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Over the last year or so I have been writing a weekly â€śword of Torah,â€ť trying to extract a message of inclusiveness from the weekly Torah portion. This approach emerges from the message of the Rabbis in Pirke Avot (5:25) who wrote â€śTurn it [the Torah] and turn it for everything is in it.â€ť This vort (as my bubbe of blessed memory used to call it in her native Yiddish) is just thatâ€”a word of Torah, something to focus our attention. Perhaps we might also call it a kavannah (or sacred mantra) because it does offer direction for our daily work at JOI, especially for our Big Tent Judaism project. This is part of what I discerned from this weekâ€™s reading of Vayakhel. The portion deals with the building of the Tabernacle, but there is also a mention of Shabbat in the building of the sanctuary.
The goal of those who built the ancient Tabernacle was to design a structure where all could feel welcomed and embraced. That is also the goal of Shabbatâ€”to create a time where all can feel welcomed and embraced.
The challenge of Shabbat is a challenge that most of us encounter, one that is particularly hard for those on the periphery of the Jewish community. How do we get into the rhythm of Jewish life? According to Jewish tradition, we receive an extra soul on Shabbat, and maybe that can give us the strength necessary to do so. After all, especially for those of us who enter the synagogue on Shabbat without Jewish memory, we will need all the help we can get.
Those who built the ancient sanctuary sought a place for meaning, as we all do. That is why they built it. And that is why we welcome all those into our community for the same reason and purpose.
Whenever I teach Torah, I like to say that the purpose of studying Torah is to learn more about ourselves and our relationship with the Divine, rather than just to learn more about the Torah. It is not an intellectual or cognitive exercise. Rather it is a spiritual activity that brings us in touch with our inner selves, how we think and feel. In the case of our weekly word of Torah, it asks the question: How inclusive do we want the Jewish community to be? How willing are we to open up the tent?
We at JOI believe that the secret to Jewish continuity is in diversity and inclusiveness. What will this weekâ€™s message motivate you to do to bring the Jewish community one step closer to our shared vision?
What is the most effective outreach tool? The answer, of course, is food! Our friends at SAJES (Suffolk Association for Jewish Educational Services) are offering some delicious programming next month to prepare for the holiday of Purim. Their programs exemplify the concept of Destination: Jewish Culture â€“ bringing Jewish programming (or a â€śtasteâ€ť thereof) to secular, neutral venues rather than waiting for folks to come to the doors of our Jewish institutions. For these programs, SAJES has chosen the â€śYoung Chefs Academy,â€ť a popular cooking school for kids with a location in Long Island. With a tagline â€śFestive, Fun, and Delicious,â€ť who could resist? They are offering a kid-friendly class focusing on sweets, and an adult-focused evening of more sophisticated culinary adventures, with some wine. Check them out if youâ€™re in the area!
Thank you to the 45 Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders from throughout North America who joined us on our two Passover outreach conference calls over the past week. During the calls, we focused on Passover in the Matzah Aisle, a JOI Public Space Judaism program that takes place the week before Passover in the seasonal food aisle of grocery stores and supermarkets. The goal is to engage families shopping for Passover foods and provide them with low-barrier Passover information and fun, food-based activities, such as charoset tasting (it’s an exotic fruit salad). Ultimately we want to raise the visibility of the organized Jewish community and let people know about other program offerings that might be of interest to them.
For those of you who were not able to join us, here are a few of the key elements of what we covered:
- â€˘Implementation steps, including how to work with secular partners and commercial establishments
â€˘How to set up your program to maximize engagement
â€˘How to transform these one time programs into ongoing relationships with newcomers
If you were not able to join us but you are interested in the material covered, please call me at 212-760-1440 x116 or email me at email@example.com to set up a time to talk.
Stay tuned for upcoming free conference calls in the next few months!