Growing up in Cleveland and as a longtime member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Mark Schloss knew upon retirement he wanted to give back in some meaningful way to his religious home.
Thinking back to the time he spent on Fairmount Temple’s early childhood playground, which hadn’t been used for a while, Schloss was inspired to put his skills to good use to help transform it.
Schloss has now built a gazebo and a garden and has started to also transform the playground area, a project he started this summer and will hopefully complete in spring 2020.
“The idea was presented to me to build a garden, a themed children’s garden,” he recalled. “There was this spray pool that was kind of beveled down into a pond area, so we had to level that out. I built four boxes on that. I then built that into a garden box and had eight yards of dirt and soil delivered and filled it all in.”
After that, Schloss said one of the temple members built smaller boxes and helped arrange those around the area. The project has also taken on other roles throughout construction, Schloss added.
“During Sukkot, we built a sukkah just for the children,” he said. “They hung all the fruit and participated in decorating it. I’m hoping that going into springtime that they might include me and some other seniors to participate with the children. All the construction itself is finished. All that is left is staining it and other cosmetic things.”
CJN: What other volunteer opportunities are you involved in?
Schloss: I also volunteer at Spirit of Leadership, which is a horse leadership program to learn personal development through horses and herding. I work with them to facilitate people and horses. That is an outdoor activity.
Also, on occasion, when there are programs, we take our dog to Reading to Rover. We and the dog volunteer and some children come to the Geauga library and the kids read books to the dogs. I’m also active with the Israeli Tennis and Education Centers. It’s a fundraiser in the United States to support the Israel Tennis Centers. I’m also on the Israel Advocacy Committee, which promotes Israel in the community. I’m meeting a lot of really neat people and learning new things.
CJN: What inspired you to help Fairmount Temple revamp their old playground? How did the project start?
Schloss: My cousin Jeffrey Bilsky, who is the building chair, reached out to my wife and me. She is a graphic designer and I love building and using my hands. These things come easy to me. I said I’d be happy to help them with the project. When they were starting it, they didn’t know where to go. They raised some money to buy materials and then approached me at the beginning of the summer and I said I’d be glad to do it. I think they were a little surprised because in a few days I had lumber there and I was already working on it.
I’ve been at Fairmount Temple for a very long time. My family has three generations there. It’s always been a home for us and it’s always been there. I always felt like I never really added much to it. I wasn’t greatly involved, so I felt this would be a fun thing and a nice thing to do for the temple. When I found it was for the kids, that made it even better.
CJN: What made you want to be involved in your community?
Schloss: Probably being that I did a lot of camping outdoors, it was always when you go to a campsite or when you’re walking, you leave the location nicer than it was when you approached it. Through my family, I was always taught you don’t wait to be asked, you just step forward and do what you need to do if something needs to be done. It’s just a good feeling to do these things. People did so much to create the environment that I live in, so these are just some things I can do to make it nicer for others.
CJN: How does your connection to Judaism inform your volunteerism?
Schloss: I’m very traditional. I grew up in a very traditional Reform family. I had an Orthodox father, so I grew up in this hybrid form of Judaism. So, I think that as I’ve aged, Judaism has become more and more important to me and my wife, Shelley. And as we’ve lost parents, even more so. The idea of tikkun olam, repairing the world and making things better, and tzedakah, are very important to me. I’m fortunate enough to have the time, resources and physical ability to do these things.
Looking back on the few years he’s been retired, Schloss said he doesn’t think he’d had a single bad experience.
“All of these experiences warm your heart,” he explained. “When you see the difference you make, whether it be the playground and seeing how children and staff react, or with the horses and the groups we work with, or with my dog at Reading to Rover, it always feels good. Everything is a good memory at this point. There is something to look forward to every day when you give back. The work is well worth it.”