We live across the street from an elementary school with a large playground. Besides providing space for the students to run around during recess time, it remains open all day, apparently, I was informed, by Jerusalem municipal rule, in order to provide city residents with extra playground facilities, when school is not in session. It is basically a paved area providing basketball hoops and football (soccer) goals.
Not a bad idea, but a bit shortsighted. It is not a traditional playground with swings and slides and other devices geared toward children of all ages. We need more of these, not just for the kids, but for ourselves as well.
Not far from us, there is a beautiful playground, with swings, slides, places to climb and spin, jump and run. Thoughtfully, the play area is surrounded by benches where parents, grandparents and older siblings can keep an eye on the running, jumping, laughing, and squealing young ones.
One Shabbat recently, on an afternoon where the sun has warmed Jerusalem, I took my granddaughter to the playground. Sitting on the bench, I was soon joined by a Hiloni (secular) fellow who engaged with me about the kids playing, me with my less than perfect Hebrew and his less than perfect English. With a bit of effort, we communicated. As the afternoon wore on, we were joined from time to time by an Arab mother, a recent oleh from France, a young Haredi man watching his sister’s children, and some teens who were waiting for their B’nei Akiva program to start .Some shared fruit and snacks that they had brought along. I don’t quite recall all that was talked about, but it was mostly about our children and grandchildren, and what can be done to make the playground better. We did not become friends, but sat and enjoyed each other’s company.
With so many divisions in our society and so much polarization, with so many instances where we talk at each other instead of talking with each other, with so few opportunities to learn about each other, playgrounds can be part of the solution, a neutral space where what can connect us, our love for our children, can open us to connections and unity.
The municipalities have many priorities pressuring their budgets. School yards are great for playing sports, but playgrounds with swings and slides can provide so much more. Especially in areas which border different communities, one small part of unifying our fractured society just might be, those benches where adults can sit and watch the kids. There are probably other ways of creating unifying opportunities, but at the very least let’s start with more playgrounds.