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Jessica Sieff: Reinvention is at the root of great achievements

Published 9:44pm Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Today’s column is brought to you by the The Adas Israel synagogue, or more precisely, a recent Washington Post article about Washington D.C.’s first synagogue that will hop on a flatbed truck and make yet another move in its 134-year history in the city.

In Derek Kravitz’s article, the writer tells about the many lives of what’s come to be known as the “Small Jewish Museum that Could” and the “Wandering Building.”

“In the 134 years since a splinter group of European-born Orthodox Jews built the city’s first synagogue in downtown Washington,” Kravitz writes, “it has been turned over to three congregations; converted into a grocery store and a barbecue joint; slated for demolition, saved and dubbed a historic landmark; literally cut in half and torn from its foundation; and moved, inch by inch, to Third Street Northwest, where it was renovated and reopened as a museum in an area that has followed the city’s economic fortunes from blighted to prosperous to recession.”

Old photos of the building are almost enchanting, like it landed out of the sky on top of a good old fashioned eatery, complete with a sign announcing “Carry Out Service.”

One day you’re focused on the Torah, praying intently.

The next, you’ll have a pastrami on thick, hearty rye with a little mustard.

Police officers and construction workers stand by the synagogue’s second and third stories, separated from the ground floor and thrown up on a flat bed truck to be moved to a new home.

The synagogue was built in 1876 and I found it comforting to know that despite what it may become in the future, it at the very least has a future.

It got me thinking…

Years and years ago I can remember picking up one of those home renovation magazines and inside was a story about a woman who had purchased a small, old, two-story library in some small town.

She went about restoring the structure, a distinctive detail of which I remember was an inaccessible doorway on one side, finding a contractor who carefully brought the interior back to life with the rich color of cherry wood banisters among plenty of other elements.

When all was said and done, the new owner filled the old library with her impressive and notable book collection for her own private reading room, complete with a small kitchenette area for entertaining or for those long afternoons she spent curled up next to one of the building’s bay windows.

It is the age of reinvention — a time to re-imagine everything from the ways we do business, to the way we govern and protect our people, treat each other, eat our food, manage our money and raise our families.

And in the midst of great reinvention there is always an element of great restoration. Getting back to the basics. A small tip of the hat to the original character, to authenticity that only aids the success of the future.

I think about  those having relationship troubles, those who have been laid off from work, found themselves lost in a life filled with non-working parts, debt, loneliness, confusion. I think about people facing new chapters, new parents, new occupations, new passion and I sometimes think, how futile to try and resuscitate something that’s simply no longer functional. How exciting, the chance to reinvent the model — the model being the job, parenting styles or quite simply … you.

There comes a time when breaking all forms of norm is necessary. In that reinvention, there is the possibility of new facets and capabilities that have been sitting there, in that human structure of yours that has been covered in trendy paint, carpeted, decorated in what is now out of style.

Some of the greatest achievements in history have come out of the idea of reinvention. Companies and brands and even industries such as this one face the need to reinvent themselves all the time. These days, schools are facing the need to reinvent the way children are educated.

As human beings it is just as essential every once in a while to look at how we can reinvent ourselves. And though it might be scary, it’s actually quite a comforting thought. To know that there is infinite possibility. That you can be one thing one day and something quite new and refreshing the next.

Because we’re all like that synagogue which will soon find itself in yet another new setting. We’re all capable of transformation and even a little dilapidation and all we need is time and care … to strip away all of that extra weight and get back to the true form so we can be better equipped to handle the new form.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at jes

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