In case you don’t know, Seward Park has been in the midst of a crime wave. You won’t read about it in the Seattle Times because, unless you’ve been affected by it, it’s hardly news. But consider this information from the Seattle Police Department: In the 30 day period before and after Memorial Day, there were 19 reports of household thefts involving breaking and entering. And perhaps as many reports of car “prowling.”
Things have slowed down a bit since then, but reported incidents occur often enough to make everyone jittery. In fact the two most recent break-in attempts occurred after midnight, with families asleep in their homes — a disturbing departure from the earlier midday robberies with no one at home.
Some readers may remember a column I wrote about this problem a few years ago. So the bad news is that the problem is still with us. Maybe it’s getting worse. It’s hard to tell. But, thank God, there is also something good to report, as well.
First of all, despite initial concerns (exacerbated by the “swastika incident” of autumn 2009), Jewish homes are not being targeted. Judging from reliable information, the plague of thefts is, like a natural disaster, blind to religion and race. So the problem is real, but at least it’s not about us!
Which brings me to the second piece of good news. That is, quite simply, this time there is a unified neighborhood response. It includes about 100 households representing all members of our ethnically and religiously diverse community. Some ambitious folks have managed to organize, under the guidance of the SPD, the Graham Hill Neighborhood Block Watch. It has now joined many other Seattle neighborhoods in promoting some simple security-minded steps to make the neighborhood as a whole less “bad-guy friendly,” as well as a web-based communications network that promises homeowners much more piece of mind when we leave our homes unattended for work or lengthier summer vacations.
Here’s an example of how it works. One morning at work, my wife Charla received a call from our alarm company. Our system had registered a breach of some sort that might indicate a break-in. I immediately notified our Block Watch’s Yahoo group of the information. By the time I arrived home from my U-district office an hour after the alarm, four neighbors had beaten me (and the SPD!) and were awaiting my arrival. It turns out, happily I guess, that one of our three cats (probably the fat white one) had triggered the alarm. But at least these “cat burglars” were not making off with our laptops, flat-screen, or kiddush cups!
While the problem hasn’t gone away — and probably won’t — the difference now is that homeowners feel empowered to protect each other. Instead of sitting around like a bunch of Seward Park geese awaiting the neighborhood coyote, we can support each other in a way that really counts. Just last night a neighbor called to tell me that she noticed the light on in my car!
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
There was no foul play, but at least it spared me a dead battery in the morning!
Sure, it’s a great feeling to know that our neighbors are aware of our own comings and goings and willing to go out of their way when they see something unusual. But, as far as I’m concerned, the biggest pleasure is taking pride in how our own Orthodox Jewish community has taken a prominent role among the Block Watch’s organizers and facilitators. A Jewish home served as the venue for the group’s very first organizational meeting, and the BCMH synagogue has hosted two large follow-up meetings of up to 70 neighbors.
For many folks, these meetings constituted a first opportunity to encounter neighbors of other faiths and races over questions of common concern beyond the needs of simple courtesy. You could see this at our August 2 block party this year, synchronized with the national Night Out. Falling during the much-dreaded first “Nine Days of Av” — a time during which the participation of Jews in frivolous public events is severely discouraged — I was concerned that observant Jews would stay away and convey an impression of disinterest in the larger community. Not so!
A “kosher table,” prepared by observant Jewish neighbors, joined the other tables laden with food and drink, lining South Morgan St. in front of BCMH. Although the mayor never made his promised appearance, his absence was more than compensated for by BCMH’s jovial president, pressing the flesh and jawboning with the neighbors as if contemplating another term! The street was packed with families — straight and gay, black, brown and white, Jewish and Gentile — enjoying each other, united in gratitude to each other for the simple fact of neighborliness.
Since becoming part of the Graham Hill Neighborhood Block Watch network, I’ve learned a lot about the meaning of being part of a “community” that transcends and encompasses my own narrower Jewish world. Perhaps the most meaningful lesson came from a woman who had been a stranger until just a few weeks ago.
We had been chatting politely at the block party when I off-handedly asked what made her choose Seward Park as her home. Her answer silenced me: “I’ve always hoped that, were I needed, I would have the courage to stand by the Jewish people in a crisis. So I wanted to live in a neighborhood where that might be possible.”
May she never get her wish! But one thing’s sure — that neighbor is no longer simply the Gentile “backdrop” of a life lived in the surrounding cocoon of daily Jewish observance. By inserting herself in my world — however awkwardly — she invited me to share her own. I can only hope that she feels as enriched by our neighborliness as I am by hers!