by Walt Clark, Office Assistant
I remember a few years ago, a friend of mine signed up to be a Couchsurfing host. Couchsurfing.com is a website where people offer up their homes to travelers. Over the course of that summer I got talk to a lot people from all corners of the globe. One evening, I was barbecuing and talking to a young Australian about his experience visiting America.
He said, “I was imagining your country would be a lot newer. Like when you go to Paris, you expect the buildings to be old, because they have been around for a long time. America is young, I expected it to look that way. But, it looks like so many places are straight out of a 70’s movie.”
This was jarring to me. Growing up on the East Coast, I had always been surrounded by old buildings and they had always been spoken about as a virtue in my family. Growing up near New York City and then living in New Orleans, two of the oldest and most architecturally diverse cities in the country, I saw the buildings on the street as works of art that could survive the elements. And yet with certain buildings, you can see how they’ve aged and been neglected. Bridges that are more brown than steel, facades where you aren’t sure what color the paint used to be. It reminds me that places are not just the buildings we put there, but the people and institutions that live within them and care for their exterior.
Reflecting on Martin Luther King day, it seems as if there are many institutions in this country that are similarly left in disrepair, exposed to the elements without renovation. In the recent case of police brutality in New York, I see institutions that were originally created to protect human lives and are doing the exact opposite. The legacy of Dr. King is in his example of calling for attention and action to the places we live–the lunch counters, schools, and buses of our day to day life– and saying that they can, and should, be so much better. His legacy was in galvanizing people to reform institutions that have become calcified by hundreds of years of history.
I am not going to pretend that Mayyim Hayyim is on the forefront of solving the biggest problems our country faces. That is not our mission. But our mission is based around being a community mikveh. In practice, that means that even though we live in a world where differences of opinion, affiliation, and identity sometimes fracture Jewish relationships across countries, states and among individuals, Mayyim Hayyim strives to be a home to anyone looking to celebrate, grieve, or mark a milestone. This isn’t easy. The work requires empathy and patience. Ten years in, we are still figuring out how to honor everyone’s moments of transition with reverence and dignity. We honor Dr. King’s legacy today by always saying our work can be better.
Walton Clark is Mayyim Hayyim’s office assistant and jack of all trades. He is a working keyboardist in Boston, playing Black American Music and leads the acid-funk outfit Roxo Gato as well as performing in a variety of groups. You can follow him on Twitter @walt_twitwalker and on Instagram @welaxer.