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Letters to the Editor

Jewish Cohousing

Imagine… It's time to leave for work but you're running late, the kids haven't been picked up for school yet, the baby still needs to go to day care, and you can't even think about what to do for dinner because there is not time today to do the grocery shopping. The making of a bad day?

In this type of traditional neighborhood, the children go to daycare walking distance from your house with the other little kids in the neighborhood, your older children can be watched by the helpful, caring neighbors who you really know, and trust, and when you get home for dinner, no need to cook; you just join your fellow neighbors in the Common House for a delicious, home-cooked meal, and then relax while the kids have their best friends to play with right there. Sound like camp, or a dream? No! It exists right now in Cohousing communities around the country.

This particular form of neighborhood started in Denmark, but is gaining more popularity around the world. It would rejuvenate the Jewish community, Jewish commitment, and help relieve the stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness inherent in today's suburbs. Most individual Cohousing developments consist of 25-30 units. Each family lives in their own privately owned home, but all the houses are built around a central commons. All cars are parked around the perimeter, so the center is pedestrian friendly, and the kids are safe from cars. The commons can have walking and biking paths, playgrounds for the children, and gathering areas for socializing. Cohousing communities also have a Common house, which has a common dining room, kitchen, playrooms, library, exercise room, sometimes office space for rent. The residents in the community can arrange child care in the common house, they also share optional meals several times a week. The community can do anything they want with the common house, but here is where a Jewish community would especially benefit. Jewish values are community based, and certainly synagogue life is built around the minyan. The members could have a daily minyan 5 minutes away by foot, Shabbat services, Shabbat meals together periodically. They could have a community sukkah, holiday celebrations, and be there close by if the need for Shiva arose. The children would have instant friends and playmates who share Jewish values. It would be much easier for the children to see their friends, with much less hassle for their parents. Parents would have neighbors they see regularly and friends they can count on walking distance. Cars are less of a danger, because they are only allowed on the perimeter.

We need to think of new ways to revitalize the Jewish community. Suburbia has hurt the Jewish community tremendously. Driving once a week to a synagogue doesn't make a true community, and as the Jewish community is painfully aware, it doesn't keep up commitment. I am not hearkening back to the days of the cramped Lower East Side, or the poverty of shtetl life, but to beautiful single family dwellings, wide open play areas, and meaningful Jewish ritual shared in a community setting. The time has come to invest in this type of housing to improve Jewish life and American life in general. It is vital to the survival of Diaspora Jewry that the wider organized Jewish community invest and promote this idea. Without some fresh idea, we will continue to see American Jewry whittle away, and intermarriage continue to skyrocket. Its time to "just do it!"

We are forming a Jewish Cohousing Association and gathering names of interested people so that we may begin development of a Cohousing neighborhood. Its geographic location depends on where the most interest is. Even if you are only slightly interested, please contact us.

Sharna Sachar

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