Finding Community in Tumultuous Times

Finding Community in Tumultuous Times photo

It's been a long time since I've sat down to write. Sure, I write for work. I write for work all the time -- it's what I enjoy most about what I do. But sitting down the keyboard, thinking of a topic for the one and only Oy!Chicago -- it's been a while.

Over the last several months, it's been harrowing to weather the daily news cycle storm and process the very real threat of disappearing basic civil liberties. It's hard to think about. It's hard to write about. I'm not clear on what I can add to the discourse, other than continue to support the rights of others.

Still, it seems like the right thing to write ... something. I breathe in, I breathe out, I consider all of the hurt feelings I could discuss at length. But then I sit and stir, wondering if I'm being fair, if I'm intruding on others' experience, if I'm filtering these past few months purely, selfishly through my lens. I don't really want to talk about what makes me mad. I don't think what makes me mad matters that much right now. It's a time in life to listen, observe and take note of what I can do to help.

In times like these, I think a lot about faith; about tradition, the simple and beautiful things that make families family, and what ties those who practice religion, in any way shape or form, together from generation to generation. These days, I think a lot about community.

What does it mean to be a part of a community? The ecosystems that surround me, the ones I'm outside of looking in, the communities I'll never understand. As I write this, I'm at 826CHI, while a community of young writers in the city of Chicago works on submissions for a publication the organization will publish this summer. This group of young adults represents a cross-section of Chicago neighborhoods, each student bringing his or her own specific perspective -- not to mention sheer awesomeness -- to the group. I've been lucky enough to volunteer with this bunch for the past nearly two years to facilitate conversation, listen and share -- to be a "grown up", sort of. They believe in one another. That's a community.

I grew up in the Chicago burbs and went to the University of Illinois, where I joined a "Jewish" sorority and found myself at Hillel a few Friday nights. Whether my friends were Jewish or not, our friendships started and thrived in these community spaces. Whenever I heard people talk this way or that way about Illini Tower, I never paid much mind. Hey, over 12 years since I moved in, I'm standing up in the wedding of a friend who used to grab meals with me in the cafeteria. My college communities are still very much a part of who I am today.

Recently, I've thrown my hat in the ring to become an engager for the Jewish community. It's still new to me, but what can I say? I'm nothing if not friendly, and catching up with someone new over a cup of coffee sounds like an afternoon well spent. I have an enormous soft spot in my heart working for Shorashim, if only for a brief while. Talking to people about why they are excited to go to Israel was more enjoyable than I ever thought (I even wrote about it!). No matter what roads I might take in life, a conversation about a hike in the Jillabon will always spark a familiar story; there are few games in the world quite as engrossing as Jewish geography, and my traditions are shared traditions with this group of people.

While the familiar and the comfortable may warm my heart when I'm feeling weary, learning about new cultures and new viewpoints is what makes life exciting. Whether it is the community of people I've met traveling, the collection of co-workers, volunteers for different organizations or even people I meet just in passing, these collectives color in my life with so much joy. I love learning what makes someone tick, or what their family does to celebrate a holiday, or what their life is like in their corner of the world long after I've returned to mine.

Community. "Finding your people". It's a continuous search. The fraught, delicate and heartbreaking times we are going through now reveal hatred and misunderstanding that's hard to fathom. There's a fine line between trying to communicate with "the other side" and standing up for what you think is right. What is right, this day and age, is woefully subject to interpretation.

So I'm trying, and that's all I can do. To keep my community bonds strong, to question everything, to support those in need, and to drown out the noise with positivity, action and hope.

Ashley Kolpak photo 375
Born and raised in Buffalo Grove, Ashley's been a little here, there and everywhere, but is a Chicago girl at heart. She currently works as a writer and editor for fitness, music, cultural blogs and more. She's a proud Illini (graduated with Bachelor's in Medi... Read More

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