The Journey is more important than the Desination: Reflections on the Processes

Hi. I’m Lauren, the planner of the bus tour. I haven’t written for this blog yet, and while I feel a little bit strange writing the final post as someone who wasn’t on the road the whole time, as the one who started off with the tour  it also feels fitting.

I began this journey in January, when I was handed the fragments of systems, ideas and old documents of certain components, and then allowed to run with it and piece together a tour. I stared at my empty excel document from which the tour was meant to emerge, and after months of internet research (thank you, Foundation for Jewish Camp and JCCA website with your interactive map), talking to everyone I encountered, emailing Jonathan Dubinsky (without whom the tour also would not have happened) and spending a lot of time with Google maps, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Through a myriad of emails and calls that went unanswered, a few camps said yes, they wanted to pay for the bus to come, and suddenly I had a shell of a tour. I had places we had to be, people who were excited about the mission and enraptured by the photos of an upside down bus. I spoke to a woman in Kansas for whom no task was too large – she fundraised the full amount to bring the bus to her camp. I spoke to an early childhood center director in Chicago who told me how great it would be to have people who are truly living out these values of sustainability in a Jewish context be role models for her campers – that was my spiel, and she said it to me before I even finished explaining the program. I spoke to a camp director in New Jersey who wanted to book the bus for 4 days. In these pockets of success, I found inspiration. I was really doing something, really achieving something with this tour. People wanted to enhance their camp experience and believed that we were the something more out there – something to wow and impact their campers. Some camps created a budget ex nihilo for bringing in external programs or nearly exhausted their entire budget for us, hinged on the belief that we would provide more than fun; that we’d both teach and embody something extraordinary, worth remembering for years.

For a while, I was living and breathing the bus tour. It occurred to me that maybe everyone didn’t want to hear about it, but I couldn’t seem to stop. And it rarely drained me – generally, it gave back more than what I put in. I found two of the educators because I never stopped talking about it – one at a Shabbat dinner, and one through a colleague talking to a geologist studying at Pardes (after she told me I’d do best to look into coverts, as I’d likely never find a Jew equipped to be a bus mechanic). I also found some of the camps and some of the hospitality when the bus tour spilled into my personal life, as well as some amazement and accolades. I planned the Tour de Farm event in Kansas on a Friday evening right before Shabbat while walking back from picking up a last ingredient for a salad for a potluck dinner at a friend’s, and though I didn’t end up showering that evening (like a true bus educator), I felt re-energized by the idea of bringing our vegetable oil bus and our bike blender to cheer on people biking from one urban farm to another. I was ecstatic, in that moment, to have been swept up into this regenerative cycle of belief in sustainability and in the existence of good in the world.

Sometimes I felt like I was floating, buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm of those around me, and sometimes I felt like I was wading through a swamp of confusion, about how to hire people and find a mechanic, how to balance a schedule and bring in enough revenue. Once I nearly finished building the schedule and the team, I began to worry about the educators. Would they feel they had enough structure of meaningful programs and people to appreciate their work, and sufficient free time to exult in their adventure? Would they be happy?

All I wanted from my abundance of work and energy that I devoted to this project was to share in some of the magic of it, to have it reverberate back to me. And in many ways, throughout these last six weeks, it did. It overflowed its structure, drawing stares and questions and stories everywhere it went, from people connected to and totally foreign to the concepts it represented. I personally saw the immense and powerful impact of the bus tour through brief glimpses into their lives on the few times I met up with them, from evaluations from institutions, photos, comments from friends and from friends of friends. That the circle of influence expanded so widely so quickly, and also drew in on itself, as I met and heard from people in all circles of my life and people connected to them never stopped seeming amazing. That this vehicle and all that it stood for brought together and really compelled people not just to notice but to tell someone else or send pictures, many of which made it back to me through circuitous routes or from far-flung directions, was even more awesome.

Thank you to everyone who was part of this bus tour, and to everyone who in turn let me be a part of it.

With Gratitude,

If I was a Superhero…

The bus is about as far from a Batmobile as you can get. It clangs and bounces as it rumbles down the highway. There’s a small screech when we turn, and water drips from the ceiling whenever it rains. Not only do we fail to zoom through tunnels, we break out into a cheer whenever we pass another car. Still, this spectacular oddity of a vehicle sometimes feels like a super-mobile, which brings up the vague possibility that we might be spending the summer trying our hands at superhero-dom.

