Helping to revive the soul of a N.J. community
It almost feels like a death in the family. The Moorestown Community House, built in 1926 and damaged in a fire Tuesday, is so woven into the lives of Moorestown folks - and nonresidents as well - that it's much more than a building.
It almost feels like a death in the family.
The Moorestown Community House, built in 1926 and damaged in a fire Tuesday, is so woven into the lives of Moorestown folks - and nonresidents as well - that it's much more than a building.
In my own life, it was the place I met my first woman friend after moving to the town 42 years ago.
We met in the tiny, crowded library on the Community House's first floor, and we communed over books and kids and Brownies and, ultimately, our lives and dreams and worries.
So that little library became a "sacred space" in memory. It was closed when a new, far more adequate library was built - and that too is now surrendering to yet another new library.
But the pull of that little space, where books beckoned from every wall, and its warmth and comfort were palpable.
Our daughters learned to swim in the famous Community House pool - famous because it taught generations of kids how to do more than play in water. The swimming program was serious, focused on safety and even pool behavior.
I loved it for its no-nonsense rigor, and the Friedman girls - oops, women - are all fine swimmers. Their mother - not so much.
Then there's arguably the sweetest memory.
Our daughters each had Bat Mitzvahs., the rite of passage of Jewish girls into responsible Jewish adulthood. Their ceremonies were, of course, all in synagogues. Then there were pleasant, but hardly grand, luncheons at our home.
But Nancy, the youngest, had set her heart on a party just for her kid friends, and she also had set her heart on having it at the Community House.
And what she wanted was ... a country-style square dance.
"They'll never allow it," I told this determined 13-year-old daughter of mine. "It's too complicated."
Nancy pleaded her case before the then-manager of the building, a miniature Clarence Darrow determined to convince a jury of one.
And somehow - perhaps because of her size (always tiny) and her carefully prepared argument - she won him over.
That square dance - fun, wholesome, and about as innocent as an event could be - lingers in memory decades later.
The most ironic memory that surfaces is an evening my husband and I spent at the "Castle on Main Street," as our kids used to call the Community House.
The Friday night before last, we were among the people who attended a fund-raiser called "Chairity," involving taking cast-off chairs and turning them into works of art.
It was the same night that Paris experienced a massacre, and we almost didn't go.
But when we did - frankly, seeking a bit of relief from the rat-a-tat litany of horrible news - it was like walking into another universe.
There were a couple hundred people sharing this common space and, in the course of the evening, bidding on wonderfully redone chairs.
The goal: to raise funds for ongoing renovations to the very building where we gathered. The Community House, like the most staunch dowager, was a little worn and needed us to help her get back to her earlier glories.
It will be a considerably greater job now. It will be a painful one, given the damage to a place that has always been there for us.
But I predict, on the wings of hope, that we will get our Community House back. Because in a complicated and often terrible world, some things just take on a life of their own.
And this building, it must be noted, is made of more than just stone and brick.
It has a soul.
Sally Friedman is a writer in Moorestown. firstname.lastname@example.org