The American Jewish community is becoming more diverse. The same demographics that we see in American society are seen in the American Jewish community. In helping communities to become more radically welcoming of others, I created this source sheet to help people in the Jewish community understand what Judaism says about welcoming others into our community.
- What is the image in your mind of an American Jew?
- How do we unlearn the stories we have been taught about what an American Jew looks like?
1. Why might the Israelites have benefited from being a diverse community?
2. When do communities benefit from homogeneity, and when do they benefit from diversity?
3. How does this impact our view of the Jewish people today?
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Talmud Bavli Bava Metzia 59b
What is the meaning of that which is written: “And you shall not mistreat a convert nor oppress him, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20)? We learned that Rabbi Natan says: A defect that is in you, do not mention it in another. Since the Jewish people were themselves, strangers, they are not in a position to demean a convert because he/she/they were a stranger in their midst.
Diane Kaufmann Tobin April 2013
Many born Jews are resistant or unwittingly fearful of completely welcoming those who join us through conversion, intermarriage, and adoption. The abiding notion of exile, formed in Egyptian bondage more than three millennia ago and reinforced by centuries of persecution, remains part of our psyche today.
If there is a way in which converts are different from born Jews, it is their lack of that fearful lens onto the world. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert, precisely to shed this fearful outlook. The mikvah, containing 40 se’ahs of rainwater, is a place of transformation and rebirth. When converts immerse in the mikvah, they are touched by that desert generation who led us into the Promised Land. Converts, unburdened by collective tragedy, have the potential to change the collective mindset of the Jewish people. We should embrace the wisdom of our ancestors and those among us who bring fresh dedication and affirmation to the future of Judaism.
What is Pluralism?
—Diana L. Eck, 2006
The plurality of religious traditions and cultures has come to characterize every part of the world today. But what is pluralism? Here are four points to begin our thinking:
First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.
Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table — with one’s commitments.
Rabbi Leiah Moser April 2013
We need to do a better job of recognizing and including non-Jewish partners and other members of the “mixed multitude” who form an important and vital part of our communities. Rather than hold these people at arms length as uncomfortable reminders of our failure to adhere to our ancestors’ rigid ethnic boundaries, we ought to reach out to them, making a place for them, both ritually and organizationally, within our communities.
From the essay: Preparing Our Communities For Conversations On Race
Walking Into the Building
Rabbi Joshua Lesser 2018
We also must think about how people are treated when they walk into the building. There are still ways that Jews of color and multiple ethnicities are ignored, mislabeled and subjected to inappropriate assumptions or questions. It is important to be overt with the congregation.
We have regularly sent out to our community communications with these five guidelines:
When encountering another person
Avoid making assumptions about gender identity, sexual orientation, religious identity, Jewish background, race or reasons for joining us.
Respect a person’s identity and self-label, and respect a person’s chosen name and pronouns. Do not comment about whether a name sounds Jewish or not.
Do not comment on whether someone looks Jewish or not.
Do not assume people want to only speak about their identity, particularly when their identity is different from yours. Engage them in conversation and get to know them. Be engaging rather than curious.
Do not expect a guest to immediately become your resource on understanding their identity.