A Lifetime of Tribes by
(285 Stories)

Prompted By Community

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Our Chavurah, soon to be celebrating 49 years of friendship and community

This piece was originally published in Retrospect on March 14, 2020 for the prompt “Finding Your Tribe.” 

My life has been enriched by every community I have been part of, every group with which I have shared a common goal and a connection.

It wasn’t until motherhood that I felt a true sense belonging to a tribe. Having a child is both a great equalizer and powerful bond. The women I met pushing their children in buggies and strollers, sharing benches at parks, talking during what we called back in the day “mom-tot” classes, bringing our kids to preschool and later to elementary school – these women became my community to ward off the loneliness and insecurity of being the mother of young kids. Many of them remain close friends some five decades later.

Before the life-changing event of becoming someone’s mother, I tried joining many tribes, none of which fit perfectly. In high school we called them cliques. While I had good friends and many activities, I was not part of the popular, student government, or drama-club crowds. I longed to be a cheerleader or have the lead in a play or hang with the kids who instinctively knew what to wear, where to party, or what to say in any social situation. College was similar in that I tried on many hats but none fit perfectly. I might be at a fraternity party one day and a student sit-in the next. Work was even worse. I was in the high school’s English department but not really a member. The more mature teachers had their tribe. I had a handful of colleagues across many departments who were also young and new.

When I moved to Evanston with two young children in 1974, I met another of those moms-pushing-strollers heading for a nearby park. As we walked on opposite sides of the street, our eyes met and we sensed the tribal connection immediately. Kids the same age. Went to the same college. Same religious and political affiliations. As we talked, Margaret shared that she and a neighbor were thinking of starting a Chavurah (featured image — from the Hebrew root word for comrades), a Jewish friendship group to celebrate holidays and to provide religious education for our children in our homes. I was all in. Since October, 1974, when we built and decorated our first sukkah, the six families have shared 15 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, 13 weddings, a couple of divorces and two remarriages, and 29 grandchildren. We have been there for one another in times of joy and sorrow, as all of our parents and more recently one of our original members died. The connection we share is tribal in the true sense of the word.

The founding staff of Cherry Preschool

I have been lucky to have made powerful connections in other aspects of my life. When I found my professional passion of early childhood education and started Cherry Preschool, I experienced the power of community and belonging. The founding board and staff of the school became a family, and the school created a caring community that enveloped all of the children, parents, and staff who worked to create and sustain the preschool. I shared the story in a post in honor of the preschool’s 25th anniversary, The Cherry Preschool Silver Anniversary, A Shout Out to its Founders. A parent described Cherry Preschool this way:

I like the warmth that embraces you as soon as you walk in the door. I’ve never felt my children were safer than they are at Cherry. It’s a place they’re excited to come to, it’s a source of community, support and friendship for our family. The world would be an amazing place if everyone lived the Cherry experience as young children.

That’s the community spirit we dreamed of when creating our preschool.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary with my Cherry Preschool tribe

After I retired, I was certain my options for belonging to more tribes were gone. Where would I make new connections? What tribes were left to me. Of course, I still had the dearest one of all, the friends I had gathered from all of the amazing experiences I had as a parent and as a member of two special communities, my Chavurah and Cherry Preschool. I still treasure spending time with my girlfriends and thought that would be enough. But… along came Retrospect, a virtual community of people united by their passion to share their stories forward. And then, the icing on the cake, a writer’s group I started at our synagogue. For the past year, we have met monthly to read our stories aloud and comment on them. Now, we have developed trust and affection for one another to become a small tribe of women who love to write.

My life has been enriched by every community I have been part of, every group with which I have shared a common goal and a connection. The old English teacher in me recalls John Donne’s words, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. “    

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Laurie, I loved reading about all your life’s connections, all your tribes!

    I remember when planning our son’s bar mitzvah party, and also a big anniversary bash we threw for ourselves, I had a hard time deciding at which table we would sit – with family, with old schoolmates, with Danny’s work colleagues, with my teaching colleagues, with which circle of friends, with which of all our tribes?

    We decided at the bar mitzvah party family came first and that’s where we sat. But at the anniversary party we sat by ourselves at a “sweetheart table” like a bride and groom! We had eloped and never had a real wedding, and so as I told our anniversary party guests, this is it!