Like superheroes, when we swoop into a camp or JCC, people stop and stare. When there are kids around, our approach is announced by a resounding chorus of “whoaaa” and “look at that!” and “what the…?” People from all over have invited us into our houses, brought us snacks, offered us showers and ice and leftover oil and giant cucumbers. I have been hugged by strangers, and thanked for what I am doing before the program even begins. If we are superheroes, we are Batman or Ironman – just ordinary people who happen to wear flashy costumes (sometimes) and come out of the door of a fantastic bus.

It all feels a bit unfair. And it makes me incredibly hopeful.

The bus has the superpower of bringing out the best in people. Stripped of wariness and inhibition (because, after all, how often do you get to hang out on an upside-down bus? And if that doesn’t do it, how often do you sing about poop in public?), people of all ages are free to share their most playful, curious, generous, thoughtful, silly selves.

In a restaurant in Kansas a woman eating dinner overheard us asking for oil and immediately sent a text to every person she knew in the next few cities on our agenda.

Sitting outside of the Mitzvah Garden in Kansas City, a family invited us for dinner before even learning our names.

When we open the engine in a truck stop or gas station, at least three people approach and ask if we need help.

On a cloudy morning in New Jersey, a bunch of initially reserved pre-teens began enthusiastically singing about having a good day.

Countless families have opened up their homes to us and welcomed us into their families and lives at every step along the way.

Confronted with the overwhelming generosity and hospitality of people, I cannot help but reflect on my own level of superhero-ness. I happen to be lucky enough to be traveling on an upside-down school bus, teaching kids about things that I am incredibly passionate about. I am no superhero, just someone who landed the fortune of spending the summer in our Batmobile, wearing a Teva shirt and a nametag made of cardboard.

And yet, people expect us to be superheroes, or perhaps I just expect myself to be a superhero, and so I try my best. I gather all of my enthusiasm. I sing songs to strangers in the gas station. And I try my best to reciprocate the incredible kindness that has been shown to us.

At the end of our programs, we ask our participants to envision the world that would be necessary for a successful Shmitah year. When we produce less, we have to share more. We have to trust in the intentions of others, to give what we can, knowing that we may or may not be repaid. Could this crazy bus trip, this prolonged moment of giving and receiving, be a step toward enacting a Shmitah-ready world?

The sun is starting to set on this adventure, and soon my superpower will be left behind in a parking lot at Isabella Freedman, waiting for someone else to swing open the door and turn on the generator. Then again, the amazing people we have met don’t drive upside-down buses or ride bicycle blenders. They have shown the beauty that is created by true hachnasat horchim, by welcoming guests and giving of oneself. They are superheroes in their own right, and my hope is that I not only find, but actively search out chances to pay it forward.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

– Sydney

Stories- Making the World a Little Smaller

A friend told me yesterday that the role of a traveler is to act as a mirror. She said that in a community, having the people who pass through  on their journeys are crucial to the structure of society. It is these people, she told me, who become an opportunity of reflection for those who they meet. The traveler reflects back onto others the thing that they are sometimes forgetting to see and notice about their own life. Memories, struggles, laughter, priorities, grief- you name it and there is a good chance that a traveler has helped someone remember or realize its significance, that they otherwise may had forgotten.

On my personal travels, there have been countless hours of listening to others share their stories. There seems to be something about the idea of meeting someone who is so temporary in their life, that often makes them want to open up and share their stories.  I happen to  live my life through stories. For a long time, if someone asked me what I was doing with my life, my response would be “I am collecting stories.” I deeply believe that it is through sharing our memories and experiences, that brings the world closer together and makes it a little bit smaller and a little less foreign.

Making some juice for dinner with the son of a  family from the Kansas community

Making some juice for dinner with the son of a family from the Kansas community

On the Topsy Turvy Bus- this concept seems only to be magnified. We have met children, teachers and clergy- truck drivers, farmers, musicians, government officials, other wanderers and countless people in different stages of their journey.  In Boulder, some street musicians wrote a silly song about us; in Illinois, a truck driver gave us a lift when the bus needed to be towed, and so many meals have been shared in the homes of strangers who quickly became family. We have chatted and learned from hundreds of people along the way. The thing so many of them have in common, is that they want to share their stories. Stories of faith and hope, loss and love, triumphs and tribulations- all of their stories of  journeys and adventures they have lived. Everyone wants us to know a piece of their story and seems to want to be a part of ours.

