What Does it Mean To Be Welcoming: Gender Inclusivity

This blog post is the first in a three-part series exploring what it means for a congregation to be truly welcoming. Each week we will explore a different topic: gender inclusivity, welcoming people of all (dis)abilities, and appropriate touch.

Walking into a place of worship, it’s possible to take our welcome for granted, but that has not always been the case (and continues not to be, in some communities) for LGBTQIA and genderqueer/non-binary Jews. For those of us who are not cisgender, entering new spaces can cause us to feel uncertain how we will be treated. While a community might fervently believe that it is accepting of others, newcomers might not perceive this spirit of acceptance without gestures of explicit welcome.

Since biblical times, Jews have carried on a tradition of engaging with various expressions of gender. In fact, Jewish texts contain references to six different genders.

  • Androgenos – one who has both male and female characteristics
  • Tumtum – one of uncertain or undecided gender
  • Aylonit – one who is born female and transitions to male
  • Saris – one who is born male and transitions to female
  • Male – male biology and identifying
  • Female – female biology and identifying

Because Modern English typically insists upon gendered personal pronouns, we can find ourselves searching for workarounds to accommodate cultural understandings of genders beyond “he” and “she.” Modern English usage often leads us to pause mid-sentence or mid-thought to reconsider the assumptions about gender we are about to make. Just as our Jewish ancestors developed a lexicon to include various expressions of gender, we must do the same in our language.

If we wish to be more welcoming, being mindful of pronoun preferences is a good place to start. When we introduce ourselves, we might add our own chosen pronoun; for example, “Hi, my name is Gillian, you can use she/her pronouns when referring to me.” When we introduce someone new, we might say, “Sally this is Newbie; Newbie – what pronouns do you prefer?” This signals that we are not taking our gender expressions for granted and welcome others to do the same.

AARC will be offering pronoun stickers to add to our member name tags. These little stickers will help all of us avoid any assumptions and assure a special welcome to those whose pronouns are often misused. The new stickers will be on the welcome table beginning at this Friday’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Jewish history is overrun with accounts of our people rendered powerless, discriminated against, and treated as second class citizens. As Jews, we have an obligation to ensure that other marginalized communities never have to face these obstacles when engaging with us. It is in this spirit that I welcome you to practice this new way of interacting with gender and incorporate it into our community when welcoming guests and visitors to our congregation.

Meet the Yahrzeit Committee

The Yahrzeit Committee is a benevolent band of volunteers that dedicates their mitzvah work to honor the memories of our loved ones. The committee maintains a database of Yahrzeits submitted to them, which then appear in the Tuesday Telegraph in the relevant week. As time allows, congregants may receive a handwritten letter acknowledging the Yahrzeit.

What is a Yahrzeit? A Yahrzeit is the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Jews celebrate their loved one’s Yahrzeit every year to honor the person’s memory and legacy. When we light the Yahrzeit candle, we are honoring the person as well as the greater cycle of life and death.

Jewish adults honor their loved ones by reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish during services. Because there is an opportunity immediately before the prayer to pronounce the name of the departed, Kaddish facilitates both a personal remembrance of the person as well as their recognition by the community. To learn more about Yahrzeit and Jewish rituals regarding death and dying, see this comprehensive article from RitualWell.

If you would like to add your loved ones to the Yahrzeit database, please email a note about them as well as the name and date of their death to rnmik@yahoo.com or aarcgillian@gmail.com.

On Naming: What Do We Call Ourselves

Drawing inspiration from Rabbi Ora’s blog post on naming last week, we put out the call to members of our congregation to explore what naming means to us in the context of ourselves, our congregation, and as Reconstructionists. For today’s blog post, the first in a series, we explored what we call ourselves.

For many, one of the most sacred parts of belonging to a Jewish community is taking part in the same Jewish rituals throughout our lifetimes that our ancestors have observed for generations. As Reconstructionists, many members of our congregations have chosen to fulfill these rituals in ways that honor these traditions while holding a specific meaning for themselves.

My great grandfather’s pen

When I was a child, the few belongings we had from my great grandfather, Godfrey August Garson, were passed on to me as I was his namesake. Since I was born female, I was given his initials rather than his full name, in the Ashkenazic Tradition.

Just the other day while rustling through a drawer, my son found my great grandfather’s gold pen, engraved with the initials GAG. I told my son that this pen belonged to our ancestor who I was named for; I then got to have a great conversation with him about which ancestor he is named after. Knowing that my name and my children’s names have meaning and are part of a tradition is important to my Jewish identity and sense of self.

