We recently celebrated the festival of Sukkot, known in Jewish tradition as z’man simchateinu – “the season of our joy.” Throughout the holiday, every single student at our school, as well as our JK and SK grandparents and special relatives, visited our school sukkah, a powerful symbol of welcoming, inclusion, stability and strength. Like a chuppah at a Jewish wedding, the sukkah provides protection and shelter from above, openness on all sides, and a spirit of warmth when gathering within.
For 50 years, The Leo Baeck Day School has embodied these virtues of welcoming and belonging. As the only Reform Jewish day school in Canada, we uphold the principles of a progressive denomination committed to “Big Tent” Judaism, which emphasizes the importance of making all those within – and at the margins of – our community feel welcomed, appreciated and valued. The Reform movement was the first to ordain women Rabbis, to include and ally with LGBTQ+ Jews, and to provide safe spaces and leadership opportunities for Jews of colour, interfaith families, Jews with disabilities and Jews-by-choice.
At our school, adopting and implementing our Statement of Belonging drives our curriculum and lived school experience. This spirit of inclusion and diversity shows up in a multitude of ways:
- Learning about customs and traditions from around the Jewish world
- Encouraging multiple viewpoints of Jewish texts and observances
- Participating in musical T’filah (Jewish prayer) that is designed to be vibrant, relevant and accessible to our students, staff and guests
- Practicing and thinking critically about the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (“welcoming guests”) both within the walls of our school and at all other points in life
A few summers ago, as I was considering the role that Leo Baeck – and other Jewish communities of which I am part – plays in terms of making all of its members feel an innate sense of belonging, I wrote “Belong,” a song that I hope conveys a message that is both timely and timeless. It celebrates the beauty of distinction – that which is singular and sacred in every individual.
Listen to the song here.
The song’s themes of diversity and belonging are drawn from a Rabbinic text (Sanhedrin 4:5), in which God, like one who stamps coins, casts each human being in the Divine image, yet no two ‘stamps’ are the same: “Ein echad meihen domeh la-chavero — There is not one of them who is the same as their fellow.” The essence of our tradition is seeing the holiness in ‘otherness’, never subjugating someone for being different, but acknowledging how that tapestry of difference elevates the entire community.
That is why our Statement of Belonging is so essential. To model for our students, staff and families that every member of our community is not merely included, but indeed, valued and embraced for their unique qualities. That our school can stand on shared values and responsibilities, while also encouraging diversity of thought, belief and experience. Like the sukkah that houses us during the “season of our joy,” let us surround ourselves all year with a community that grants shelter and protection from discrimination and hatred, and stands proudly on the pillars of inclusion, diversity and belonging.
by: Rabbi Noam Katz