“We must either progress or retrograde; there is no standing still.” Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise
Although the phrase still raises confusion, Audacious Hospitality is not a new concept: Sarah and Abraham’s welcoming of the three “strangers” is as relevant today as it was in biblical times. Rabbi Alexander Schindler created Reform Jewish Outreach in the 1970s to address the growing needs of Jews-by-choice and intermarried families by engaging them in conversations and actively addressing their unique needs. As part of the Union for Reform Judaism’s 2020 vision, Audacious Hospitality is the focused effort to embrace Jewish diversity and reach out to those who are disengaged in Jewish life (URJ, 2015). Today, the push to open the circle and welcome people who are often unrecognized and underserved in Jewish spaces is increasingly urgent. A 2019 study demonstrated that Jews of color have been systemically undercounted or uncounted in Jewish population studies. The report estimates that of the 7.2 million United States Jews over 1,000,000, are Jews of color- over 12% of our population. Many Jews of color consistently report feeling unwelcome, unsafe, or interrogated in Jewish spaces, where their identity is often questioned. I often have a difficult time convincing LGBTQ Jewish friends to join me at services. Many, including myself, have been alienated in their Jewish experiences. Clearly, there is much work to be done and important voices that must be amplified.
When my partner and I were planning our move to the Hudson Valley, finding a synagogue that would welcome us, a gay intermarried couple, was crucial. We searched for one that reflected our dearest Jewish values:
A congregation that embraces Jews of color and all people of color, intermarried families, multiracial families, Jews from all socioeconomic positions, kids, older adults, Disabled Jews/Jews with disabilities, LGBTQ people (including trans and non-binary Jews), Jews-by-Choice, Jewish women taking on leadership roles, Jews from across the political spectrum, Mizrahi, Sephardic, & Ashkenazic Jews, Jews who are unaffiliated and uninspired by Jewish communal offerings, and those who have been made to feel unwelcome and unloved in Jewish spaces. A congregation that values relationships, learning, and joyful worship. A congregation that honors elders and embraces young people. A congregation with a strong emphasis on education for people of all ages.
I thank the source daily that Rabbi Romer welcomed and ushered us into this community. She embodies Audacious Hospitality– never waiting for us to show up, but seeking us out and creating pathways to our ongoing engagement. As stated by the URJ, “Jewish diversity, in all its hues, is no longer a wave – it is the ocean of Jewish life.” Everyone deserves to be embraced by their community. People need to be shown, not just told, that they deserve to be embraced and loved in Jewish communal spaces. It is our responsibility to love them as we would any other member of our family and community, with no exceptions.
When I first joined CEHV, I was unsure if the congregation allowed same-sex marriages, although my partner and I had been welcomed warmly. Why? It wasn’t on our website. This was not for any malicious reason, merely because nobody realized it had to be explicit, as Reform Rabbis are allowed, but not required, to perform gay weddings. We have since worked to highlight LGBTQ inclusion across digital platforms so there is no room for misinterpretation/confusion. When a friend called before Rainbow Shabbat to ask about gender-neutral bathrooms (for those who are unsafe in gendered bathrooms), we made a sign indicating where one could be found.
My experience of CEHV is that we are a warm congregation that, like all thriving Jewish communities, is defined by our progress, bravery, and willingness to learn, grow, and work toward positive change. This continual reawakening to Judaism’s radical mandate of Tikkun Olam– to repair the world and to ensure justice for those disenfranchised and disadvantaged- is what keeps us expanding while so many other congregations shrink and disappear. This work requires humility, self-awareness, bravery, and a good sense of humor.
Our Membership and Welcoming committee does an admirable job greeting visitors and welcoming and honoring new members. These acts of Hacnasat Orchim (welcoming the stranger) are holy work. Audacious Hospitality will not attempt to replace or replicate these efforts. Our intention is to complement and support Welcoming and Membership’s work by focusing on larger systemic and relational changes and creating justice across all platforms. Listening is the foundation of this work: listening to the narratives and wisdom of our congregants as well as potential members. Through this process, we will create specific and actionable steps for meaningful change. Thankfully we have congregants who are trained to undertake such sensitive endeavors and already seeking out and initiating these conversations.
In the fall, you will see several changes around the synagogue, some that may seem inconsequential, but are often pivotal. We will focus on creating not merely an ADA-compliant synagogue, but one that is attractive to disabled Jews/Jews with disabilities. Along with President Leslie Kidder, we will be issuing membership surveys covering a range of different topics pertinent to CEHV’s ongoing growth. We will bring in speakers and cultural programming addressing marginalized Jewish populations. Through a grant-funded initiative at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, we will offer free cultural responsiveness training seminars for our faculty, leadership, and community. We will work with all of the groups, organizations, and divisions in our synagogue to ensure we can be of maximum use to our community. We look forward to supporting the incredible work of the Membership and Welcoming Committee, as well as learning from their knowledge and history.
Thankfully we are not alone in this mission. The URJ has published extensive toolkits on Audacious Hospitality5, and specific toolkits focusing on LGBTQ Jews and Jews of color. These resources are available directly from the URJ, which is linked to our website. Interested in being a part of Audacious Hospitality? We welcome any and all contributions. Please contact me through our website or at CEHVwebmaster@gmail.com to get involved or with any questions or thoughts. We need your voices.
Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)
Audacious Hospitality Toolkit from the URJ
Why Racial Justice is a Jewish Issue by April Baskin, URJ Director of Audacious Hospitality
Keshet envisions a world in which all LGBTQ Jews and our families can live with full equality, justice, and dignity. By strengthening Jewish communities and equipping Jewish organizations with the skills and knowledge they need to make all LGBTQ Jews feel welcome, we work to ensure the full equality of all LGBTQ Jews and our families in Jewish life. We also create spaces in which all queer Jewish youth feel seen and valued and advance LGBTQ rights nationwide.
Be'chol Lashon (“in every language”) strengthens Jewish identity by raising awareness about the ethnic, racial and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. Be’chol Lashon brings the historic Jewish commitment to civil rights and racial justice forward into the 21st century. Embracing the historical diversity of the Jewish people and, more importantly, the growing diversity of the community today is the most important step toward securing relevancy in an exciting American future.