The Jewish World At My Door

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Journalist Simone Weichselbach Winner of the 2013 Be’chol Lashon Media Award

I love the idea of the global nature of the Jewish world a lot. I love the reality even more.  For one weekend each year, the international community with whom I normally connect via Skype, email, and Facebook materializes in person. Each spring, Be’chol Lashon—the organization where I serve as the Rabbi-in-Residence—convenes a Think Tank in San Francisco. A small group of leaders are invited to come together to study, connect and learn. Each year we focus on a different topic and bring together those whose experience and knowledge can help us move the conversation about the global nature of Jewish life and the diversity of our community.

We will begin tomorrow night, much as we always do, with welcoming Shabbat together. The tunes will be Ugandan, Sephardic, American and European Ashkenazi. Rabbis will sit with poets, scholars with activists, secular with religious, Spanish speakers with Anglophones.  Old friends will be reunited and new connections will be made. At the service on Shabbat morning, there will be many rabbis but no single leader. Throughout, the energy is bound to be tremendous.

To state the obvious, those who come together are a diverse group. There is no single vision of what Judaism is, no agreement on how we express our Jewish identities and as a result there are challenges as well. There is no easy agreement on how we pray or even if we should pray at all. Each of must confront the assumptions we make about Jewish community and identity.

Last year when our focus was Latin America, I sat up late into the night with two rabbis, both Argentinean born one serving a community in Mexico the other in Panama. We discussed the complex issue of what is meant by the term Latino. Our understandings differed greatly based on geography and reading of history. I was sharing that in the context of American life, those coming from south of the border, rightly or wrongly, are seen as part of the broadly based Latino community. To my colleagues this was absurd, they see themselves as no different than me—a Jew of European decent, not Latino at all. For several hours we pulled apart the nuances of language, geography and history. It was a productive conversation, helping me to understand how much our context shapes our assumptions and complicates communication.