Phil, the friend who gave us a lift and helped when the bus needed to be towed.

Phil, the friend who gave us a lift and helped when the bus needed to be towed.

Rabbi Nachman once said, “The world tells you stories to put you asleep, I tell stories to wake you up.” And some of you may or may not agree with him. However, I think that he is not the only one whose stories are waking me up and waking up the world. I feel constantly reconnected to humanity through stories. As others have shared theirs with us, my love and knowledge of the world continues to grow.

Here on the Topsy Turvy Bus, the five of came together to travel as a team of educators. But the thing that doesn’t always get mentioned, is that being part of this community- we are so often the students, not the teachers. We are students of the world and it’s memories, students of strangers and constantly learn from their wisdom as they share it with us. We each have stories to share. But one of the beauties to being on this bus tour is how many of those stories we get to hear from the people whose paths cross ours.

To all the looking glasses in the world, and to all the people looking in them- thank you for taking the time to share your memories. It is your stories that makes the world a little smaller and a lot more beautiful.


Click here for the video of a song about the bus 

 The Team

When Life Gives You Oil…Go With It

It is now 6:30 am. I’m sitting here with Sydney, Sonia, and Jacob in Gardner Restaurant, a dinner that opens at 5 am in the small town of Garnder, Illinois. It’s a quaint little dinner. Clean and well light. The waitress is tired but friendly.  We are sitting in a booth by the window, listening in and out to the news blaring from the mounted TV on the wall and the conversations of the six, 60 year old-ish gentleman at the table right next to us. I am not sure who they are or why they are here so early. It seems that this might be a morning ritual of theirs. They are definitely regulars.

We had just gotten a ride here with Phillip, our new super nice trucker friend who, in his words, was “sent by G!d” to help us. Eli is still 30 miles down the I-55 with the bus, waiting for the tow truck to come take the bus to the auto shop.

This is indeed an interesting situation. Quite Topsy Turvy! There are two options: to view the current events through a lens of negativity or to see the good and opportunity within it. To see the cup half full. To make lemonade when life gives you lemons. To rolling with the punches. And, when stuck on the side of the road all day, to making shakshuka. This was that kind of situation.

You see, as can be expected, when traveling on a 9-ton bus with yet another bus flipped over on top of it, and which runs on veggie oil, things tend to not run exactly as planned.  Often. Things tend to run a little bit topsy-turvy. And very often its related to veggie oil.

Being that our “hunk-of-spunk” only gets 8 mile to the gallon, we need to find used veggie oil rather frequently. It usually takes a few hours, with several “no’s” and a couple of “too dirties” or “not enoughs”, before we find what we need.

Earlier this week we were in Kansas City. Last Sunday we spent three hours and toured 4 different restaurants trying to score some oil. It was getting late and we were getting tired. And hungry. The time for our dinner invitations was fast approaching. Topsy-Turvy Bus or not, we couldn’t be rude and late!

Finally, we found some oil at a sushi restaurant (that shall remain unnamed to protect the people and fish affiliated with the establishment). However, despite the fact that we were by this time feeling quite desperate, we were hesitant to take the oil. It was quite dirty. Yet, after careful consideration we decided that it was clean enough to take and worth the snatch.

So we unloaded our gear, got on our veggie-oil-clothes on, mentally prepared ourselves to get nice and oily and started working. Pumps a-blazing, bystander’s cameras a-snapping, and restaurant employee’s eyebrow a-twitching we started to pump it in. It was indeed dirt. We had to stop several time to clean the external filter on the pump and switch between their three oil-drums to try and determine which one was the cleanest of the dirty. And it was indeed not much. Even after we finished taking the oil Eli and the rest of us wondered if we should have taken it at all.

Fast forward to St. Louis. All that oil is long gone and we are about to head out on our 8 hour drive to Chicago. We don’t even have time to look for more oil! While were in St. Louis we really want to at least check out the famous St. Louis Arch. We have been rushing from program to program so much that we haven’t really had any time to do any “road-trippy, touristy” things along the way. We are determined to do at least one.

