Posts Tagged 'Inclusion'

One of Us: Heathens

Two years ago my kids and I could not get in the car and listen to the radio without listening to the song Heathens by 21 Pilots Just like Desposito, Heathens was all the rage. I must warn you before you listen to it that this song is a bit of an earworm. Please just remember that you have been warned.

 

 

The song plays with the idea of being an insider or an outsider to this group of a misfit group of heathens. But what is a heathen? A heathen is a person who does not belong to a widely held religion. Today people feel like they are outsiders to faith and are in turn skeptical of people who want to join them. As the song goes:

Why’d you come, you knew you should have stayed
I tried to warn you just to stay away
And now they’re outside ready to bust
It looks like you might be one of us

The song tells the story of an outsider to a group of outsiders and how that person becomes an insider.

This reminds me of three successive stories told in the Talmud of three heathens who come before Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shamai ( Shabbat 31a). Each of them hoped to join the Jewish people, but came with a unique stipulation. In each case Shamai pushes them away and Hillel finds a way to meet them where they are. With Hillel’s help they join the Jewish people. In the process they relented on their stipulation and they were transformed. The outsider becomes an insider of this group of outsiders. In someone way, at least by this story being shared in the Talmud, we as a people were also changed by their joining us. This leaves me with the question in these three stories as with the song Heathens, were the outsiders accommodated or included?

I was thinking about this when reading Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

If there be found in your midst, within any of thy gates which the Lord your God gives you, man or woman, that does that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing God’s covenant, and has gone and served other gods, and worshiped them, or the sun, or the moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have commanded not; and it be told you, and you hear it, then shalt you inquire diligently, and, behold, if it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel; then you shall bring forth that man or that woman, who have done this evil thing, unto your gates, even the man or the woman; and you shall stone them with stones, that they die.( Deuteronomy 17:2- 5)

These are some harsh words for the heathen. They are supposed to be excluded in the most severe way, being stoned to death. Do we still want to maintain such a harsh disposition to the “heathens” in our midst? Maybe we should be more like Hillel and strive to meet people where they are. I appreciate the fear of Shamai, we are a group of outsiders to history. We have a lot at risk of losing our identity by compromise in any way shape or form. At the same time I feel that we have what to gain from real mutual engagement with people different than ourselves. I do not think that Hillel was just accommodating, if we actually include these outsiders we might just realize that they “might be one of us.”

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Playing with Your Food

Soon enough the Seder will be here. After we sit down and have our first cup of wine we will say, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and celebrate Passover.” These are not original, but I wanted to ask three questions. Why do we open the Seder with these words? Why do we make the Matzah the focal point of our discourse on freedom? Isn’t it a little late to be inviting people to our Seder?

Both literally and figuratively we want to make sure that everyone has a place at the table. So while we should be concerned about people who are hungry and are excluded due to poverty, we are also concerned with those who for other reasons are excluded from joining in the celebration. At its core, Passover is a holiday in which we celebrate becoming a nation. As we start the Seder we remind ourselves that we need to retell the national narrative in a way that includes everyone.

It is not surprising to see food as the media of choice for a ritual. We do love our food. In many respects we preserve memory with all of our eating. At its core Passover is a celebration of the vitality of the Jewish People. From its conception we split up into family groups to celebrate the Passover sacrifice. In reality as much as we talk about living in a greater Jewish community; we all live in many different smaller communities. So while we have a mitzvah to sit and eat and remember, inviting people to our Seder knits together our communities into this ideal larger community.

We might think that it is too late to wait until we are sitting at our Seder to invite people. I prefer to think about the fact that we are challenging ourselves for the work of the entire upcoming year. Whether the issue is poverty or inclusion in the community, there is not going to be a quick fix that we can accomplish in the night of the Seder. To the contrary, we are actually committing ourselves to do the heavy lifting throughout the course of the whole year. Through sharing meals we each can connect to the network of Jewish tables, but is one meal enough? We need to work all year to link these communities in a deep and lasting way.

The Seder begins with this Matzah and it ends with the finding and eating of the Afikoman. In the Seder, the Matzah keeps our attention focused through a game of hide and seek. Through the course of year we are also playing another game of linking people to our common table. Similar to what we see on Purim it would be an interesting game of connecting the dots if we were to map out how a network of Mishloach Manot was connected.

