Let Us Be Counted!," the UUs for Jewish Awareness conference in Atlanta continues to stir in me, causing me to reflect on our living UU tradition. The conference was distinctly UU and distinctly Jewish!
Apparently, the fact that there are UUs who also identify as Jewish boggles people's minds. Even among UUs there seems to be a lot of anxiety about people with multiple, mixed or fluid identities suggested keynote presenter Dr Ibrahim Farajaje of Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM). Farajaje' stated that the “mixities” and cross cultural influences between Unitarians and Jews date back to the16th century in Europe.
Dr. Farajaje' also reported that cultural competency has improved at SKSM as a result of multiculturalism among the student population. His keynote suggests to me that my alma mater has retained much of the philosophy that guided the institution during the 80's. SKSM wanted to prepare ministers to lead UU congregations to embrace every person as a potential source of divine revelation, as someone who could make profound contributions to the spiritual growth of the community. SKSM delivered this lesson in the way things were done. At SKSM, students taught seminary classes, and served on the board of trustees. The school helped make it possible for students to contribute to the community and to each other's preparation for ministry.
Farajaje told of lessons that arose as a result of having 3 Jewish identified UU seminarians in the same graduating class. For several years SKSM graduation had taken place on a Friday night. In discussions at SKSM, it came to light that the students' Jewish family members would not attend graduation if it occurred on "Shabbat." Graduation was moved to Thursday night and remains there still. This wasn't about making UU Jewish. It was about helping the seminary to stay UU, to remain consistent with UU values.
Dr. Farajaje' also shared a story of a Starr King student who led a chapel celebrating Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. As is Jewish custom, she placed on the altar apples and honey for people to eat at the conclusion of the service. She explain the significance of the tradition; wishing each other a sweet year ahead! She also did something that made the service characteristically UU. Rosh Hashana fell during Ramadan that year. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day. Knowing this, the service leader set aside some apples and honey on the altar for anyone who might be observing Ramadan to take with them for their nightime meal. Ibrahim said that people were really moved by the thoughtfulness, consideration and intention to be inclusive. I feel tears well inside me as I consider the clarity of the intention to establish the beloved community.
Farajaje said “When you plan an event, consider who the event is for. Are you doing something for your little group?, or for the entire congregation?” Robin Kottman, a leader from the "L'Chaim group" at the UU Congregation of Atlanta said that this principle had been responsible for their group's success. She said that they actively resisted beified as a group for UU Jews. From the onset, their intention was to be a group for UUs for Jewish Awareness. They found that many people were eager to learn, explore or celebrate Jewish traditions in a UU context. Many benefited bcause L'Chaim planned events with the entire congregation in mind.
I pray that we will all learn from their example!