by Hannah Sassoon, Grassroots Jews Co-Coordinator 2013
Tell me! Tell me! What was this fabulous meeting?
An open meeting was held last Wednesday, drawing in Grassroots folk from wide and far, to decide on the torah text to be read at the new parallel service this year at the Yom Kippur afternoon Minha service. For several years at GRJ it was felt that whilst the approach to have a ritual around the Leviticus text is challenging and also appropriate (If your response is "huh? What are you talking about?" - Please read History below), for other Grassroots folk this approach didn't quite meet the mark. So discussions were held and texts were presented to enable a wider group of people to decide on the text.
Gratefully this included both people who would be leading the new service and people who would be leading the traditional service, which is a great testament to the inclusivity and collaborative nature of our community.
Six texts were presented by various members of the community, in an insightful session facilitated by Daniel Lichman, and participants at the meeting had some time to discuss the options before the final vote. The big reveal!: The top choice was voted as Gensis 44 - The beginning of Parashat Vayigash. This the text where Judah meets Joseph in Egypt and asks for forgiveness and Joseph reveals himself as their brother. Read a summary here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/parashat-vayigash/ Danny Newman suggested this text and made a very compelling case for its link to repentance/teshuva and the story of Jonah which is next up in the Yom Kippur proceedings.
The other choices included the story of Judah and Tamar, the story of Abraham and the destruction of Sodom and Amorah, the 'Choose life' passage in Deuteronomy, the Story of Noah and his sons and the ethical Code in Leviticus 19 mentioned above. Though we had to settle on one text it is good to know of these other texts that were up for nomination as their themes are strongly connected to Yom Kippur, and these could inspire learning sessions at GRJ this year. Nu, so are you interested in teaching at GRJ this year? Is your brother?
What's the history folks? How did we get to this point?
Every year in the afternoon service on Yom Kippur a section of the Torah is read prior to reading the story of Jonah. In Progressive communities there is a tradition of reading an ethical code form the book of Leviticus Chapter 19 with famous verses such as 'love your neighbour'. In Orthodox communities there is a tradition of reading the Leviticus 18, a passage on holiness, which is essentially a list of sexual relations that are deemed transgressive, mostly about incest, but also also contains the verse 'A man shall not lie with another man as he would with a woman'.
At Grassroots Jews we welcome all people regardless of sexual orientation and stand in pride with LGBT communities. We also have a strong respect for Jewish traditional rituals and hold Jewish texts in the utmost respect. At the same time GRJ started off with predominantly following an Orthodox liturgy. A few years back we developed our own custom of reading the Leviticus passage but encasing it with a Dvar Torah - a Sermon about the importance of LGBT inclusivity, and with a ritual that was demonstrative of sadness of the existence of prejudice within our very texts. We removed our shoes to show empathy, and we read the passage quietly and mournfully, to distinguish it from the other verses. This approach challenges the text head on, by confronting it, and acknowledges how it sits in tension with our values.
Because we are such keen beans, we recorded an oral history of this. Which we liked as it means it is not one person's history, it is a story that belongs to a community, in this recording you will here different people adding in the aspects of the story they remembered. Listen to it here
Where to now?
This year we have a new parallel service, and this enables GRJ to have a further option. An option of choosing a different Torah text to read. A text that could inspire a different set of ideas and themes relevant to Yom Kippur and we are exciting to see what new opportunities for learning and connection to the day this brings. Now tachlis! Torah readers Alison Zionts, Jude Cohen and Stacy Hacker are busying themselves with learning the new section and are looking forward to reading this with the community. Benji Stanley and Yael Roberts will be leading the overall Minha service. Furthermore, Rebecca Daniels, and Joey Israel are looking forward to planning and leading the traditional service and are currently brainstorming some ideas for the ritual.
We are excited to have such a collaborative approach to our decision making and are grateful for the people that gave of their time. See you at GRJ2016!