Like me, AARC member and Beit Sefer teacher Shlomit was named after an ancestor. However, rather than use the initials, her parents chose a name that sounded like Shlomo, her grandfather’s name, and referred to King Solomon. Shlomit says, “I love its meaning, from the word Shalom, a peace maker. I am working on inner peace with yoga and nature walks, and I work on my communication skills to bring peace to those around me. I’m not royalty like King Solomon, but I do believe we can all make a difference.”

As a parent, participating in a naming ceremony or Brit Milah is one of the first rites of passage we take with our children. Congregant Carol Lessure remembers participating in a group naming ceremony during Fourth Friday Shabbat! This is a perfect example of how Reconstructionists redefine these traditions, in this instance to include our larger community.

In addition to the traditions surrounding our English names, many in our congregation also have Hebrew names. Cherished member Alan Haber received his Jewish name, Eliyahu, at the age of 50. It was given to him by Rabbi Zalman Schachter in recognition of Alan’s work in Israel and Palestine. To Alan, his name means “may he show himself in you to you” and “who made an Ark for the Shekhinah.”

Participating in a Reconstructionist congregation offers so many opportunities for us to express ourselves as Jews and to incorporate these traditions in ways that feel both meaningful and relevant. Naming doesn’t happen only at birth or during a Bris; it can be given to us during adulthood to honor our work. Our names can also serve as guiding lights, reminding us how we embody concepts such as Shalom, or how we honor the ancestors for whom we are named. What does your name mean to you?

In the next two articles, we will explore what we call ourselves as Reconstructionists and what we call our congregation. If you would like to contribute to this discussion, I encourage you to email your ideas to me at aarcgillian@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

In the Washtenaw Jewish News

AARC made a few appearances in the Washtenaw Jewish News this summer.

Here’s a profile/interview of Rabbi Ora, by Emily Eisbruch:

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Here’s an article about the Beit Sefer:

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Here’s our profile in the Summer Guide:

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And here are the ads we ran, to go with the above.

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Shavua tov!

Our Yom Kippur Workshops in the Washtenaw Jewish News

As is our tradition at AARC, between services on Yom Kippur we have several workshops where we can together study, meditate, and discuss. This year, there will be three sessions.  From 2:15 to 3:30 pm Barbara Boyk-Rust will lead “Soul Nourishment: Meditation and Sacred Chant for the Quiet of the Day” and Ellen Dannin will lead “Yonah – It’s Much More than Just a Whale.” From 3:45 to 5 pm, Margo Schlanger and Ronald Simpson-Bey will lead a conversation about the modern experience of imprisonment, and what kind of conditions–physical and programmatic–create the best chance of t’shuvah.  All are welcome to join any of these workshops, whether or not you are attending services with us.

Thanks to Jonathan Cohn for writing this up for the Washtenaw Jewish News:

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Just out about AARC in the Washtenaw Jewish News

This year’s Washtenaw Jewish News guide to Jewish Life in Washtenaw County includes an ad highlighting our upcoming fall events and a profile of our congregation.

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Two ads from this month’s Washtenaw Jewish News

AARC and Food, Land & Justice both had ads in the June/July/Aug. 2016 Washtenaw Jewish News.  Lots to tell the world about!

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Beit Sefer Open House

AARC Beit Sefer has had a terrific year–with fun and engaging teachers and madrichim/teenage teaching assistants, lots of parent participation, and integration into the whole congregation. Member Becky Ball, mom to Sam and Joey, has stepped up to chair the Beit Sefer committee which includes Sarah Abramowicz, Candace Bramson, Stacy Dieve, and Allison Stupka (and Clare Kinberg, ex officio in her role as Beit Sefer director).

We’re all working to showcase and grow the Beit Sefer–and that includes an Open House this Sunday (May 1) for prospective students and their parents. It’s during the normal school time–9:30 to 11:30 am.  Here’s the article in the Washtenaw Jewish News (page 8) about the Open House (thanks for writing it, Becky!).  Do you know someone who might be looking for Jewish education for their elementary age kids?  Please invite them!  You can use this letter as a template.  And don’t forget to join us at second Saturday services on May 14, 10 am, led by the G’dolim.

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Our new yad, in the Washtenaw Jewish News

Renewed thanks to Idelle Hammond-Sass for donating her time and creativity to make AARC’s yad, and to Emily Eisbruch and Clare Kinberg for writing this article in the Washtenaw Jewish News.WJN_Feb-16-web--Yad-article

WJN article about our Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton

Here’s the article in the new issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News about our upcoming Tu B’Shevat Shabbaton.  Led by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, and co-sponsored by the Jewish Alliance for Food, Land, & Justice.  More info here.  Please join us; the events are free, but RSVP required for childcare (email Clare Kinberg) and for the Seder, at http://shabbaton-foodlandjustice.eventbrite.com.

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And here’s the advertisement.  Feel free to download, print and share!

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