Embracing the Diversity in Our Community

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Teaching our children that diversity is an essential component of our past and our present is of utmost importance.

As the idiom goes, “you can’t put a square peg into a round hole.” As we begin the New Year, it may be helpful to ponder what this expression means in our lives and in the Jewish religion.

We are often required by society, our families or religion to strive to meet specific demands and become someone that we simply are not. It is hard enough to live in a world where Jewish people are stereotyped as having certain features and characteristics. Let’s recognize and embrace the differences among our fellow Jews as an asset.

The history of Jewish diversity can be traced back throughout time. The Jewish experience is based on the foundations of diversity, which is contrary to the belief that all Jews are the same. The Jewish people are an amalgam of people representing various origins, languages, tribes and skin color. Our history includes strong connections with Mediterranean, European, Asian and African cultures.

Our rich history is also filled with well-known relationships that involve interracial and intercultural diversity.

Let’s recall when Moses married Zipporah, who was an Ethiopian, or when Solomon and David each married women from other parts of Africa. Unfortunately, many people still believe that our culture derives from only Eastern and Central Europe. It is essential to recognize the importance of diversity in the modern and futuristic Jewish community.

Teaching our children that diversity is an essential component of our past and our present is of utmost importance. It helps make Judaism more relevant to their world, as young people are growing up in a society that more and more celebrates differences. Diversity in our society is reflected in music, film, art, politics and education.

It is often helpful to think about the images that come to mind while reflecting on diversity in the Jewish religion.

One may involve watching Jewish athletes from every state in the U.S. and various countries proudly marching in the Maccabiah Games, a program resembling the Olympics in which Jewish youth and young adults compete in athletic events. Seeing young people with various types of skin tone and hair demonstrates that Jewish people can appear different but share common roots and values.

The Jewish community also recognizes that not all families are based on traditional stereotypes.

Both LGBT and interfaith families should be welcomed to play an important role in the future existence of the religion. At some synagogues, you may see parents of the same sex, single parents and interfaith families. Welcoming all types of families is an important component to the existence of the Jewish religion.

We all have unique images that resonate in our mind about what a diverse Jewish community looks like. As a Jewish society, we can’t afford to ignore the existence of diversity from our past and embrace it in our present lives. If we try to be exclusive, we may threaten our survival. Close your eyes as you visualize the many positive images of diversity that surround you in your life.

As we move to the future and pray for the continual growth of our faith and presence of Jewish values in our world, we can’t, as a Jewish society, think that we must all be the same or try to fit a square peg into a round hole since we have never been the same.

Marcy Shoemaker, Ph.D., is a psychologist at Abramson Center.

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