What’s so Jewish about a playground? A case study in giving

By Matt Golden
JCRC Director

The Blieden Family Playground was dedicated May 13, 2024 with a festive ribbon cutting at the Trager Family JCC.

We cut the ribbon on our new Jewish playground on May 13. And almost as soon as our community cut that ribbon, the dignitaries in attendance — Mayor Craig Greenberg, Councilmember Ben Reno-Weber, State Representative Cassie Chambers Armstrong — were happily pushed aside by dozens of kids unimpressed by anything but new swing sets and fancy slides. Lofty titles are simply no match for kids who want to play. 

Almost the entirety of the Blieden Family was also there, welcoming the community to the Blieden Family Playground, bearing their family name as well as their love and pride for Jewish Louisville. The Raff family was there as well, celebrating a special aspect of the playground: its inclusive nature welcoming everyone. The playground was specifically designed to allow children with different abilities to play side-by-side with one another.  

And the kids were there, dozens of them, covering every facet. Wonderfully, every day since the opening, the kids have come back in droves. Their voices and laughter carry across the campus, fulfilling a vision founded more than three years ago. Our playground is more than just an added attraction for our members; it is also a deliberate attempt to incorporate our Jewish values into everything we do. In that sense, we could not be prouder and more thankful to our donors who made this possible. In that sense, we could not be prouder and more thankful to our donors who made this possible.  

So what makes our little jewel of a public playground a Jewish endeavor? As many of you know, one of the higher forms of generosity (or better, tzedakah), according to 11th-century Jewish scholar Maimonides, was to give to unknown recipients. There will be countless children who will enjoy this space. They will propel themselves to the heavens trying to be highest-ever on our swings. They will scoot down our slides and race on our tricycles. They’ll make music on our xylophone. They will never know or even care what it took to bring this playground to fruition — they will only know the joy of the place.  

Likewise, we may never know which children enjoyed our playground, or how many children will be with us over the years to come. That anonymity, in many ways, is what makes this public playground so special. Future generations will only know the fun they had here; we may never know how many this gift will reach. As proof, our guests at the ribbon cutting shared the impact of the old JCC’s Seligman and Linker playgrounds on their lives; this new playground is a worthy successor for the next generation.  

Maimonides said that an even higher form of giving was to do so in a way that renders the recipient self-sufficient. And that is perhaps the “gem-within-the-gem” of this playground. Our playground was designed for children of all abilities — and specifically designed for children of different abilities. The surfaces, fixtures and equipment will allow every child to play equally. In that way, our public playground engenders all children with the sufficiency to play and just be a kid. If you were to walk out there today, you would never know that this aspect was “built in” at every corner; you would only see kids playing as kids should.  

Then there is the Torah command to dedicate a portion of one’s field to the public. This was essential to our vision for this playground, that our playground shouldn’t just be our playground. It shouldn’t be just for our members, or the Early Learning Center kids, or for our Camp J campers. No, this park is dedicated to our community, that is, everyone. It is open to every child, and no one is to be excluded. People of all experiences can come to our campus and enjoy this gift to the community. In that way, everyone can enjoy the fruits of the fields dedicated to public use.  

All these things make our new jewel of a public playground merely the next embodiment of what we try to do here at the Jewish Federation to make the world a little bit better than we found it. And the Federation is just the product of its people — our supporters, our volunteers, and our staff — who give the gift of work, vision and generosity that makes projects like our inclusive public playground possible.  

And here is why our public playground is a case study in giving. If we were to ask ourselves: If we could spend $10 to make 1,000 kids happy, would we? Or $100 for 10,000 kids, regardless of who they were, would we? I would like to think that if we had the means, we would.  

So here’s our challenge to you: The next time you’re on our campus, stand and watch the kids who are having such a great time on the Blieden Family playground. Then, as you’re standing there, take a look to the left, and take a look to the right. Imagine like you were a child, splash pads, camp buildings, sports fields, and open-air spaces to meditate, pray, walk, or sing or observe. What do you see?  

As part of our campus’s Phase 2, we will have many additional opportunities to dedicate a little more of our fields to these visions. So many occasions will unfold to help our community a little more or improve our children’s lives a little more. This is both Jewish and universal. In that sense, the jewel of a community playground you are standing in front of is merely one step on our path to making the world a little bit better. It is a case study of why we need you.  

If you would like to know more, if you would like to volunteer or if you would like to contribute, please reach out to Angie Fleitz, the Federation’s Senior Director of Development, by emailing afleitz@jewishlouisville.org, or calling her at 502-238-2767.  


Matt Golden is a lawyer and the Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. In his opinion, the JCRC is the most august body in the Jewish Community, seeking justice and doing tikkun olam. He is admittedly very partial and biased in this regard. He invites comments, suggestions or good stories at mgolden@jewishlouisville.org. 


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