Arriving in New York City, we headed to the port to catch the free half-hour ride on the Staten Island Ferry followed by a fifteen minute walk to the main house of Ganas (website). We found someone there who was expecting us and were shown to a top floor room with a view of the Manhattan skyline. She left us to get settled and then we got ourselves together and went down to join everyone for dinner. There we met everyone and were filled in a little on what was going on.
Ganas began in 1978 as a group of six people (five of whom are still there and the other is still involved) interested in feedback learning and has since grown to a community of about a hundred people. Twenty make up the 'core' group, thirty-five work with the core group in some way or another, and the rest just pay a fixed fee for housing and food and often create their own subgroups. The people are very diverse, which could most likely be attributed to their urban location and flexible choices in community involvement. The community owns nine houses all within the same block with the main houses' backyards all open and connected with boardwalks and gardens.
The core group are totally income and resource sharing, commit to working 40+ hours a week inside the community (office work, maintenance, cleaning, cooking, or at one of their stores) and attend the daily meetings. They have all of their basic needs met plus they receive a monthly stipend. Aside from the rent, the community's income comes from four stores (website) of second-hand clothing, furniture and other goodies.
With feedback learning being a central theme, there was plenty of time dedicated to discussion in group(s). They had a two-hour daily morning meeting where they discussed everything from interpersonal problems (some very personal) to money issues to whose turn it is to cook. It was inspiring to see this group of people being totally transparent with their feelings and trusting that they will be supported by the others.
For such a big community, they had a very small child to adult ratio. The three young children who lived there were not involved in the community and because they went to daycare we didn't see them much.
In contrast to the many progressive aspects of Ganas, the average lifestyle was surprisingly conventional. It seemed like there was no focus at all on what is purchased and its relation to health and the environment. They bought a lot of low-quality sugary and salty processed and packaged foods, factory-farmed animal products, GM soy and corn products, toxic cleaning agents, etc. The cooking crew did try to make the meals as wholesome as possible with whatever they had and there was always a 'salad bar' and vegetarian and vegan options, since there were a few vegan renters. It was a bit depressing to us. Especially when made a priority, with a little research and some connections, affordable high quality food is not hard too find in this part of the world. Also, during our stay, the dishwasher broke, and though there were sinks, everyone used paper plates and cups - for a whole week! Aaaah!
We had an overall good feeling at Ganas and for us it was a working example of how people could live together in the city and not feel so isolated. It felt like a mini society within the city. In addition to the morning meetings there were activities planned for many nights of the weeks while we were visiting: more intense feedback learning, theater groups, and special celebrations. It felt like most people's social needs could be met without leaving home.
Halfway through our stay, OfeK's parents came to visit and stayed in room in the community that we arranged for them to rent. They spent the week hanging our with OfeK and Momo (while Erika was cleaning toilets). OfeK's mother gave Erika a break a couple times by helping out in the kitchen.
Most of the pictures were taken by ohn (ofek's father)
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