Learning About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Is an Act of T’shuvah

Inside Leadership

Learning About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Is an Act of T’shuvah

Light bulb sitting atop a thought bubble drawn in chalk on a chalkboard

“So I turned about and applied my heart to know, to explore, and to search for wisdom and the reason for things.” – Ecclesiastes 7:25

One of the themes of the High Holidays is reflection, as with the passing of a full year come a lot of memories, both good and bad. We are encouraged to reflect on our accomplishments and the strides we’ve made as Jews and as human beings, and we are also encouraged to examine where we’ve missed the mark and need to apply the concept of t’shuvah (repentance).

It’s important to ask ourselves, too: Where have we missed the mark this year in regard to making room for all Jews and their families as full participants in our communities?

We all try to be the best we can be. We pride ourselves on our open minds, on our progressive Jewish values, and on our commitment to social justice and the pursuit of diversity, inclusion, and equity in the Jewish community and beyond. And yet, as a new year approaches, our communities still have a lot of work to do in order to embrace these qualities.

Our best intentions don’t always yield the best results, and the time approaches to reckon with the work that we’ve yet to accomplish. Part of that reckoning involves taking the time to learn, to “applying our hearts to know” – both in terms of educating ourselves on the work that still needs to be completed, and to learn from those on the margins in our communities about how to do better.

Notice that the verse talks about applying one’s heart to knowing, not one’s mind. What, exactly, does that mean?

Thinking logically about how to be more audaciously hospitable is important, but when we only focus on creating action steps and blueprints, we often fall into the trap of implementing our own narrow world views upon issues that don’t directly affect us.

Applying our hearts, however, means sitting in our discomfort. It means opening ourselves up to the experiences of others and taking their concerns seriously, no matter what our minds may otherwise try and tell us.

Additionally, applying one’s hearts to search for wisdom means searching deeply inward about what that means and what you aim to do. Therefore, determine what you are most curious about within the work of creating a more inclusive community – and start there.

Do you want to learn how to be a better listener? Do you want to help your congregation learn how to become an antiracist synagogue or set up congregational affinity groups dedicated to serving the common interests of a group of people (like an LGBTQ families group, or a multiracial families group)? Are there specific ways in which you’d like to learn about different gender identities and the needs of Jews with disabilities?

What specific aspects of improving our sacred community do you feel most compelled to take on? With whom do you want to perform this work, and how do you plan on assembling your team?

Once you’ve determined your starting point, figure out what obstacles are preventing you (and your congregational team, if one exists) from implementing this learning process. Do you struggle with a lack of reputable resources at your disposal? Do you or your community have unchecked "blind spots" regarding the lived experiences of Jews on the margins?

Once you determine the obstacles in your path toward t’shuvah, you can better create a blueprint for moving past them.

And remember: The very act of making this blueprint in the first place is t’shuvah in and of itself. Taking the time to learn and question old habits, to challenge norms, and to sit in discomfort means you are, in the words of Ecclesiastes, turning about and heading toward a path grounded in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Promise yourself – and your Jewish community – that this will be the year you make major changes; that you will act and learn with righteous love every day to achieve the audaciously hospitable communities our Jewish worlds so deeply deserve.

Not sure where to begin? Apply your heart to search for wisdom with assistance from the Union for Reform Judaism's Audacious Hospitality toolkit. Download it now and start learning with your congregation.

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Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in the 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. A graduate of Miami University in Oxford, OH, he holds a degree in creative writing and film studies. He grew up at Payne Chapel A.M.E. Church in Hamilton, OH, and converted to Judaism at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Named one of The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36,” Chris is passionate about Jewish studies, cinema, health and fitness, and bisexual advocacy in the LGBTQ+ community.

Chris Harrison

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