Thanks to a grant from Avi Chai this past summer I attended Games for Change. This is a wonderful conference on using games for education and social change. There I learned about Macon Money. Macon Money is a community-wide social game designed for the residents of Macon, Georgia. Using a new local currency with a fun twist, the game builds person-to-person connections throughout the community while supporting local businesses. This game seemed to have been an amazing way to create positive incentives around the people of Macon building community. I would encourage you to learn more about how the game worked. In addition to giving its participants the feeling of community, it produced amazing data.

I am not trying to limit our imagination about Passover to a large social game like Macon Money, but you have to admit that there are some similarities and they are both fun. I have no doubt that if you mapped out the Mishloach Manot from your community or our efforts to invite people to our Seder it would look like this data from Macon Money.

In addition, there is no doubt that realizing this network on Passover has an effect on community throughout the year. What would it look like to play a version of Macon Money in a local Jewish community? How might this change how we think about and even do community throughout the year? What would it look like as an experiment to take some money out of core allocations from our local Federations and give that money to the users to create community and let them use this communal currency to “play Jewish community”? I am not only interested in making participation fun; I am also interested in inverting how we spend our time and money. What would it look like for agencies to be spending less energy, money, and time arguing and reporting on the importance of their work to the people who volunteer and work at Federations and more time reaching out to people to use their services and participate in the community? The work of Federation is serious work, but this does not mean we should overlook the value of games. I am not overlooking the fact that games can craft serious fun, but this kind of game is important because the game mechanics themselves create incentives for the desired behavior at every level.

I am not suggesting that we leave the future of our community up to chance. I realize that there might be a risk of putting this spending power in the hands of the players, but this will all be happening within the larger planning process for a community or what the players call the rules of the game. But structuring this like Macon Money ensures that our communal currency is current and up to date with the changing needs of our community. It might be interesting to see how this kind of game might play out (pun intended) in terms of including the people most excluded from our Seder. Our future is way too serious to not have fun with it. It is time to play with our food.

Chag Kasher V’Sameakh- Have Fun and Liberating Passover

-As seen on Avi Chai’s Education Technology Blog and Adapted from my blog on Purim


More on Woodcutters and Water Carriers

Last week marked our daughter Emunah’s first birthday and my first year anniversary of writing this blog. At the start of last week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim VaYelech we read,

9You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, 10your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodcutter to water carrier (Deuteronomy  29:9-10)

Every Jew was included in the renewal of the covenant, regardless of his or her socio-economic situation or the variety of his or her religious/ritual commitment. But, what can we learn from the Torah’s specifying from the woodcutter to the water carrier?

The Bible seems to be telling a story of a dynamic tension between these two vocations. Last year I explored how Adam and Eve might be understood metaphorically as the woodcutter and the water carrier. This year I wanted to suggest two more readings.

Soon after we celebrate Rosh HaShanah we will celebrate Simchat Torah and reboot our yearly cycle of Torah reading.  And then just after the creation of the world, we will turn our attention to Noah and his generation. While there are many stories in the Bible in which people are looking for water, in the time of Noah that is not their issue. God sent a flood to expunge the world of the poor behavior of the sinners of Noah’s generation. Noah saved humanity from the peril of too much water by following God’s direction to make and ark of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14) In this context we can see that the people acting like animals were the water carriers and Noah in hewing the wood for the ark was the woodcutter. This is to say that in last week’s Torah portion we were inviting everyone from the savior ( Noah)  to the sinner ( the people who caused the flood). We learn that no one has the monopoly on access to Torah.

For today’s readers the story of the flood seems like a Disney movie, but have evolved so much since biblical times. We think we are in control and that we have conquered nature. But it is obvious from the recent flooding  in Pakistan and Katrina here in America that this is far from the case. As much as we try we cannot transcend nature. Even Noah the person who survived the flood by becoming the woodcutter did not know when to leave the ark he built. There we read,
The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth.( Genesis 8:11)
There is a sweet irony in that we almost went extinct in acting like animals in becoming the water carriers and it was an animal that became a woodcutter and saved Noah and his family.  In this sense the invitation of the woodcutter to the water carrier  is a reminder of the famous words of Rabbi Simcha Bunam. He said,
Every person should have two pockets. In one, [there should be a note that says] bishvili nivra ha’olam, ‘for my sake was the world created.’ In the second, [there should be a note that says] anokhi afar va’efer, ‘I am dust and ashes.’
It seems that control itself might be illusory. I hope that Emunah has another wonderful year perfecting her walking and learning how to navigate her “two pockets”.

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