This Shabbat we are participating in the Jewish Federation of MetroWest Able program of Shabbat Shalem, the Sabbath of Inclusion. The Able program has as its goal to work with area congregations to assist them in becoming more inclusive and welcoming to families with needs: the whole range of disabilities and challenges that individuals and families face.
Our Torah teaches “You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind … (Leviticus 19:14). Hence comes our Halakhic and moral imperative to assure all equal access to our congregation. I am proud to say that our temple has been recognized as a Metro West Able Congregation, which does not mean that there is not more that we can do, but we are clearly on the path of greater inclusiveness.
Just some brief examples: We have elevator lifts for those who are wheel-chair bound. In our Early Childhood program we currently have children from 2 hearing-impaired families – the children can hear, the parents are deaf – and, thus, through various grants we utilize cutting edge technologies and sign-language interpreters to help these parents. We also provide screening of the children in the ECP for early detection of learning, speech, vision and hearing issues.
In our Religious School, we have had many students who come to us whom learn differently, therefore, we utilize a multi-discipline approach to include them in our program.
However, in my rabbinate’s philosphy, inclusiveness goes beyond the needs of those challenged in various ways to what I describe as the metaphor of Avraham’s tent. Imagine a Bedouin tent, which has a square like shape with a flat top, such was the shape of Avraham’s tent, and it is taught that the flaps of the tent were always open on all 4 sides. Therefore, no matter from which direction a stranger approached, there was always a portal into it and the ability to make that stranger into a welcome guest.
We embrace this metaphor to create what is called Big Tent Judaism – to create a congregation that welcomes all; we call this Keruv, which means OutReach.
We do Keruv to include those in interfaith relationships – we do not condone intermarriage, but nor do we punish those who have made a partner decision out of love. Therefore, we work to make those in interfaith relationships feel welcome and comfortable and included in congregational life; of course, within certain Halakhic restrictions. I am proud to say that those in our congregation who are intermarried are couples that make a strong commitment to raising their children as Jews, including conversion of the children when required. And, I am extremely proud that we are one of probably very few congregations in our area that have serving as a Vice-President of the temple someone who is intermarried!
Our tent is also open wide to those who are gay or lesbian. Again, I am extremely proud that our temple is one of a very few Conservative congregations where such couples can solemnize their loving relationship with a legal commitment ceremony. You may or may not agree with such a policy; but is part of which makes us the most inclusive Conservative congregation in our area.
All of the above are vital ways that we make our temple more inclusive, more welcoming and more hamish. We do so because not only is it a moral imperative but a clear understanding of what our Torah teaches.
Yes, we open the flaps of our tent because each person must have equal access to our sacred community. Thus, no one that in the past society and religions have scorned are turned away; we believe that every individual is able to make their own significant contribution as the Psalmist decrees: “The stone that was rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” (118:22)
In addition, we do not know who might rise up when life is challenging, or when that will happen. The Psalmist cried out, “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?” He went on to answer his own question. “My help comes from God, Maker of Heaven and Earth” (121:1); hence, with faith we can find an answer we might have missed otherwise.
And last, I evoke the anointing of David to become King David: God told Samuel to anoint a man to replace Saul as the next Israelite king with a son of Jesse of Bethlehem. Saul assumed it would be the eldest, but God replied, “Pay no attention to his appearance or his stature, for I have rejected him. For not as man sees does the Lord see; a man sees only what is visible, but the Lord sees into the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) As a rabbi, as a congregation, as a community, we must follow God’s example and see what is in the heart!