Alan Waxman, Brownsville, Brooklyn



UEF:Where do you live, what are some things that make the place unique?

AW: I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, right next to Brownsville, Brooklyn.  I frequently walk through Lincoln Terrace Park, Pitkin Avenue, Rockaway Avenue - all the great spots.


UEF: How do you feel about risks, people might say this is a risky area. Do you ever feel vulnerable here? Where? In what way?


AW: Sometimes I feel like its a greater risk to "not" take risks. There is a buddhist story about a man who is perched up in a tree.  Every day people walk by and wonder how he can stay up in that tree.  Finally one day, a young monk asks him, "Mr. Up-In-The-Tree why do you stay up in the tree? Isn't it dangerous up there?!"  And the man replied, "I know its dangerous up here.  But you don't know its dangerous down there."


Sometimes I don't feel vulnerable and then I really need to check myself; because I'll probably end up doing something stupid that ends up with someone, usually me, getting hurt. I feel like the more vulnerable you are, the more you can see the spider's web of interconnections in the world.  But let's not confuse vulnerability with pain, which can really just make people pretty self absorbed and cloud all of that potential vision. 


UEF: Do you ever need help? Do you ever ask for help from others? Do you ever delegate?


AW: I need help all the time; but I don't frequently ask for it, unfortunately.  How many times have I had a great opportunity for a good meal if I had only asked to join others, but instead I ate alone? Too many times!  In my work in Brownsville I try to delegate and give various jobs to people, paying some money here and there.  Have you heard that saying, "if you want something done right you have to do it yourself?" My response would be - in a neighborhood, what does it mean to do something "right?"  There is another saying, "Mo money, mo problems," which seems to apply to delegation and asking for help.


UEF: what's your relationship to your neighbors? Do you ever teach? Hang out?


AW: I enjoy saying hello to my neighbors.  Many of my neighbors are Hasidic Jews or Rastafarians, both of which are interesting movements.  I have a neighbor Chani who frequently organizes meals and he always enjoys random visitors.  There is also a group of architects and social activists who live close by who host regular salons.


I enjoy hanging with my friends in Brownsville.  There are numerous gang wars going on, but its hard to believe because people have so much in common.  As usual it's the people with the most in common who find themselves killing each other regularly.  


I teach several classes each week in Brownsville and Brooklyn.  Check out my programs at


UEF: Do you ever celebrate? Can you give me some examples of celebration in a day, in daily life? How about big celebrations that you help with or organize?


AW: I really do love celebration.  I like to say, "City is Forest, Forest is City, and Nature is Party."  Because really, I think that's a deep element, "nature," that beautiful spark or miracle that ignites encounter in the universe. We can also call this "party."  I celebrate every Wednesday at the Van Dyke Senior Center in New York City Housing Authority with friends at lunch.  At the moment this is part of the Delicious Memories program I'm conducting for the Claus Meyer Melting Pot Foundation in Brownsville.  Its about using celebration and evaluation to create transgenerational sanctuary spaces in Brownsville.  I celebrate elsewhere in Brooklyn and New York City with my Match Party  program which aims to bring people together from various social class backgrounds and affiliations for shared ritual, connections, and understanding.