But another challenge of driving a 12 foot 9 inch mini-bus-and-a-half is trying to find parking downtown, as well as rodes with overpasses that our bus could get through. Many failed parking attempts and u-turns later we were about to give up. But the adventure muse that was looking over us whispered- nah! -yelled!, into our ears to try once more and plow through to see the arch. So we finally found a cheep parking lot with room. Of course the parking attendant insisted that because of the size of our spaceship we needed to pay for four spots. Not really caring anymore we eventually gave in and paid.

On our way back to the bus we were walking down a street and Sydney noticed a familiar looking place! It was the same restaurant that was part of the chain of restaurants that we had stopped at previously! We decided that it wouldn’t hurt to just walk in and ask. We did so and were pleasantly surprised that the manager said yes! After looking at the oil we discovered a lot of really clean oil. Score. Eli brought the bus around and started to hand pump and carry 90 gallons of oil about 50 feet to and from the bus. All in all, it was an extremely smooth and successful process. The best snatch so far.

Looking back I realized that it was only due to finding the oil from that first time that we got the nasty, poor oil that we even noticed or thought to ask this restaurant. And because of that we completely filled up with the cleanest oil we found yet. We learned then that everything works out for the best. Always, a little further down the road one realizes why something happened.

I run a worm bin and environmental cycles station in our programs. I think that this above-mentioned theme, in reality, is the fundamental teaching of this station: When life gives you lemons make lemonade. When you have trash or garbage, make compost. When you think that something is useless, turn it around and create a purpose for it. When you think these tiny, puny creatures are worthless, perhaps in fact they are what keeps the world going round. If you look at everything as part of a cycle then its infinite potential and value will be reveled to you.

When faced with an unwanted situation you can always turn things upside down and figure out a way out. Or more accuratel: be able to see the inherent goodness within it. It all depends on how you allow your eyes to look at it. Interestingly, worms don’t have eyes! They do, however, have the ability to sense light. Perhaps there is something there: They can only sense light and they do not have eyes through which to distort that light. They only see light! Sitting here in this dinner perhaps I think how perhaps I can learn this lesson from the worm: To only see light. And the current situation has indeed started that journey.

Since we broke down on the side of the road yesterday at 5 pm, countless trucks have come over offering their help. Each one got us to the next step before they had to get back on the road. Until, finally Phillip helped us for more than an hour . On top of that, the next morning he drove four of us 30 miles down the road to the nearest auto shop. We get off his truck, look across the road and se a dinner that was somehow already open. We decide to go check it out.

And that I where I find myself now: sitting here in the dinner waiting for the bus to get here and the writing this blog post; reminding myself to learn from the worms; to see the good in even this.

Rebbe Nachman, the Chassidic master of the Breslov Chassidic dynasty, teaches that one is “sent” on a journey in order to fix and increase one’s faith. To increase one’s faith in themselves, one’s faith in humanity and one’s faith in G!d. By going on a journey was is faced with situations that force one to confront his or her ideas of faith. One is forced to make decision based on the presents and absents of faith. And based on my experience its clear to me over and over agin on a journey how much this is to have faith about. It fixes my faith in myself, my faith in G!d, and my faith in humanity.

I sit here not knowing what will happen with the bus exactly but knowing and having faith that that whatever happens, it will be good.

When life gives you oil- go with it.




Yours, Mine, and Ours

Jacob D. Chatinover

“There are four traits among people.
The One Who Says:
 ‘What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours’: this is the trait of the average person (Beinoni). However, some say it is the trait of Sodom.
‘What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine’: the proletarian (`Am ha-Aretz).
‘What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is yours’: the giver (Ḥasid).
‘What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is mine’: the wrong (Rasha`).”
Pirké Avot 5:12, 1st century

“The matter of Shmita and Yovel correspond to the way of being, ‘What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is yours: the trait of the Hasid.’ ”
Mei HaShiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz, 19th century)

