By Michelle Lawson
With Passover beginning this evening, our minds are focused on our annual Seder celebrations to retell the story of our people’s Exodus from Egypt. Each year at Passover, we read the Haggadah (the guide book for Seder) and re-live our collective memory of bondage and subsequent freedom, with the critical reminder that “we were once strangers.”
In addition to preparing for and celebrating Passover, LiNK Jewish Buffalo is also immersed in preparation for the upcoming 2022 Belonging Conference, an opportunity for volunteer and professional leaders from across Jewish Buffalo, to gather, grow, learn, and work together to ensure no one feels minimized, marginalized, ignored, and/or excluded from Jewish spaces.
As we prepare to retell the story of the Four Children around our Seder tables this weekend, let us contemplate how we can create a Jewish Buffalo where all children – and, all Jews, their friends and life partners, and those exploring Judaism – have access to Jewish living and learning experiences that help them thrive regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability.
The Wise Child within us may be aware of the lack of belonging and diversity within our separate communities. While the diversity within our Jewish community grows, some of our spaces may not be ready. Even with wise minds, The Wise Child may not have the tools, language, or resources necessary to create these opportunities. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed with even starting such an endeavor. By participating in the Belonging Conference, leaders can continue on the path to bringing the vision of including all to reality.
In contrast, we also find the Wicked Child archetype in our Haggadah, who may be lulled by the comfort of the status quo, perhaps overlooking increasing diversity and the needs of un-engaged individuals. The Wicked Child may think that we can just ignore those Jews with different abilities, ethnic cultures, and gender identities. For them we must increase self-awareness through discussion and education, as the survival of our Jewish family depends on it. By participating in the Belonging Conference, leaders will learn why the rallying cry of “nothing about us without us” is integral to our future.
The Simple Child believes that fixing one aspect of our community will serve as a panacea for ongoing issues that reside in our organizations. They may even believe that just stating “diversity and inclusion” in a mission statement will create a sense of Belonging, and that a “Welcome Home” mat shows tolerance. However, we must still do the ongoing work necessary and not just a one-time review of policy language in our bylaws. By participating in the Belonging Conference, leaders will understand why creating a culture of Belonging is an ongoing conversation that touches every part of an organization.
Finally, the Child Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask is totally unaware of the challenges that our own community faces. They might be clouded by their own biases, assumptions, and frame of reality to see differing perspectives and needs that others face. We can all fall back on the familiar and traditions that creates tunnel vision and ensure all remains stagnant. By falling into this trap, we can easily lose focus on what is really important: the strength in the whole representation of our community. By participating in the Belonging Conference, leaders will gain a foundational understanding of Belonging – what it is and why it is important and create practical and easy short-term next steps that can be taken to put the learning into practice.
We all stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai, each one of us then and now. This year, let us commit to reaching out to every Jew among us, no matter how we look, our backgrounds, and abilities. There is beauty and strength and blessing in our diversity. Let us become inspired with new questions as we grow in our self-awareness and togetherness. May your Passover be restorative and redemptive. Chag Pesach Sameach (happy Passover) and see you at the Belonging Conference!
Michelle Lawson is Vice Chair of Belonging at LiNK Jewish Buffalo, serves as a member of the Belonging Conference Planning Team and is the owner of Knitorious Knerd.
For more information and to register for the Belonging Conference, visit buffalojewishfederation.org/belongingconference