Karen Lee Erlichman of Jewish Mosaic, the National Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity, has been a Jewish communal professional for over twenty years. In the course of her career, she has experienced both an atmosphere of inclusion and an atmosphere of disconnection among Jewish organizations. In her opinion, she has experienced far too much of the latter. To inspire the changes she feels are necessary to create a “vibrant and welcoming Jewish community,” she took to the pages of Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture and offered “Ten Guidelines for Jewish Communal Life.” These guiding principles will help our Jewish organizations “survive and thrive” and “create a new covenant and organizational culture, grounded in relationship and mutual respect.”
Erlichman arrived at these Ten Guidelines by way of thorough observation. Her experience working for Jewish communal organizations left her feeling “disillusioned and disappointed” with the amount of “backstabbing, resource grabbing, one-upmanship and ego-stroking” that went on behind closed doors. “What is provoking me now, however, is that today, several decades later, not much has changed,” she writes. “The way we treat each other is still a shanda (shame).”
Similar to the Ten Principles of our Big Tent Judaism Coalition, Erlichman’s guide is built on the idea that each person in the Jewish community – regardless of background or level of observance – deserves to be treated with respect. This is one of the foundations of Jewish ethics and it has informed the Jewish community “for generations.” We both believe that the simple act of welcoming all who approach – a basic Jewish value – will ultimately strengthen the Jewish community.
The fact that Erlichman’s article came out so close to the holiday of Shavuot is no coincidence. Shavuot is an opportunity to bring the Jewish community together to study the Torah and celebrate our tradition and heritage. Perhaps this year as we commemorate the giving of the Torah, we can also make a “renewed commitment to a Jewish community that reflects the spirit of liberation and revelation.”
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