What Community Really Means

Current fellow, Jon Cohen, talks about the true meaning of community from his perspective. 

Have you ever said a word so many times in a row that it became abstract? I have. Being a Repair the World fellow I’ve heard the word “community” a lot – whether it be the Jewish community, the Caribbean community, the Hasidic community, the communal living we do, etc. But this word is not like other words, because community isn’t something you define, it is something you sense and feel.

It is a word that seems to start off as abstract.

Before the fellowship started, I did some research about Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where I would be spending 11 months of my life. When we pulled up to our storefront on Nostrand Avenue on August 22nd, I can honestly say that I couldn’t imagine myself ever being considered part of this community.

Here I was – a 22 year old, Jewish, nonblack, latinx, gay man from South Florida. What did I have in common with an Afro-Caribbean community dealing with gentrification and a society that oppresses them? I still don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think I ever will. But the answer I do have is that love and solidarity is what we can all have in common.

So, what is community? Community is when the woman who sells hats on our street corner teamed up with the cashier at the knickknack shop next door to get a package for me when our community center in Crown Heights was closed.

Community is when I found myself in a room with the cashier from my favorite restaurant, a man I met at the art gallery visiting the Repair Workshop, and a volunteer from one of our partner organizations and found out they were all brothers. To which one of them said “yeah we all blood” and brought me into a group hug.

Community is when a woman approached me at our MLK Shabbat Supper and said “I know Aliya and she told me I had to come tonight and I had to give you a hug for her.” Aliya being a woman I met while volunteering with CityHarvest and Weeksville Heritage Center for 6 weeks.

Community is also looking around at a table of my fellow Fellows and tearing up, because I am overwhelmed with being surrounded by people who inspire me this much.

I could go on and on with anecdotes like the ones I’ve already mentioned, but instead I will just finish with – I feel welcome to Repair the World, I feel welcome to Crown Heights, I feel welcome to OUR community.