Knowing Where You Stand
Rabbi Cassi Kail
In my childhood congregation, there was a phase that appeared above the Ark which housed the Torah scrolls, Da Lifnei Mi Atah Omed, “Know before whom you stand.” These words intrigued me. They served as a reminder that this was holy space, in which God is present. They alluded to the moment when Moses realized that God was present in the most unlikely of places, the unconsumed burning bush. Perhaps these words called all of us to consider the myriad of ways in which God is present in our lives. Each week I looked at these words as I prayed, wondering how I could come to know God. Then, I became a rabbi. As the words “Know before whom you stand” echoed in my mind, it occurred to me that when I lead worship I am not just standing before God. I am standing before a diverse congregation of individuals. Each person who is present has passions, abilities, talents, sensitivities, and limitations. What would it be like to know this about every person before whom I stood? How would my connections and knowledge change the way I serve the community?
For the past few months, the temple has been preparing to launch the Open Tent Project, an initiative focused on engaging meaningfully with current members as well as people who have not been engaged. We spent time considering ways to be even more inclusive. What needs, talents and individual traits should be uplifted so that everyone is fully welcomed?
This train of thought has already led to a few congregational initiatives. Recognizing that there are people in our community who can benefit from fidget toys, the temple purchased several of them for people to borrow during services and other programs. Thinking about the multi-generational nature of our services, we purchased quiet toys, coloring books and Jewish objects for children to play with during worship. The family room now includes two shelves, which contain Shabbat, holiday and other children’s books.
Several months ago, the elevator broke down. The repair cost is quite substantial. While it is not something we can fix overnight, the temple recently launched an elevator repair fund, in hopes that the second floor of our building will soon be accessible to everyone. Just a few weeks ago, the Religious Living committee pondered the question of inclusivity. In effort to ensure that all attendees could participate in the blessings over hallah and wine, the committee recommended that we move these blessings to our oneg after services. I’m pleased to say that we will be following this recommendation beginning with our service on March 6.
Temple Beth El is known to be a warm and welcoming community. Through the Open Tent Project, we hope to become even more inclusive, as we get to know one another better, just as Psalm 133 teaches, “How good and pleasant it is when we all come together as one.”