This week, the Westminster Kennel Club held its annual dog show at Madison Square Garden. While the event is certainly the longest-running and most prestigious of its kind, it is not unique. Take, for example, Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, who held their own ”Best in Shul” competition last October. Though this event may have resulted in fewer purebred appearances (not to mention fewer press passes issued) than Westminster’s show, it was still noteworthy in its own right.
This type of community event in a public space is a prime example of JOI’s idea of Open Tent Judaism. Gatherings like “Best in Shul”can attract not only those who are already active in the Jewish community, but may also entice those on the periphery looking for a compelling reason to get involved. In order to fully capitalize on the potential of events such as these, however, we must take further steps to emphasize Jewish themes and make everything relevant in the big picture. For instance, an animal-focused event could include educational materials discussing Tsa’ar Ba’ale Chayim (the imperative to prevent animal suffering) or the Torah laws dealing with compassion for living creatures. As we try to develop the idea of Public Space Judaism, it is important to strive to reach a point where people will leave an event like Best in Shul remembering both the underlying Jewish values as much as the event itself.