Embracing the Diversity in Our Community

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As the idiom goes, “you can’t put a square peg into a round hole.”  As we begin the New Year, it may be helpful to ponder what this expression means in our lives and in the Jewish religion. We are often are required by society, our families or religion to strive to meet specific demands and become someone that we simply are not. It is hard enough to live in a world where Jewish people are stereotyped as having certain features and characteristics. Let’s recognize and embrace the differences among our fellow Jews as an asset.

The history of Jewish diversity can be traced back throughout time. The Jewish experience is based on the foundations of diversity which is contrary to the belief that all Jews are the same. The Jewish people are an amalgam of people representing various origins, languages, tribes and skin color. Our history includes strong connections with Mediterranean, European, Asian and African Cultures. Our rich history is also filled with well-known relationships that involve interracial and intercultural diversity. Let’s recall when Moses married Zipporah who was an Ethiopian or when Solomon and David each married women from other parts of Africa. Unfortunately, many people still believe that our culture derives from only Eastern and Central Europe. It is essential to recognize the importance of diversity in the modern and futuristic Jewish Community.

Teaching our children that diversity is an essential component of our past and our present is of utmost importance. It helps make Judaism more relevant to their world, as young people are growing up in a society which more and more celebrates differences. Diversity in our society is reflected in music, film, art, politics and education.

It is often helpful to think about the images that come to mind while reflecting on diversity in the Jewish religion. One may involve watching Jewish athletes from every state in the U.S. and various countries proudly marching in the Maccabi games, a program resembling the Olympics where Jewish youth and young adults compete in athletic events. Seeing young people who had different skin tone, and hair demonstrated that Jewish people may appear differently but share common roots and values. Some may have seen parents and families from the LGBT community celebrating the high holidays.

The Jewish Community is also recognizing that interfaith families should be welcomed and play an important role in the future existence of the religion. Synagogues offer introductory courses in Judaism to ensure that interfaith families feel more comfortable. Another strong image that comes to mind is a mother from another religion celebrating her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah since she felt welcomed to attend and participate at her husband’s synagogue. You may also think about your child’s excitement after they returned from a sponsored Birthright trip to Israel 

We all have unique images which resonate in our mind about what a diverse Jewish community looks like. As a Jewish society, we can’t afford to ignore the existence of diversity from our past and embrace it in our present lives. If we try to be exclusive, we may be threatening our existence. Close your eyes as you visualize the many positive images of diversity that surround you in your life. As we move to the future and pray for the continual existence and presence of Jewish values and faith, we can’t as a Jewish society think that we must all be the same or try to fit a square peg into a round hole since we have never been the same.