  2. Marian says:

    Laurie, isn’t it amazing that so many of the tribes in our stories revolve around our synagogues? I’m so glad you were able to start the writer’s group there. Actually, the thing I envied most about moms (even though I chose not to have children) was their friendship with other moms. I remember in my late 30s and early 40s I’d go to parties, and all the women would be in one room with their toddlers, and the men were in another room shooting pool and smoking cigars. I felt like a third sex and would leave those parties early.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Marian, having children makes you an automatic member of a tribe, but they grow up and you have to move on. I suppose an important role of religious institutions is to create community. It took me a while to find one that did that for me and also reflected my values and beliefs.

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, this is a great story about all your tribes over the years. I have been in two different Chavurahs (Chavurot?), which were wonderful at the time, but each one only lasted about ten years. I’m envious that yours has stayed together for over 40 years. When you say the featured image was taken at your last Sukkot celebration, did you mean “last” in the sense of most recent, or in the sense of the final one?

    I’m also happy that you think of Retrospect as a virtual tribe, I do too, but didn’t see a way to fit it into my story. I am so glad that we are both members of that tribe. And how wonderful to have a writer’s group at your synagogue, so that you can exchange and comment on stories in person instead of online. I may have to get some tips from you on how to do that.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, ten years is pretty good. I can’t believe our group has lasted as long as it has. We are really more like family than friends. While that picture was taken the last time the original group put up the Sukkah, my daughter has it now. That made all of us feel pretty good, but we do miss it. Lately, we do what we do best — get together occasionally (usually the women only) and eat. I wish there could be a way for Retrospecters to meet in person, but I do feel like I “know” many of the regulars through their stories. Starting the writer’s group at my synagogue wasn’t that hard. I will tell you about it next time we talk.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    What a terrific, uplifting story, Laurie. And such a happy counterpoint to my own story about feeling that I had never really found my “tribe.” Here, you beautifully recount having found — and still finding — warm, embracing tribes to belong to.

    Having been a life-long lousy Jew, I had never even heard the term “Chavurah,” but it sounds just wonderful. As soon as I plan my Bar Mitzvah, perhaps I will form one. Seriously, thank you for this story, as well as the great pictures that accompany it.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Do it, John. You can still have that Bar Mitzvah at any age as well. That said, I have no intention of becoming a Bat Mitzvah, although I was moved to tears when two of my granddaughters had theirs last year. We all started the Chavurah with the Jewish Catalog as our guide because we were also life-long lousy Jews.

  5. What a wonderful story, Laurie, of how children were the catalysts for your tribal instincts! My armchair philosophy: I think children allow us or even force us not to think of ourselves first, which somehow opens us up to others because it’s not just about us. I love all your pictures and the warmth they exude. And yes, along came Retrospect, and here we are in the same tribe! I love telling my daughter and my granddaughters that adventure, excitement, passion, and unexpected pleasures are always waiting for us, even after 70!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yes, Barb! We may be confined to quarters for now by this coronavirus, but we will get back out there and rejoin our tribes as soon as it is safe. A good life lesson for our grandkids, but my heart breaks for my granddaughter whose ballet recital and middle school graduations are in peril. And I worry about another granddaughter who is living with cystic fibrosis and therefore living in fear of the virus.

    • Indeed it’s never too late to find a new tribe!
      In our mid 60s after years of city life, we bought a weekend house in a wonderful community in the country and now have the best of both worlds and the unexpected joy of making many wonderful new friends, our Connecticut tribe!

  6. Marian says:

    You’re right, Laurie, having kids automatically puts you in a tribe. Childless people have to work harder, but because I am childless by choice, I didn’t have painful feelings or regrets. My synagogue organizes memberships by individual rather than family, which really reduces the awkwardness for single people or those in non-traditional, non-nuclear families.

  7. Wonderfully evocative of the song, “People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”

  8. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, you have been fortunate to find so many wonderful and nourishing tribes. I love that you found your Chavurah from your fellow mother at the playground. That’s just terrific.

    We’ve read a lot about the marvelous, caring pre-school community you founded. Wish you were in my community. I would have scrambled to get my kids in there!

    And I totally agree with you. I, too, find Retrospect to be a kind and nourishing virtual community. I spend a lot of time on each prompt before I send it out into the world, look forward to the comments that come back and eagerly await the stories my fellow writers will share each week. Sometimes I think Retrospect has taken over my life, but usually in a good way, so I’m very happy to be part of your tribe!

  9. Loved your story, Laurie, and so admire your wonderful ability to create familial-like friendships in so many ways.

  10. Lovely reading your story again Laurie, and fortuitously my Seating Plan story echoes the sentiments we shared in the comments back then!

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