Moral Compass: Artists Respond to Crises
Temple Judea Museum exhibition January – March 2021
OUR COMMUNITY MEMBERS RESPOND TO THE PANDEMIC:
OUR PARKING LOT – Rita Rosen Poley
Because of Covid19 I developed a close relationship with the KI parking lot. I live close enough to work to walk but seldom did, until Covid hit. With the shutdown there was nowhere to drive to; no early morning coffee pick up. But, luckily for me, I could still work. Our building was shut down for all but the most essential services. I had the entire second floor to myself for months and I occupied myself with reorganizing our storage facility, cleaning out little used files and future planning.
This very large, asphalt and macadam covered lot came alive for me during this stressful time. One walk around its perimeter is over one-half mile. It holds 330 cars in marked spots and many more in unmarked spots during large communal events. Since mid-March I have walked to work every day, weather permitting. Some days I am back and forth two or three times. Additionally, in the evenings I walk the lot’s perimeter listening to podcasts, trying to build up to a daily 10,000 healthy steps. While the lot is devoid of its normal function, surprisingly, I have noticed that Covid 19 has fostered a unique parking lot community.
The lot is surrounded by patches of greenery, flower gardens, a lovely Memorial Garden and, even a vegetable garden where congregants raise food for local food banks. Consequently, the lot is home to a fair amount of wildlife. There are rabbits, chipmunks, groundhogs, squirrels and many species of birds, including beautiful goldfinches. They all seem to be happily emboldened now that most of the cars and people have disappeared. Other connections to KI’s normal activities are the landscapers who continue to care for the green spaces and the maintenance man who has carefully been repainting parking stripes.
But the young families using the lot as a safe space to teach their young ones to bike with training wheels are new. As are the families with teenagers who value the emptiness as a safe place to teach 16-year old’s the basics of driving a car. I have also seen the lot become a haven for a Muslim man who got out of his car, spread his prayer rug on the asphalt and recited his ritual prayer. And new too, is the Kosher caterer who comes by weekly for the shut-in families who drive by to pick up Shabbat food orders. A group of older women come weekly, early in the morning, and set up chairs alongside the shade of the large hedge for a safe, socially distanced conversation with friends. Sometimes a few young mothers park their cars in a large square so that their young ones can play safely within, while the moms talk across the safe distance of their cars. Recently, a group of teens discovered the evening solitude of the lot as a great place for a pot party.
In addition to all these small acts of community, there are large ones too. Recently the synagogue aided a local food bank to distribute food to needy families in a drive through event that was emotionally draining to see. Our State Senator sponsored a drive by flu inoculation day for seniors. Hundreds of cars lined up, arms hanging out, sleeves rolled up. For two months the state roads department used the lot as a staging area for its big trucks while crews performed major road repairs nearby. Even though the trucks are huge and there were many of them, they only took up a small part of the lot. They even brought along what I believe to be the first ever Porta Potty to occupy our outdoor space.
Sadly, while the lot has brought me solace, exercise and release from boredom, its essential function is denied. Adjacent to the parking lot is a magical playground that up until mid-March was filled with our preschoolers, laughing and playing. Those voices are missing and until they return along with their teachers; parent drop-offs; afternoon Hebrew school kids and their carpools; clergy; congregants assembling to pray; building staff; willing volunteers and normal visitors, this synagogue parking lot will not truly fulfill its function. The morning after Selichot services congregants assembled in the lot, masked and socially distant, to hear the shofar blown from the roof of our building. There were no in person services for the New Year. The new normal.