On Tuesday we had the pleasure of showing the bus to the Moishe House of St. Louis and their community members. Since we run programs for children from 3 years-old to 70, the first thing I noticed was how lovely it was to spend some time with people our own age and stage in life (well … mostly. None of them live on a bus :) ) I felt I was able to say what really excited me about this topsy-turvy adventure machine, in my own words, instead of trying to anticipate what would excite them and direct my presentation to that. It was also really interesting to run essentially the same programming we do for young children, and see how they reacted to it and interacted with it. Adults my age do like being silly, the only difference is they take silliness very seriously.
After we showed them our oil system, touched the worms, and ate some of the delicious cucumber that we got from the Mitzvah Garden in Kansas City, we opened a discussion on creating community around values of sustainability. We began with these quotes to frame it. What follows is a combination of their ideas and my ideas: the four traits exist in all of us at different times (obviously; this is always true when the Rabbis divide humanity into categories), and these are four models people use when creating community. These traits are relational traits, they don’t exist without other people. And these traits create a relationship: what I give you and what I expect you give to me, of your property and of yourself, are the essential basis of what we mean to each other.

Everything is Shared – the am ha’arets
Some models of community have everything shared, with no personal possession. This often also means that there is no space for individual identity, and everyone is compressed into one communal name. This has benefits of unity, but also conformity; it creates social stability, but results in monoculture. The Rabbis understand how this intention could be appealing, albeit misled. Thus they attribute it to the working man, the `am ha-arets, which also has connotations of the uneducated.

Nothing is Shared – the beinoni
The most common thinking, that of the beinoni, creates room for the individual but separates people from each other. Some Moishe House folks suggested that it would make no community at all, rather a selection of people living near each other, but in their own worlds. One thing the Topsy Turvy team made clear at the beginning of our journey is that with so much shared, the little that is personal must be held sacred. If Benji buys a pack of Spicy Buffalo Pretzel Bits, he can expect with confidence that no-one but he will eat them; and this is essential. If Sonia needs to take some time for herself, she should be granted that. It may seem small, but it is the largest factor to sustained shlom-bayit, balance and peace. But the term beinoni also means morally mediocre, not just statistically common. It’s important to give space when space is requested, but we should be very careful when requesting it. Some Rabbis held that this is the trait of Sodom, the city of inhospitality. If all we can give is space, it’s all we will want from each other. So far, I think we have held this balance and given it the gravity it deserves.

All Mine, All Yours – the rasha` and the ḥasid
The word rasha` is a courtroom term for the one found guilty, whose claim is judged to be wrong. A person who feels that everything they have they deserve, and that everybody else exists in order to provide benefit to them is not just bad, they’re incorrect. In my opinion, this is the most important thing I’ve learned through teaching Teva, and it’s the message I can most passionately transmit to my peers across the country. I can’t act as if it’s my world, that my actions don’t affect others, or that my station is not dependent upon the actions of others. Not only would that be a destructive worldview, it’s just not accurate. We live in complex systems. We live in biomes, where all flora and fauna, from Red Wigglers to Redwoods, interact to determine the health of each member species. Land-rest reminds us of this. We live in complex economic systems, where the labor of millions of other people all interact to produce the goods we need to live and to provide the conditions for our wealth. Debt-release reminds us of this. And traveling across the country meeting truckers and restaurant owners and citizens of all stripes helps me remember this, too. Lastly we live in complex social systems. The communities that we form provide for so many of our needs, physical and emotional. In every psychological study I’ve seen, the greatest determining factor in personal happiness is depth in interpersonal relationships. So really, nothing that’s mine is mine alone. Not my money or my stuff, not my food or my body, not my health or my joy. A community built upon this recognition would be the most in concert with sustainable values.
But can we expect ourselves to be like the ḥasid? Can we expect others to be? The word asid is connected to ḥesed, which is usually translated ‘lovingkindness’, but I prefer ‘grace’, which has the connotation of a gift that is given even when completely undeserved. A asid acts ‘lifnim miShurat haDin’ , beyond the letter of the law, in his/her relationship to God and to other people, seeking to do more than is required. ḥesed is when you do something for someone regardless of whether or not they ‘deserve’ your kindness, without even thinking about deserving or undeserving, owing or debt, right or wrong.
It’s understandable why the Hassidic master of Izhbitz connects this to Shmita. Shmita is a picture of the ideal world. The goal is not to get every single person in a community to act in the way you think they ought to act, it’s to bring yourself to a point where you can act a reflection of how you want the world to be, regardless of whether everyone else is on board. To have the trait of the asid is not to give away all of our possessions to the commons and give our efforts continually without surcease. It is to live a life in which even if you give everything you can and others take from you, you can still be ok. You can let it go. You can live the life you think is right and be a beacon of peace and generosity, even if it feels like you are the only one. If we each do this, then we can create communities of shared values which are flexible and inclusive, effective, evolving and progressive.

