Carol Silver Elliott


Photo provided by author

When we look up the word “unity,” one of the definitions given for this word is “a condition of harmony.” It’s an interesting definition in today’s world where disharmony appears not just to be the norm, but to be an established norm.  Everywhere you look, whether in your personal life or the news of the world, there is certainly neither harmony nor unity.

Unity is a word that has come up often when Israelis talk about their country today, post the events of October 7. They describe the tensions and factions that existed and often share the opinion that these divisions among people are what made the country vulnerable to attack. And they, to a person, comment on the unity that now exists, a sense of everyone pulling together to help save their nation and to, of course, bring home the hostages. This past Saturday, when the rescue of the four hostages took place, the reports of the way that the news was communicated were proof of this. In Tel Aviv, lifeguards took their bullhorns and announced the rescue to those on the beaches. In areas where secular Israelis heard the news and knew their Sabbath observant neighbors would not, they called it to them out their windows or ran up to them on the street. Signs were posted in synagogues.  Everyone needed to hear this news and everyone needed to share in collective gratitude for the incredible efforts that resulted in this daring and successful rescue.

When I think about unity in a more close-to-home framework, I realize, first and foremost, that unity does not mean that we are all the same, that we share the same beliefs and ideas and priorities. Rather, it means that we respect one another’s differences and viewpoints. It means that we strive to reach a place of understanding even when agreement is not within reach.

During June, PRIDE month, we particularly focus on the topic of unity. We create a visual representation of unity with our staff, elders, families and visitors. On our lawns, on both campuses, we have erected a series of poles. There are 18 poles set in a circle around a central pole. Each of the outlying poles has a label on it that contains an identifier that might apply to an individual. For example, identifiers might be: I am single; English is not my first language; I own a home; I am a dog person; I identify as LGBTQIA+ and so forth. Each person takes a skein of yarn in the color of their choice. They tie it around the central pole and then they walk to the poles where the identifiers are ones to which they relate. They wrap the yarn around the poles that represent them and continue around the circle to as many poles as are a fit. When finished, they carry their yarn across and back to the central pole to tie it off.

Over the course of the days that this installation is in place, countless individuals take part in the exercise. And, as it continues, the yarn, crisscrossing and looped, creates what can only be described as a beautiful piece of art. We begin the process with an opening ceremony and we close with a ceremony as well, sharing our reflections on the project before we take scissors and cut the yarn down, wrapping up the effort for this year.

What matters about this effort, which we call the Unity Project, is not the art that is created. What matters is what it represents, the recognition that, as I like to say, “a person is a person is a person.” None of us are the same, nor should we be. But all of us must learn to respect our differences and appreciate that it is diversity of thought, preferences, choices, heritage, abilities and so much more that make us both unique and, collectively, stronger.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past chair of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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