“You stand this day, all of you, before your god Adonai, you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, you children, you women, even the stranger in your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer, to enter into the covenant with God……I make this covenant not with you alone, but with those who are standing here with us this day….and with those who are not with us here this day… (Deut 29:9-14)
All of you. And by you, the Midrash (Biblical commentary) means us, too. The text says goes to the trouble to say that the covenant is entered into with those who are there at that moment, and those who aren’t. The Sages took this to mean those in the future….all of us….those who are born into the Jewish community and those who take it on through choice.
When did this end, exactly? When did this inclusive, all-welcoming, open-tent of a Jewish people stop acting so inclusive, all-welcoming and open-tent-like? I’m not sure, but it certainly isn’t in effect now, among huge swaths of the community. But it had better be like that again, and soon.
There was a recent posting on Facebook that was making the rounds, about how diverse the faces of the Jewish community are, that there are no Jewish stereotypyes. The “quintessential Jewish face” is, and never has been, that Eastern European, male, bearded, payot-curled Tevye shtetl-guy. First of all, there are women. There are Indian Jews, Chinese Jews, African Jews, Arab Jews, Hispanic Jews. And there are Swedish Jews, Korean Jews, and Italian Jews. They’ve been around for generations. There are Jews who have married in and Jews who have been adopted in.
About twenty-five ago, I lived in Connecticut, and there were a handful of gorgeous little girls, all from Korea, who had been adopted by a handful of families in our congregation. They were Jews, and still are, I presume. A friend of ours adopted two boys, both with African-Amercan background. They were Jews, and still are, I know. The recent edition of the Forward had an article about the first Asian female rabbi, now in consideration the position of senior rabbi of a large congregation.
Somewhere along the line, segments of our community have become very, very exclusive in deciding who gets to be “in”. Apparently, women who take on the joyous activity of welcoming the New Month at the Western Wall (Kotel), proclaiming their Jewish hearts, minds and souls, with Jewish accoutrement and Jewish kavanah (intention), “Hallelu…Praise to You, God!”….there are those who feel it is not only in their authority, but their obligation, their right, to say, “You are OUT! I don’t want to hear you or see you. And it’s ok if I spit on you, too.” Somewhere along the line, segments of our community have found it acceptable to say to a person who is living a fully spiritual, active, involved Jewish life, “You are OUT! I don’t like your conversion. Or your rabbi. Or your clothes. Or your hair. Or your family background. Or…..”
Thankfully, and I mean that literally….I give thanks for….those members of our community who see the future of Jewish life in its open, diverse, respectful and welcoming arms. I give thanks for those with vision, who have the creativity to create balance between the rich tradition and the rich renewal of those traditions. As we enter the New Year, let’s reflect on what it means to be “standing together”, all together, from the woodchopper to the water drawer, and realize the value in each soul present at Sinai, then and now, and in days to come.