I have just returned from the biggest ever Limmud UK, and, before that, Hazon Food Conference in California, where I went on behalf of MoHoLo to learn how to run a community supported agriculture scheme, and generally to connect up with all the amazing grassroots projects that have flourished so much more easily in the USA.
it is always re-energising to see my friends again and feel their 'can-do' attitude and lack of English reserve. This time last year we had a big Shabbat, our biggest ever, led by Yossi Chajes. Really led, though. I mean, there was great energy, but there was a definite feeling of a single leader, which is not a strong way for a community to grow.
Since that time we have had a number of groups grow and build; independent Minyanim, artistic and creative groups, alternative spiritual retreats, high holy days, on and on. Where the mainstream community sometimes sees grassroots as some sort of threat or competition, this activity can only be a good thing in my mind. How wonderful to have people claiming their culture for themselves and claiming it in their own way, without seeking the permission from authority. This year, our post-Limmud Shabbat, led by Darshan, felt different. With over a hundred people in our house, there was an incredible sense of community, and a sense that the vocal energy of Kabbalat Shabbat was coming from every side, and the number of people invested in caring for the house and trying to clean it was far up on last year. Here's what I said to our gathering "we are surrounded by communities that count your membership by what you pay (gyms, clubs etc etc), or else your worth is counted by your 'special talent'. This community is different. We do not measure you by your financial clout or your special skill. You have not come to visit a community. By coming here you are the community. To the shy people: Don't mistake people who look like they know everything for people who think they know everything. To the confident people: Please don't be put off by the awkward shy people. Please reach out and make friends".
All it takes to build community is a little investment from each person. And that doesn't take a single penny.