Genesis 32 describes Jacob preparing to meet his brother Esau after twenty years of separation, coming face to face with the brother he cheated out of his birthright and their father’s blessing. Alone and in darkness, Jacob encounters an angel who wrestles with him all night. At dawn, the angel wrenches Jacob’s hip so from that moment on, he walks with a limp. Jacob still will not let relent. The angel asks to be released and Jacob responds, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” It is then that the angel gives Jacob a new name – Jacob becomes Israel – one who wrestles with beings divine and human and prevails (Genesis 32:28-29). Deep wrestling is often uncomfortable. It pushes us to be intimate with difference. And if we know how to do it well, we move forward from it both changed and blessed.
We recently gathered for the last of our wrestling together learning and discussion sessions entitled God, Spirituality and Atheism. Our Year of Wrestling Together will culminate on Sunday, May 8th, with an open conversation about the Board’s report of our decisions and to reflect together on this year’s process.
It has been such an important year of conversation and exploration together, listening resiliently, stretching assumptions, trusting each other’s best intentions, and learning from Judaism’s richness and from each other’s lives. One of the participants in this last conversation said, “I hope this isn’t the last of these sessions. I get so much out of them and want to keep learning together.” Indeed!
We are coming to the end of this particular process, this particular focus for our community conversations, but I come out of these sessions inspired by what Jewish learning can look like in our community – a deep mixture of wrestling with multi-vocal Jewish sources; strengthening our tools for understanding; questioning and interpreting them; bringing the experiences and values of our contemporary lives into vibrant conversation with the values, teachings, and visions of our tradition; and asking big, Jewcy questions about the community and the Jewish future we are working to build together.
It has also been a valuable process of uncovering and examining what triggers each of us – the ways negative or hurtful experiences of Jewish learning in the past, narrow or pedantic teachers or communities and pediatric versions of nuanced Jewish concepts may have created obstacles to taking hold of engagement with Jewish life and learning in ways we each find enriching and inspiring. It has been valuable to experience Jewish learning in a context that doesn’t require adherence to any one belief, and to explore Jewish practice through a wide range of lenses – cultural, ethical, religious, spiritual, communal, socio-historical. It has been essential to underscore that there is no such thing as being ‘not Jewish enough’. And it has been essential to underscore that if you vote with your feet, if you are choosing to be part of the Danforth Jewish Circle, then you belong here. We can aim for substantive learning, engagement, and deep commitment and still have plenty of room for diverse beliefs, approaches, and personal choices.
You will see in the Board’s report of our decision the depth of thinking and consideration that brought us to this point. I think we have come to a decision that is informed and insightful, principled and compassionate, that is rooted in Jewish learning and engagement, and that meets this wonderful community where it is while holding out an exciting vision of how we can grow together.
I am profoundly grateful to the DJC Board for investing so much time, careful thought, and deep love of this community, all its members, support of me, and love of Judaism. I am grateful to all of you, DJC members, for participating in this process and for all of us being courageous enough to speak honestly and respectfully, while being willing to engage perspectives and considerations different from your own. Thank you to those who took me up on my offers to meet one-on-one (the offer stands beyond this year of wrestling). This process of learning and listening has changed us, and I am grateful and hopeful to be moving forward with blessing.