Thanks all, and happy travels!



What is living life richly?

When I heard the Topsy Turvy Bus was coming to town in St. Louis, I thought, ‘Great! A Tuesday night activity! Outside-of-work socialization!’ After unsuccessfully marketing this event to three non-Jewish co-workers, I drove out to the St. Louis burbs and showed up 40 minutes late to a synagogue parking lot in Creve Couer, Missouri where two smushed-together buses were parked in a corner, in the shade of big trees, under a low summer sunset.

I should introduce myself, if I am to tell a story about my personal experience. I’m Stef, and I am, as many 20-somethings are, a highly ‘transient being.’ I grew up in New York, went to college outside Chicago, studied journalism, got a job in tech, went to wander the world for ten months, and then started working the 9-5. Perhaps I am even more transient than most – I fly twice a week for work, living in a hotel in a state I don’t call home three days a week, and only spending four nights in the Chicago apartment that I temporarily rent. My life is in constant flux, unending motion, and relentless chaos. I love it. But, at times, it’s quite lonely.

Maybe you now better understand why a Tuesday night social activity seemed so unexpectedly wonderful.

After a joyful reunion with my friend Eli (the mechanic), I got on the bus and felt like I was crashing the set of a Sundance film about an unexpected family of hippy-bandits on a national tour of self-discovery and enlightenment. This is not a far cry from the true plot-line of the Topsy Turvy summer. While nobody introduced themselves to me at first, I had to squish past everyone to find a seat on one of the makeshift beds in the back half of the bus. After a few minutes of quietly observing the bookshelf, and the snack stash, and the dreamcatcher hanging to my left shoulder, I smashed any ice and explained my transient shtick and demanded to know everyone else’s. A few from Moishe House, the program sponsors, a girl from Next Door, a similar community (and her dog), and the five educators had gathered to sit on a slightly sweaty hippie bus that evening. After that initial conversation bump, lead educator Sonia posed an abrupt transition to a deep series of questions to lead into the planned program, a curated conversation on constructing community.

What does community mean? What makes a good community? What makes a sustainable community? How can we make our communities sustainable communities?

Whoa. I spend all day in a spreadsheet, thinking about accounting software and audit documentation. These questions would require a slow, thoughtful unpacking of rich intellectual consideration – more than I am used to in the average 8 hour day. So, I threw the questions back to Sonia.

What do you mean when you say ‘sustainable community’?

Another educator jumped in shortly after, offering up a few texts I recognized from the Hazon Shmita sourcebook, which I had scanned the week before when prepping for a staff limmud (learning session) at Camp Ramah in Nyack, where I had been visiting with old friends. The Jewish world is small but the texts are endless. And, these texts apparently move and follow us – sometimes to a parking lot in Creve Couer.

Using both ancient and contemporary sources, ten 20somethings felt a short but bright burst of community in the experience of this conversation. By listening to one another, by sharing our ideas, we created a brief but important community space. I could detail what we talked about, but you’d lose the essence because you, as you read this, do not have the incredible fortune of sitting on that very bus, in that very parking lot, with those very people.

High-level overview: We talked about ownership, and giving, and openness, and ideologies, and value alignment, and the shmita year, and its practical and impractical implications. We talked about preparedness, hardship, and what it means to live life ‘richly.’

To me, conversations like this, in a slightly-too-warm bus with a motley crew with a lot of cool ideas – that’s living life as richly as one can. An acceptance that things aren’t perfect, but not letting that imperfection get in the way of our enjoyment of our experiences – that’s a perfect state for building a shared space. We talked into the darkness, eating some bok choy with hummus and hearing funny vignettes about the kids these educators are working with each day. We heard about how these five individuals have all-out dance parties in summer thunderstorms while barreling through the Midwest, so they can bring their crazy bus and their crazy dreams with the same vibrancy to the next town they hit.

