Coconut Grove

‘I Will’ wall in Coconut Grove provides inspiration and optimism

Talia Fellig 6, leaves her message on the “To Make a Better World” wall at the Bet Ovadia- Chabad of the Grove at 3713 Main Hwy. in Coconut Grove on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.
Talia Fellig 6, leaves her message on the “To Make a Better World” wall at the Bet Ovadia- Chabad of the Grove at 3713 Main Hwy. in Coconut Grove on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

All it took was some pieces of ordinary plywood, a can of black chalkboard paint, and rainbow-colored chalk to create a wall of hope.

On Monday night, the Chabad of the Grove erected a 25-foot-long chalkboard called the “I will” wall at Bet Ovadia synagogue along Coconut Grove’s Main Highway facing one of the area’s popular jogging paths.

“It’s time to show that the world is a good place,” said Rabbi Getzy Fellig of Chabad of the Grove, also known as Avenue J. The project was partially driven by the negative news in the headlines, including a deadly house fire that killed seven Jewish children in Brooklyn on Saturday.

White spray-painted capital letters on the left side of the installation read: “To make a better world.” On the right side, lines of “I will ______” have been penned with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of joggers, school kids and passersby alike.

“I will help a poor person. I will adopt a dog (maybe). I will learn a new language,” says some of the writing on the wall.

The chalkboard, which was Fellig’s and Rabbi Eli Muchnik’s brainchild, came to life after a successful experiment to engage people during the Coconut Grove Arts Festival.

During the festival, one of the chabad’s rabbis handed out slips of paper asking people to pledge to do a good deed for their community.

Dozens of people took part.

“It was just doing something nice,” Fellig said. “People really loved it.”

The triumph of the good deed pledge materialized into the idea to create a massive interactive wall to turn people toward taking steps to make their worlds better.

“Once the idea was set, then we were Googling ideas on how to put the board up,” Fellig said. The group stumbled across photographs of a similar project called “Before I Die” in North Carolina, which was part of a global art movement launched by artist Candy Chang in her New Orleans neighborhood in 2011.

“There’s so much bad news out there,” said Ben Temer, one of the members of the Chabad’s young professionals group involved in the project. “We’re hoping that we can shine the light on the positive things people want to do and raise awareness that there’s good out there.”

About 100 messages had been put on the wall as of Wednesday.

“The ‘I will’ wall is about getting people to stop and think, what am I doing today, tomorrow and the following day to make the world a better place than it is today,” Muchnik said in a news release. “There is so much good in people, inherit positive energy that exists within each of us, the proof is in the pudding, or the wall.”

By 8 a.m. Tuesday, it was covered with individual insights from anonymous men, women and children.

“It was unbelievable,” Fellig said. “There’s just so many different types of responses.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Fellig sat watching the wall. Cars zoomed past. Some stopped, including one man in his 50s. He drove past the site, made a U-turn and got out of his car to take a picture of the board. The man picked up a purple piece of chalk and wrote, “I will forgive Mr. Lewis.”

“That’s probably the coolest thing yet,” said Fellig, who requested the Miami Herald to not publish more details about the man to protect his anonymity. “If it inspires someone or brings a smile to someone’s face, then we achieved our goal.”

There’s no indication of how long the wall will stay up or how many more boards will be added. On Wednesday, three more pieces of plywood were painted and placed below the original board to encourage more people to engage.

“It’s very surprising. I think it’s wonderful to see that people are taking time out of their day to help each other out,” said 14-year-old Benjamin Freeman, one of Fellig’s students at the synagogue.

“It seems like everyone is trying to be a better person,” Freeman said, his words hopeful. “I’m super proud of it.”