Radically Inclusive High Holidays Coming Your Way!

As we move into September(!) and towards the end of Deuteronomy, this week's Torah portion, Nitzavim, opens with a famous set of verses:"You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that God may establish you this day as God's people and be your God, as God promised you and as God swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day." (Click here to read the Hebrew text as well of Deut. 29:9-14.)

As we move into September(!) and towards the end of Deuteronomy, this week's Torah portion, Nitzavim, opens with a famous set of verses:

"You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer— to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that God may establish you this day as God's people and be your God, as God promised you and as God swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day." (Click here to read the Hebrew text as well of Deut. 29:9-14.)

Reading these lines carefully, it's hard not to notice how radicallyinclusive this text is trying to be with regards to who "counts" as part of the covenanted people! In the first line, the extraneous phrase "all of you" (in Hebrew, the word "kulchem") could only be there for extra emphasis. By naming categories of people -- from tribal heads to water drawer, adults and children alike, and even the stranger -- the text drives home the point of just how expansive the definition of community is intended to be... here, everyone counts.

The last part of the quote above is a little more curious, as the text explains that the covenant applies both to "those who are standing here with us this day" and also to "those who are not with us here this day" ("v'et asher einenu poh imanu hayom"). Drawing on an older midrashic tradition, Rashi clarifies that the text is not referring to persons who happened to be absent from the assembly, but rather, to future generations. The expansive definition of Israelite community even transcends time, to include us!

This theme -- of trying to build for the most expansive and inclusiveJewish community possible -- feels incredibly relevant to me this week, as Kavana prepares for the High Holidays. If you look closely, you'll see this aim playing out in a number of tangible ways:

1) Kavana has always defined itself as a pluralistic and non-denominational Jewish community. This means that people from a variety of backgrounds and with a wide range of expressions of Jewish observance and practice make their homes at Kavana. There is no one "right way" to be Jewish around here. Over the High Holidays, this means that we try to offer a range of meaningful, content-rich options for prayer and learning that suit the range of interests/needs of our community members, and we encourage you to figure out how and where you want to plug in.

2) Like the Parashat Nitzavim text, we understand that a healthy community is made up of people of all ages, including children and adults. When Kavana was founded (15 years ago now), this was primarily a community of younger adults and families with young children; over time, we've grown to be increasingly age-diverse and multi-generational. As we planned for High Holidays this year, this translated into wanting to offer programs and services for all ages (of course!), and also taking into account the populations -- including older adults, people of all ages who are immunocompromised, and children under 12 who can't yet be vaccinated -- for whom Covid-19 poses a higher risk.

3) Kavana aims to embrace diversity. This manifests in so many different ways! Kavana has always been home to many interfaith households and to folks who weren't raised Jewish; we hope this is a place where everyone who is seeking meaningful engagement with Jewish life can experience it regardless of background. Kavana makes no default assumptions about gender or sexuality, race or ethnicity... our community is enriched by the presence of many folks who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. Socio-economic diversity is important to us too... and it's the reason that there's always an option to contribute what you can (rather than a fixed amount), whether you're registering for the HighHolidays or joining Kavana as a new partner.

4) We are working to be more proactive when it comes to accessibility and inclusivity, knowing that this means different things to different people. One example you might notice this year during online services and programs is that we'll have captioning on. Despite the fact that these tools are imperfect (and yes, Hebrew words sometimes get comically garbled!), enabling people to read along with what's being said during online services and programs provides an important access point for many. If you have specific accessibility needs or concerns, please let us know.

5) Finally, in this particular year, we have one new category of radical inclusivity to take into account: embracing the range of Covid risk-tolerance in our community. I am grateful that in the Kavana community, we all follow Parashat Nitzavim's mandate to "choose life" and we believe in science; it is a norm and expectation at Kavana that we are all doing our part to keep each other safe (through vaccinations, and compliance with the Covid protocols like masking and distancing). Still, we know that some in our community are comfortable attending in-person programming at this point, and others are not. We've tried to apply the "pluralism" lens here too, in developing multi-access HighHoliday programs with indoor, outdoor and virtual options to meet as many needs as possible. The hope is that all of us can find ways to participate meaningfully and experience community during this challenging time.

If you're already registered for the High Holidays, we can't wait to see you in less than a week! If you have not registered yet, please take the time to do so RIGHT NOW... Rosh Hashanah Boxed Lunches need to be ordered by 5pm today (9/1), and the High Holiday registration deadline is this Friday (9/3) before Shabbat.

According to Parashat Nitzavim, all of us were part of the radically inclusivecommunity that stood together with Moses and the Israelites then. Today, we stand here again -- all of us -- ready to enter into the New Year of 5782 together. May these High Holidays mark our entry into a year of blessing and sweetness for us, for our loved ones, and for the whole world.

Shana tova u'metuka,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum