December 28, 2006
Noah Bleich: A Man of Many Hats
"I'm not a morning person," he says, "but it's easy for me to get up if I have a reason."
Every other week, for about three years, Bleich has been visiting neighborhood schools to read to kids. Each time, he arrives in a different hat. This morning, he has tossed aside his zebra-print cowboy hat, giant sombrero and Mad Hatter top hat in favor of a white faux-fur and blue velvet piece topped with felt candles. The kids love it.
Bleich, 31, is used to wearing many hats. As the newly elected president of the South Robertson Neighborhood Council, Bleich not only runs the council's monthly meetings, but he spends much of his time -- as many as 30 hours a week, he says -- planning projects to benefit the community.
"He's like the Superman of the Neighborhood Council," said Steven Coker, a council board member. "Most people think of themselves first, and if there's time or money left over, then they think of everybody else. With Noah, it's reversed. He thinks of the community first and himself second."
An observant Jew, Bleich provides a Jewish rationale for his commitment. While Judaism teaches that each individual is unique and special, it also emphasizes community, he says.
He tries to put this teaching into practice: "Judaism should be about living it."
Bleich, a self-employed computer consultant, has started building a computer lab at the local community center. He has also written a grant application, asking for funds to renovate the center and build a garden outside.
He recently helped a group get funding for a three-week program for at-risk youth. Kids will now be able to go to the community center to take life-skills classes during their winter break from school. Bleich has volunteered to coach the children on how to build computers and how to cook.
One of Bleich's greatest passions is protecting the environment. As the leader of the council's Green Team committee, Bleich runs monthly neighborhood cleanups to pick up garbage, paint over graffiti and plant trees and flowers (he initiated a project to plant hundreds of trees in honor of the firefighters who died on Sept. 11 and the Los Angeles firefighters who have died in the line of duty).
Bleich pays careful attention to how his own actions impact the environment. To save gas, he walks, bikes or takes the bus whenever he can. He is a vegetarian who uses canvas shopping bags and energy-efficient lightbulbs. Bleich will pay extra for goods made in countries with high environmental and social standards.
He tries hard to do the right thing, he says, not because he believes he will change the world, but because he sees no satisfactory alternative.
"I don't do the environmental work because I think I'm going to make a difference," he says. "I don't think I can, given the scope of what needs to be done.
"I do it," he says, "because I don't believe I'm excused from trying."
To get involved in the South Robertson community, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.