Beth El Congregation of Baltimore is offering a series of programs titled Pathways to Teshuva, which will focus on internal, communal and spiritual growth.
The first of these is a keynote virtual panel discussion, “Facing Hate, Embracing the Other,” will take place Sept. 3.
This event will feature three speakers. One is Joel I. Bolling, assistant dean for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is responsible for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. A second speaker is Idit Klein, president and CEO of Keshet, a national organization for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. Idit also spearheaded the creation of leadership development programs for queer Jewish teens and mobilized Jewish communities to help defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The third speaker is Sanaullah Kirmani, Muslim student advisor at Towson University. Kirmani promotes appreciation for religious diversity on campus.
“Pathways to Teshuva offers a number of terrific opportunities for large and intimate scale programs. But I think the one on Sept. 3 will be special in that it will consider the damaging effects of hate from panelists coming from a variety of backgrounds to talk about what they see as the state of the country,” Beth El Senior Rabbi Steven Schwartz said. “I like that it’s a program asking about the country as a whole, but through High Holiday questions.”
The three speakers will ask what challenges the country faces, what mistakes the nation has made and what we can do about it. Schwartz hopes participants will come away with a sense of hope and responsibility.
“Things are not the way we want them to be, but we can do something about it,” he said.
He elaborated that Jewish tradition has always emphasized that followers look at how they treat marginalized citizens.
“The Torah returns again and again to the orphan, widow and stranger to remind Jews they have a particular responsibility because we, too, come from that experience. We come from slavery in Egypt. Unfortunately, throughout history, we’ve been marginalized and we know what it’s like to not have a voice,” Schwartz said. He hopes listeners pay attention to how to be sensitive, help those on the outskirts find their voice and help everyone come into society as a whole with dignity.
He believes one way to do this is through this Sept. 3 program. “We’re bringing together all types of differences and backgrounds around a table,” he said.
Using examples like the weekly 500 meals his synagogue donates to Bunches of Lunches, Schwartz stated that people want to engage and participate in bettering the world. Therefore, he wants to offer more opportunities for that.
“During High Holidays, we read about Abraham and his initiative to be the first Jew. It’s always been interesting to me to ask what called Abraham to be the first monotheist,” Schwartz said. “It was not the fact that the world was beautiful. Rather, it was the way it is imperfect, out of a desire to make it the way it should be.”
If you’d like to learn more about this line of thought, you can join the coming Thursday evening program by registering for free via Tinyurl.com/FacingHate.
While Schwartz is most excited for this special panel, Pathways to Teshuva offers even more events which Beth El’s clergy and staff planned in early July.
“We felt that, given the holidays this year would be a different experience for folks in that services would be exclusively online, that we should supplement the experience with additional opportunities to help them get ready and prepare in spiritual accounting,” Schwartz said.
While the synagogue does try to offer opportunities for teshuva annually, this year the Pathways to Teshuva program is a more robust and virtual experience for self-improvement.
“One of the more compelling ways to do that is societal teshuva, which is focusing on that piece of social justice and issues that are topical in our society,” said Josh Bender, Beth El’s executive director. “We decided that was a priority because we want to engage the community right now.” Bender explained this is one piece of the three pillars of growth this series aims to address: inward, outward and upward to god.
For example, another coming event is “Inclusion and Belonging: Jews of Color” on Sept. 10. You can visit Beth El’s Facebook for more.