connecting at woolworth storefront greensboro ga

Connecting at Woolworth’s

by Melanie Gruenwald


On Monday, I stepped into an Uber in North Carolina, with a lovely driver who was warm and welcoming. I am on my first business trip since 2015—with great anticipation and also a little bit of jitters. The driver was telling me about his work. He recently retired from a career in social services and moved to North Carolina with his wife.


He asked what I do professionally. I explained I am the Executive Director of a non-profit. He was so excited to learn more about our work. I explained the gentle, psychological, transformational approach to our organization and to our curriculum.


He was kind of blown away by what we do, and so excited to hear more. The driver was having what we call a ‘Kabbalah Experience’—

“I chose not to pick up other riders, but then you showed up and I knew I needed to connect with you. It’s the first day of Ramadan, and I picked up a Muslim brother earlier—I needed to connect with you today.”


It was an engaging, exciting ride. I gave the driver one of our Awareness Practice stickers. I arrived safely at my hotel. We shared a moment of meaningful connection.


This week, I have the honor and privilege of attending the Leading Edge Executives Conference for Executives of Jewish non-profit organizations, in Greensboro, NC.


I am grateful to David, Mindy and our Board of Directors for making it possible for me to show up and fully engage in this growth experience. It is a worthwhile investment in my leadership and ability to impact Kabbalah Experience.


Today, we visited the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. This was the site of the civil rights protest (which started with a sit-in at the local Woolworths) that ignited the sit-in movement. We approached this experience from a place of curiosity- to learn about this important movement and moment in time, and also to look at it through the lens what it means to be a movement builder.


This museum was designed to make you uncomfortable. It had small rooms, sharp turns, disorienting  pathways, and images that looked like broken mirrors. I was struck by the moral clarity of the youth that launched the movement, and their non-violent approach. I was touched by the human stories, of African American leaders, children, and others who were fighting for the rights of humanity. I was also touched by the many civil rights activist stories and people I had not already learned about. I hadn’t been exposed to the civil rights movement though this narrative in the past.


Rabbi Sharon Brous recently released a new book called The Amen Effect: Ancient Wisdom to Mend Our Broken Hearts and the World. In it, she shares principles for living a life of greater connection and meaning. I voraciously read this book recently, entranced by her wisdom and the way she is able to put her thoughts into accessible words and concepts.


She writes:

There are two important lessons here. First, you cannot escape the darkness. It’s part of the natural rhythm of the world.

Second, perhaps the most important question we must answer in our lives is: when the night comes, who will sit and weep by your side? Who shares your worry? Who sees you?


Biologists, psychologists, neurologists and clergy attest to the same fundamental truth: human beings need connection.


From a spiritual standpoint, we are meant to live dialogically. The gift that God gave humanity from the start was the gift of one another. We have a fundamental human need to be seen as we truly are, which makes social connection not a luxury, but a necessity. Relationships are simply core to our being. It’s not good for a person to be, fundamentally, alone.


Personally, I am fed by connection and relationship. I understand the power of being together- and the disconnect of loneliness—which is different than being alone. I know the experience of being in a crowd, being in a place with others, and also, just feeling lonely. We all carry the narratives of our experience which inform our present moment.


My takeaways from today are all relational. How can I carry awareness of not only my change preferences, but also that of the people I work with? How might I nurture more alignment through team meetings and meaningful conversations? What’s the ‘so now what’ of the museum visit and these learnings in leadership?


For me, it’s all about connection. Kabbalah Experience serves an important role in connection for hundreds of people each year. In this moment in time, post-pandemic, post October 7– many folks are feeling spiritual or communal disconnect and loneliness. KE is a place where they find other like-minded lifelong learners. They find connection to their personal growth, to one another, and to community, through the teachings of Transformative Kabbalah.


We take pride in our ability to build micro communities—to affect change for and with individuals, communities and the world.


As I prepare to teach the Tikkun Olam class this spring, I am mindful of the following quote from Yuval Harari::

The best reason to learn history is not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative realities. Of course this is not total freedom—we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.


How might we make choice of human connection through our day to day lives and interactions?


We can choose the human checkout line rather than self-checkout (as Rabbi Brous suggests in her interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy), talk to the Uber driver, connect with a neighbor, make a phone call, send a note, lift our eyes and connect with humanity as we walk through our days.


How might we make choices of human connection through our connection with history, her-story and our-stories?


How might we show up for and with other people’s experiences and narratives? How do we manifest human connection, so we can make a better, more equitable future?


At KE, we manifest connection through shared experience and study, and by showing up with and for one another. Whether we are in an Uber with a complete stranger, connecting in class, or on a supermarket line– it is our time to create these moments of connection.


Learn more about exploring The Amen Effect or Tikkun Olam with Melanie Gruenwald this spring, at Kabbalah Experience.

1 Comment

Amy Pesner Morris · March 14, 2024 at 2:54 pm

I nanks tor sharing. I love when I connect with an Uber driver with shared or mutually positive experiences!
It sounded wonderful. I went on a civil rights trip with ADL Feb 2020 and it was incredibly meaningful. Glad you had that experience.

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