Not all of us are ready or able to take advantage of the beauty and richness of our Jewish heritage and its traditions. We all move at our own pace, follow our unique inner voices and seek meaning in ways that we alone can own. This week's Torah portion, B'haalot'cha, asks the question, what happens when we are not able to participate in or fulfill important rituals as expected?
The Passover sacrifice is to be offered at a specific time and place - but with amazing insight, the Torah recognized that some of the Israelites would be unable to reach the Temple or wouldn't meet the required standards of purity because of contact with a dead body. This is why the Torah institutes a Second Passover - Pesach Sheni - one month later: to give those who were previously unready a second chance.
On first reading, the concept of Pesach Sheni might seem inapplicable to our modern lives. But there's a deeper lesson here. Today there are many reasons why people cannot or do not participate in Jewish communal life. Some live far away from from family or places of worship; others have physical limitations due to aging, illness or special needs. Some have had negative experiences that have caused them to step away from the Jewish community, and they are understandably hesitant to reconnect. And as we learned from our recent JMAP Community Study, some individuals simply have no one to go with.
Federation and its partners are committed to the concept of Klal Yisrael - the whole Jewish people. Locally, that means striving to include every member of our community in accessible Jewish activities. Here are just a few examples of our community's efforts:
- Jewish Association for Community Living provides community based, independent living options for adults with developmental disabilities. With support from Federation's Annual Campaign, JCL staff and volunteers help program participants maintain a strong connection to Jewish life and traditions - including specially tailored Shabbat services at local synagogues and Shabbat and Jewish holiday celebrations at home.
- Elderly clients of Hebrew HealthCare and Hoffman SummerWood Community enjoy kosher food, Shabbat and holiday observances, and Jewish pastoral care with support from Federation.
- The Mandell JCC receives Federation support to provide Judaic programming for seniors, young families and those with special needs.
- Federation itself is working to embrace every member of our Jewish community. Over the past year we've helped Jewish educators and communal professionals build their LGBTQ inclusion skills with workshops by Keshet, a national Jewish LGBTQ organization, and award-winning youth educator Scott Fried. We're collaborating with Jewish Family Services on EmployAbility, a new program that will help adults with disabilities find meaningful employment. We're also casting as wide a net as possible to invite people to participate in our community programs and revisiting our program formats to make them more inclusive and welcoming.
Federation and its partners take the lesson of B'haalot'cha very seriously. We want every person to have the opportunity to participate in the Jewish community in the way that best fits their needs. It's a big goal, but we're making progress. With your help, we can broaden our reach, create more opportunities and break down more barriers.
President and CEO