Topsy Turvy is exemplary of what we were discussing: an evolving sustainable community – on wheels. The impact that conversation had on my optimism for young Jewish potential, the hope it gave me for future engagement with mindful Judaism – that makes driving 40 minutes to Creve Couer certainly worth it.  I felt connected, and I felt inspired – that’s why we join communities, isn’t it? That’s why, even on wheels, Topsy Turvy is an admirable and enviable community space – even if it’s temporary. The bus community is new and different every time someone gets on board. It’s a restless reinvention around a peaceful vision of a better world. The intention to create and build and discover carries through the wandering educators and into the lives of the people they meet. From highway to interstate, Topsy Turvy is paving a path for more mindful communities to spring up everywhere.

I look forward to getting on board again soon.


Help will always come to those who ask

We drive a nine ton old used school bus that has a second school bus flipped over and welded to the top of it. Moreover, the engine has been jerry rigged over the past five years to run on cleaned used veggie oil. The under side of the bus looks like the capillary system with indiscriminate tubes and wires running every which way. Despite the fact that JD, the mastermind behind the hodgepodge veggie oil I system, confidently assured me that the bus is in the best shape it has ever been, it would be an understatement to say I was hesitant about embarking on the first leg of our cross country journey. After all, someone entrusted me, a 23 year old geology student who’s only mechanical training is tinkering with his father in the garage and maintenaceing seismometers in rural Africa. There is a lot that could go wrong and when it does, it is not necessarily clear what needs fixing.

After a week of living and breathing the ins and outs of the bus while living with JD and his wife Elizabeth, I was feeling more and more comfortable operating and maintaining the bus systems. During our time in Denver, even after the program started, when things went wrong, JD was always around to come help me figure it out. JD taught me everything he knew about the bus, but we were off for Kansas and for the first time, I was on my own. It was on the onset of this leg that I truly connected to the feelings of bilbo and company when Gandolf tells them he will not be accompanying them through the Mirkwood. It was not that their task was ever easy in the first place, but rather that the sheer fact that Gandolf was by their side made it seem like it was at least possible. In his absence, they came to the full realization that they have only each other to rely and there will be no magical savior. This only illuminated the true stature of their task at hand. Without JD, I too suddenly understood how much “danger” I was in.

The trip started swimmingly. We descended out of the mountains and on to the rolling hills of middle America. We were straight cruseing, when I started feeling that I had no power. No matter how much “gas” I gave it, the only way I could get above 45 was if we were going down hill. I calmly started going through my check list. The gauges were fine, the temp was fine, we had plenty of oil, and as i crossed each subsequent item off the list, my anxiousness grew. Thoughts like, “What if I don’t know how to fix it?” started to take root. Finally I decided that I had to pull over. I was going to change the veggie filter and while it was draining, maybe get mincha in with a little extra prayer for the well being of the bus.

Just in case there was some magical cure that JD could afford me over the telephone, I sent him a text that read something like this, “How many miles should I get on a filter? Not getting so much power so I pulled off to change it. Think that was a good idea?” As I paced around trying to keep my composure and make the gang think I knew exactly what I was doing, a car pulled up and honked at us. “Oh great” I thought to myself, “just what I need while I’m stressed and trying to figure this out, a car full of over eager hicks with a ton of questions about our crazy bus.” Yet it seems that similar to Hogwarts, the Topsy Turvy bus too operates under the rule that help will always come to those who ask. For in the that car was none other than JD and Elizabeth on a road trip to spend the Fourth of July with their family in Kansas. He was like Elijah in the Gemara in brahot, appearing randomly on the side of the road to protect a traveller while he was engrossed in prayer. Like Gandolf, returning at the last minute to the give aid. I was immediately filled with a rush of confidence (and later reassured by JD) that all of my decisions thus far had been correct and that the unsurmountable task before me became merely routine.

Sometimes it is not knowledge or ability that we lack, but rather the courage and confidence to act as we know we should. As we continue across the country, I am hopeful we can give people the knowledge and ability to look at, live, and interact with the world around us in a more sustainable, hey, even topsy turvy manner. While it will be easy for them to think this way while staring at our fantastic upside down bus, I hope even more — that we can instill in them the courage and confidence to continue doing so as a way of life that will continue long after we have rolled away.

– Eli