Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Two years ago at the ISJL Education Conference, there was a wonderful program about diversity and inclusion in our Jewish communities. The program featured a panel of individuals able to share their stories, and offer suggestions for building more inclusive congregations and communities.
Inspired by this panel, we thought about the ways in which we could celebrate the diversity within our congregation. At Temple Beth Torah in Humble, Texas, we have members from a number of diverse backgrounds. We wanted people to know more about each other and including their backgrounds and their journey to Judaism.
Shavuot is a celebration marking the giving and receiving of the Torah. On this holiday, we are reminded that it is “as if all of us were standing at Sinai.” What better time to make sure that “all of us” are recognized in our communities today? For our congregation, Shavuot provided our community with an opportunity to reflect on the diverse paths that each of us went, and continue to go on, as we contemplate what it means to accept the Torah today. We launched a program called “Jewish Journeys.”
Sharing personal Jewish Journey stories proved powerful for everyone. This program was organized by our congregation’s Social Action Leadership Team (SALT) which is responsible for engaging congregants in meaningful service that positively impacts our Humble community. In addition to thinking about the broader Humble community, we thought it was important to strengthen our Temple community by celebrating the many Jewish journeys in our congregation.
With the Rabbi’s help we invited three people to speak at our first Jewish Journeys event: One speaker was the child of Holocaust survivors; one speaker had converted to Judaism within the last few years; another speaker was raised by a parent who became increasingly more involved in Jewish observance, and she (the speaker) also lived in Israel for a period of time as a young adult.
We asked each person to talk for about 5-7 minutes about their background, their Jewish identity and what was important to them about Judaism. We put similar questions on each table for everyone to discuss if they wanted to share their own stories. We left that decision up to each table. The program was very successful, and all the members enjoyed getting to know each other a bit better. We got such a good response that we invited 3 more congregants to speak about their Jewish Journeys during the break between services on Yom Kippur!
We believe that encouraging conversation among congregants about the nuances of their particular Jewish journey, as well as their personal identity and any insights they are willing to share, strengthens our community. When we know about someone else’s journey, we are able to value and honor their journey. We can also connect people who may have similar experiences and appreciate the ways in which we are all different.
The book “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” includes a discussion guide with questions that can start a similar discussion in your congregation. Shavuot is the perfect time to begin a program like this, which requires little set-up, budget, or “extras!” Of course, launching it on Shavuot also means the perfect excuse to have some blintzes or other treats on hand to enjoy while sharing stories. Here’s a fabulous list of 16 amazing blintz recipes to get you inspired.
May your shared journeys build stronger communities, and happy Shavuot!
Pronounced: shah-voo-OTE (oo as in boot), also shah-VOO-us, Origin: Hebrew, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, falls in the Hebrew month Sivan, which usually coincides with May or June.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.