A Little Less Alone, A Lot More Together: A Report from our Community Conversations

This past week, we held two community conversations about Judaism in the time of Covid on Zoom.  I love community conversations! (Yes, I am that kind of nerd.)  As a rabbi, I spend a lot of time leading and shaping experiences and practice for the community but when we gather to think together, share ideas and desires and speak our various needs, I get to do a lot more listening and be part of the excitement, questions and curiosity of our diverse community.

It is in moments like these that the DJC shows its character as a community.  These conversations bring together veteran members and newer members, Jews and folks from other backgrounds, people at varying life stages and people of a wide range of beliefs and interests. Even when we were able to gather in person, it is not very often that the spiritual-seekers and daveners, the social activists, the Movie Night goers, the parents of school-age kids, the text-lovers and the slightly ambivalent all have the chance to know each other and reflect together.

The various threads of our community are all the more separated from each other during Covid.  If you weren’t at these gatherings, as you read this, imagine yourself as being in on the conversation.  If anything you read here sparks your ideas, curiosity, needs or interests, please write to me and let me know what you’re thinking.  We are in the midst of an on-going, unfolding process.  No matter what your level of commitment and engagement has been, your voice is essential.    

The purpose of the conversations is to begin a process of thinking together – collectively, creatively and holistically about the DJC and Judaism during Covid.  We are aiming to take collective responsibility as a community and to think well about the various needs and challenges our members face during this crisis and to ensure that we are supporting one another – making sure no one is isolated or struggling alone.  Alongside this, we are aiming to use this crisis as an important opportunity to explore possibilities for strengthening five areas: 1) Kehillah/community building; 2) Kedusha/ moments of meaning, spiritual practice, prayer and ritual; 3) Chochmah/Jewish learning and radical wisdom; 4) Yetzirah/arts, culture and creativity; and 5) Tzedek/justice work within and beyond the DJC. 

Some of the questions we explored are:

  • What can the DJC and Jewish life become during the pandemic? 
  • How can we best support members who are in mourning or are ill?
  • How can we generate a sense of belonging in community, and giving to community, when we aren’t face to face?
  • What spiritual practices and rituals will grow the resilience and inner qualities we need to face these challenging times?
  • When we aren’t gathering in shul, how can our homes be stronger centres of Jewish life and what skills and resources will enable that to develop?
  • What Jewish learning will be engaging and grow our wisdom, values and insights to meet the current world?
  • How can we be richly inspired and challenged by Jewish arts and culture and how might we participate in artistic creativity as a means of exploration, meaning-making, interpretation and expression?
  • What can collective social justice work look like, particularly related to antiracism, the climate crisis, and poverty and homelessness at this time?
  • How can broader and more diverse leadership arise from within the community? 

It’s clear that sustaining and strengthening the DJC and Jewish life can’t rest only in the hands of the board, committees or the rabbi.  The community conversations were a context for sparking ideas, surfacing important questions, engaging new ways of thinking about leadership and ignited the beginning of further community thinking and planning. 

In both discussions, ideas were creative and diverse.  Some talked about creative ways to connect in small groups – outdoors and in person; on Zoom with like-minded folks and/or having a list of members we each check in on every so often; building intergenerational relationships when elders and young people don’t have other opportunities to get to know each other; creating a bubble of people who aren’t in a bubble with anyone else.  

Some talked about the desire to delve more deeply into various aspects of Jewish tradition, getting to learn sources, understand practices and try on traditions they were previously shy or hesitant to before.  One woman, who had never worn a tallit before, talked about the moving experience of borrowing a tallit for High Holydays and ways that practice at home is a whole new context for Jewish exploration.  Others talked about experimentation – the desire to start a prayer laboratory, touching lightly on traditions prayers but getting to speak, sound, sing and improvise to awaken deep meaning and spiritual connection. 

Some talked about growing the relationships and resources for social justice work, across the city and internationally.  Zoom is enabling us to build partnerships around the world!

There was excitement around members of the community sharing our various expertise and experiences – a DJC member speakers series or set of workshops teaching what we know and are passionate about, whether based in our work or a beloved skill or hobby.  And working in partnership with me to bring a Jewish lens to the conversations.  People loved the idea of simply getting to hear each others’ stories on certain topics as a structured way to know each other in new ways.

There were more ideas than I can include here.  What an exciting beginning!  Next week, we will be sharing the list of Havurot/small groups that members are interested in starting.  Stay tuned and sign up!  If you have an idea for a havurah, please send it to me at rabbimiriam@djctoronto.com by Friday October 29th.  

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