Let’s Talk About Our Neighbors

Between Us

His smile lights up the place.

His name is Feivel and “the place” is Cafe Sunflower & Bakery, which recently opened in the lobby of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s building.

While sipping on a Café Sunflower latte and an iced coffee, Feivel and I began to get to know one another.

I told him that my grandfather’s name was Feivel and that he came to the United States from Russia in 1905. During my grandfather’s transition to a new life, he felt different from those around him. He had no money and was unable to speak a word of English. However, with strong determination and gumption, he successfully acclimated to life in America. Feivel’s eyes grew wide and he said, “Awesome.”

Feivel told me that he’s 18 years old, the third of 5 children and went to different Jewish and public schools, looking for “the right fit.” He told me he has a cognitive learning disability; that the right and left parts of his brain don’t communicate well with each other. He said it takes him longer to learn things. He grew somber as he recalled being bullied throughout his life.

“It wasn’t easy going through school being bullied,” he said. When I asked what he would say to those bullies today, he replied, “I forgive almost all of them and I want to tell them, ‘Look where I am today. Think before you speak and ask yourself if you really want to do this to someone else.'” He also noted that most of them need help since they, themselves, were probably bullied by someone else too.

Today, Feivel works at Café Sunflower. He calls it a “dream job.” He is one of 8 employees and 5 volunteers. He takes the bus 4 days a week from Aspen Hill to North Bethesda and credits manager Kelsey Pitta for “keeping the place together.” He speaks highly of his fellow employees, saying that “they’re really nice. We make a great team.”

Feivel grew animated as he told me that just two weeks ago he returned from his Birthright Israel trip, his first visit to Israel.  He said that the most powerful moment in his life was when he prayed at the Western Wall, exclaiming that he “never felt closer to Hashem.”

Feivel has only one complaint. With a smile, he wishes “there were robots to do the mopping of the Cafe Sunflower floor.”  Other than that, he is focused on his dream of going to culinary school in New York, saying that he “loves to cook.”  He also told me that, “though his parents don’t know where it comes from,” he is musical and loves to sing. He taught himself to play bass, drums and “a little piano.”

I’m thrilled that Federation is able to make it possible for Café Sunflower to be located in our building. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that tirelessly dedicates itself to building a more inclusive community; one that emphasizes, first and foremost, the value, dignity and capabilities of each and every individual. This year, Federation launched an Inclusion Advocacy Committee to promote a more welcoming community for all. We are working to consider the needs of a changing community, the language we use about those around us and the programming we create that invites everyone to participate.

I invite you to join me for a cup of coffee at our new cafe.

A partnership of Sunflower Bakery, The Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and The Jewish Federation, Cafe Sunflower is a “social business,” offering coffee, pastries and sandwiches served by employees with developmental and cognitive disabilities who are receiving job training. It’s a business with a mission, serving up an amazing cappuccino, and bringing a smile to the faces of employees and customers alike.

As we finished our conversation, Feivel said, “I don’t want to be known for being different. I want to be known for who I am.”

My grandfather would be proud. I know I am.