Discussing the Ritual Roles of Jews & Non-Jews in the DJC
In January we will be heading into our fifth session in the DJC Year of Wrestling Together. These sessions deal with a range of issues that our community has identified as important to us as we continue to evolve and grow. While the specific topics addressed in each session vary, they all relate to questions of the relationship between tradition and change, to having the tools to make good decisions for our community, and to being thoughtful and informed in what we do as an inclusive Jewish community.
On January 25th we will be having the second session on the roles of Jews and non-Jews and ritual leadership. While we have said clearly that no decisions are being made at any one of the individual Wrestling sessions, it is also true that we are moving towards some creative decision-making at the end of this year. Ultimately, it will be the Board of Directors, in consultation with the Rabbi, who will make these decisions; and we need this process to include as many diverse and contrasting voices as possible. The process we are going through this year is the Board’s way of gathering input from the community, we are doing our very best to ensure that the rich diversity of opinions and perspectives are part of our decision-making. This means we need your voice.
Our next session is an important one – we will be learning and talking together about the roles of Jews and non-Jews in ritual leadership. This is an issue that is close to many of our hearts; it is an issue close to my own heart. I love the DJC for many reasons, and one of them is our commitment, historic and ongoing, to cherish the non-Jews in our community. Many of us are thankful for the role of our non-Jewish peers and partners in this community; for their role as allies to Jews in preserving and strengthening Jewish culture and in challenging anti-Semitism; for their work in raising Jewish children, often giving up their own customs and practices to make Jewish homes; for helping our Jewish community to grow and continue; and for lending their own presence, perspectives, and passions. Like many in the community, I am also committed to equity, social justice, and to honouring differences and diversity, and so I care deeply about conversations that concern the ways in which roles and responsibilities might be different for Jews and non-Jews in the DJC.
On December 7th we had the first of a two-part discussion about this issue. This first night involved some discussion of Jewish rituals more broadly and some personal reflection on why rituals are meaningful to us. In our discussion we benefitted from an openhearted Rabbi who wanted to hear our thoughts and who was also able to share her wisdom and knowledge with us. We benefitted from a diversity of opinion and a shared respect in hearing each other, and from a rich sampling of Jewish texts to inform our discussion. The learning we did together was not designed to change opinions, or to educate us into seeing the world in a particular way – it was designed to provide richness, depth, and context about the issues of ritual leadership and boundaries in any Jewish community. It was focused on understanding a range of Jewish perspectives that inform the issues at hand; we were drawing on Jewish knowledge to help us make decisions about our Jewish community. I found this learning exciting and thought-provoking.
I thought about the issues of Jews and non-Jews together in Jewish community with some new ideas and questions that were raised in our Wrestling session: in what ways are the rights and responsibilities of Jews and non-Jews in a Jewish community different from or similar to the rights and responsibilities of citizens and non-citizens in nation states? What does this analogy help us think about and what might it limit? What is raised for us in our desire to belong to Jewish community, rather than just community more broadly? What is the same and different about wanting to engage Jewish practice and about wanting to engage community practice (or, what is the difference between being Jewish and being DJCish?)? Why are boundaries and exclusions so troublesome to me, when I am content to be an ally to communities of which I am not part (Indigenous communities for example), not needing the right to take on leadership or ritual roles in these places? How might my deeply held principals of inclusion, and of wanting my Jewish community to be the most inclusive possible, be compromised by different roles for Jews and non-Jews? While at the end of two hours my worldview was not profoundly altered, I left the session with new language and valuable new ideas to work with as I continue to grapple with this issue that is so important to me.
If you are concerned about these issues, we encourage you to participate in this next session, and in as many of the future sessions as possible. Each session addresses different issues, all of which require community input and reflection. Our hope is that we learn and discuss together so that our decisions are as richly informed by Jewish learning and by the diversity of our community’s experiences and beliefs as possible.
on behalf of
The DJC Board of Directors
Josh, Hilla, Ken, Lis, Margaret, Marlee, Michael, Nadya, Shari