In addition to my work here at JOI, I freelance as a bar/bat mitzvah tutor in Park Slope, a quaint but trendy, family-oriented neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. I’ll never forget the first time I walked up the subway stairs at 7th Avenue and got my first taste of “The Slope,” as I affectionately call it; I felt like I had found Sesame Street! This is the kind of neighborhood where you will literally find children on stoops selling lemonade for 25 cents (the price might actually be a bit higher…I mean, it is New York). The community is incredibly diverse, and incredibly warm.
If I were to take a picture of myself with all of my tutees, it would be the perfect microcosm of the diverse landscape of the Jewish community about which we work to raise awareness here at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute. My students are Chinese, Caucasian, biracial, adopted…some have one Jewish parent, some have two, some have same-sex parents. They are incredibly diverse both in background and personality, and each has been profoundly special to work with. I feel immensely blessed that I have the privilege of being their mentor on this part of the path to Jewish adulthood, one that is inherently high-pressure and which requires a lot of preparation. It is a huge responsibility, and is arguably the most fulfilling role I have ever had.
One of my students has his “big day” next weekend, and I just can’t stop kvelling (feeling immense pride and joy) thinking about how far he has come. And it’s gotten me thinking a lot about the journey each of my students has taken, and how unique each has been. What unites all of them, however, is their connection to the Park Slope Jewish community and, by extension, to worldwide Jewry. They serve as regular reminders to me about how exciting it is to be a part of the modern Jewish community, one that looks completely different than our ancestors could have ever imagined.
It is easy to stereotype what a Jew might look like, and easy to make assumptions about the structure of a “traditional” Jewish family. But the fact is, there is no one way to look or be Jewish, and certainly no single family structure to Jewish families. Once we embrace that, we enable our communities to become more vibrant, more welcoming, and more reflective of the exciting realities of modern Jewish life. Our diversity is our greatest strength, and it gives me great pride to work for an organization that advocates for ALL who wish to enter the big tent of the North American Jewish community.