisis occur.
Now, please don’t tell anyone I said this but…I’ve always believed that the strengthening of these types of informal support systems could put JVC out of business… and I’ve always hoped that someday it will! I’ve believed that the needs JVC is designed to meet could be met informally at the neighborhood network level before they needed to be addressed in the formal, programmatic ways that JVC and many of our social service partners work. I’m not so naïve as to believe that this reality is anywhere in our near-term future. Ultimately, this utopian reality will require real structural reform and a focus on equity and justice to become reality, not to mention a serious commitment to mitigating the climate crisis. Most days, it seems more likely that JVC’s work in meeting urgent and vital community needs will become more critical, not less.
And yet there are days that fill me with hope. I had one of those days earlier this week when I got an email from my 10 year old son’s science teacher. She told me about a conversation they were having in class about blood types. A student asked whether it was better to be AB+, a universal recipient, or O-, a universal donor. The emerging consensus was that it was better and safer to be AB+. My son raised his hand and stated that he would rather be the universal donor because he couldn’t imagine not being able to give. Implicit in his response, said the teacher, was the trust that the resources would be there for him should he ever need them. The conversation pivoted after that point and more and more students shifted their perspective to see themselves as the givers, with the unspoken assumption that, as my friend said to her daughter “if we give what we can, we’ll be able to take what we need when we need it.”
I share this not-so-humble brag about my son not (only) to showcase his generous soul but also because the story is instructive of how a village works. It takes one person reaching out to another to establish a social tie. It takes one person stepping up and staying “I’ve got what you need and I give it with generosity.” One leads to another leads to another and another. Ties expand and they strengthen. Organizations like JVC facilitate those ties but they don’t work without the generosity of participants and the willingness to both share resources and accept help when needed.
We give what we can and we take what we need. We’re here for each other and we know that others will be here for us. We are a community.