Inclusivity in Action: Opening the Gates for Prayer and Community this High Holiday Season
ver the summer, I, along with 300 members of a Cantors Assembly Mission, traveled throughout Germany exploring Jewish life before, during and after the Shoah. One stop of significance was in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. A villa with a view of the Wannsee beach hosted the Nazi’s Wannsee Conference in January 1942. The conference dealt with the “Final solution to the Jewish question.” Heinrich Himmler led a discussion on “Who is a Jew?” to determine who would be spared and who would be massacred. Millions perished because of a need for a supreme and exclusive race. It is a reminder to love and appreciate each day we have as a Jewish people in spite of this vicious plot to end those days. Some might find it a stretch, but I find these proceedings at Wannsee to be the most welldocumented case of bullying in modern history. How can one compare bullying on the playground to the massacre of the Jewish people? Even on the playground, the bully loses a sense of right and wrong; the crowd loses a sense of right and wrong, while the victim questions their self worth and whether or not they belong anywhere. Creating such an arbitrary exclusive group harms everyone. It
Shuts the lines of communication, and inhibits growth and development within a community. The Jewish community, in its own right, is often seen as an exclusive fraternal order, when in fact, it is inherently inclusive. A few thousand miles away from our Germany mission, two very important initiatives were taking fold in the Jacksonville community. The Galinsky Academy, the educational arm of the Jacksonville Jewish Center, was planning to unveil its Community of Kindness program to combat bullying and raise selfesteem in the student population. The Center created a Keruv task force so that its community could be more inclusive of interfaith families. These are hot button issues within the community at large. Inclusion, in all its shapes and forms, is a call to action for both those on the outskirts looking in and those on the inside of the bubble. How can we be a better we this new year? As we approach the High Holidays, we can often get caught up in the individualized moments – asking God for forgiveness for things I have done. But the High Holiday season is filled with a mixture of both “me” and “we” moments. It’s an opportunity for personal introspection, within the context of community. Even our liturgy reflects this “we” sentiment. Even in the most individual of tasks, we mark the occasion by saying Shehechiyanu, “Blessed is the one who has kept us alive.” We recite Avinu malkeinu, our parent, our sovereign. Those on the outside proclaim Ki anu rayatecha, “We are your beloved.” Let us as a community return with v’ata dodeinu, “You are our beloved.” It is the season of reflection. May we be inclusive not only in thought but in practice, in our literature and in the way we speak to one another, so that the term, all-inclusive, isn’t just reserved for a vacation getaway, but a way of life for our community. And so when we reach Neilah (literally “the locking of the gates”) on Yom Kippur, typically the last chance to ask God for forgiveness, may we close the doors of the ark knowing full well we do not need to ask for forgiveness for the greatest of High Holiday transgressions – having a closed door. May we all as individuals find the season to be personally meaningful. May we open our hearts and souls to the message to live Judaism in whatever shape or form works for us. No matter which prayer center you frequent this season, may you find it respectful of your core values, spiritually relevant and inclusive of all. May we all have that Shehechiyanu moment when we realize we have reached the day when we sustain and keep Judaism alive by leaving the door wide open to all forms of Jewish experience.