Alex and I have been struggling with integrating Jewish traditions into our life, in a way that feels authentic and in line with our values and who we are. We are a gay, inter-faith family – Alex is Jewish and I am not. We have tried out different congregations, and nothing felt right. This struggle amplified once we had children, and we feel strong that we want our boys to understand their roots and history and feel pride in their Jewishness. So we started a little group this past January, along with other good friends who are an inter-faith couple with a small child. We named our group “Progressive Jewish Families of the East End”, with the idea Our idea that we would get together for monthly Shabbats, and to build a Jewish child-friendly community. We set up a Facebook group, shared it with a few friends, and hosted our first Shabbat.
Well, three Shabbats later, and our little group has grown to about 15 families, and continues to grow! The last Shabbat was wild, with tons of food and kids running around and lots of new faces. I am thrilled – we have made new friends, deepened existing friendships, and we have fostered a Jewish community beyond what I could imagine. So far, the Shabbats have been very casual with lots of great food and wine and celebration, and only a very time focused on Judaism (the prayer over the wine and Challah before we eat). However, what is amazing is that it doesn’t need to be explicit – it is clear that we are all connected in Jewish community (which means something unique to each of us).
What has also been interesting is my self-reflection on my own personal tensions in building community. While I teach Community Development at Centennial College and have worked in CD positions, it is very different when you are personally invested in building your own community. I teach about the organic nature of community, and the need to be flexible and wait and listen, instead of trying to take control and act. Change doesn’t happen quickly, and authentic change, from a bottom-up CD approach, needs to be dynamic and organic. This is great to teach, but so challenging for me to put into practice.
I am a go-getter, take-action, kind of person. I enjoy waking up each morning with a list in my head of what I need to accomplish and then getting it done, and feeling a sense of satisfaction when I go to sleep at night. I used to battle with this, as it seemed in tension with my Buddhist philosophy, but I have made peace with it now. I have learned through the years (especially as a parent!) how to be more flexible with what I accomplish and more in peace with the moment, through my work and my daily life. However, I still love action, the feeling of moving forward, doing more, improving, making a difference!
Our Jewish group has taught me the value (and challenge!) of waiting and hanging back and ‘not acting’, in order to give community a chance to move at its own pace. We had a lull of no one offering to host Shabbat in April. I wanted to offer to host, but we couldn’t because of both Alex and my crazy April schedule. Some of the group members expressed to me that they couldn’t host Shabbat because their house is too small. How to solve this problem? – my mind immediately went into problem-solving mode, and I mentally wrote a list of community spaces that I would call and get free space and we could do Shabbat there! Before I made any calls, Alex (my wise wise wife) said “hold on and wait!”. Wait? For how long? Wait for what? “Just wait” she says. And so we waited. And sure enough, someone has offered to host Shabbat next week (thanks Ruth!). Her house is small but we are all comfortable to sit on the floor or stand. What is most important is that we get together to build community.
Wu Wei is a central Taoist concept, translated as ‘non-action’. It is often understood as “action without action” or “effortless doing”. Wu wei is not about passivity and just giving up, but its about being engaged in the process, and alert and aware of what is happening. Action is not to be forced, but should be effortless. I need to remind myself that ‘non-action’ is just as important as action, and often more important.
*P.S: If you are an East Ender who fits the ‘Jewish Progressive Family’ demographic, please feel free to find our group on Facebook and send a message to join!