Posted on May 3rd, 2010 No comments
We learn in Midrash Tanuhma B, Hukkat that in paving the way for the people of Israel to make their way across the wilderness to Mt. Sinai, God smoothed out the landscape lest mountainous terrain make the people of Israel weary on their way to revelation. This vision of paving a smooth path for people toward the Torah is one that I would venture to say guides most Jewish professionals. Yet, those who we are trying to embrace often feel somewhat weary from the obstacles they encounter.
Closing the gap between welcome we hope to extend and the welcome people experience is the work of the Jewish Welcome Network. Based in San Francisco, the Network emerged from the Bay Area communities’ need to address the diversity of those connected with and interested in connecting to the Jewish community. Founding Executive Director Karen Kushner, is aware that communal Jewish professionals don’t always recognize the ways in which newcomers or returnees to the Jewish communities encounter the community. Often being welcoming is equated with watering down the content of Judaism. Kushner, who comes from a family with many rabbis, values the work of Jewish professionals and the values of our tradition. She works with Jewish professionals to consider how, even as we uphold the norms and practices of Judaism, we can help others hear our message of welcome.
Based on her years of experience, as a therapist and with diversity of the Jewish world, Kushner has put together a significant library of materials on many topics that can help pave a smoother journey. According to Kushner, just putting a series of pamphlets in the lobby that signal that not everyone who walks in the door looks the same, knows Hebrew, has traditionally Jewish grandchildren, for example, can make a big difference to how people perceive their welcome. What I like about these booklets is that they are available online for easy download. They can be printed up in multiple copies for a waiting room or called up on demand in anticipation of a particular counseling or family concern. For example, Kushner’s most recent booklet explains in a straightforward, though not simplistic, manner, the meaning and rituals of Shavuot.
Kushner also runs a listserv that keeps Jewish professionals connect, learn and grow with regards to creating welcoming community.
As we count down towards matan Torah I hope that we will all be blessed with the ability to remove the barriers from those journeying towards the embrace of our tradition.