A Welcoming Community: Developing and Implementing an Inclusion Model is an initiative focused on supporting our community to be a truly inclusive synagogue. We are particularly interested in identifying and enacting strategies for improved inclusion of the members of our community who are traditionally marginalized within the Jewish community, and the at-large community. They include (but are not limited to) interfaith families, mixed-race and non-Caucasian families, LGBTQ families, families from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and families who have members with physical or learning disabilities.
With the support of a small grant from our local federation and a matching grant from a local family fund, we created a Diversity Think Tank. Two of our professional staff and eight lay leaders represent the range of populations we are aiming to reach. This Think Tank set out to gain clarity on what it means to be a welcoming community, and evaluate the extent to which our community at Temple Sinai is meeting that objective for all of our membership, as well as reaching out to those who may not be joining our community because of their feelings of marginalization.
Over a year and a half, our Think Tank engaged in its own deliberations on questions of inclusion, and created opportunities to engage staff, lay leadership and the general Temple Sinai community in focused discussion on what a welcoming community looks like; an assessment of our community's successes and failures; and a vision for how we can better realize our goals of inclusion. We held two diversity trainings, an eight-hour training for professional and administrative staff and a four-hour training for lay leaders in leadership positions ranging from our Preschool Parent Committee to our Women's Organization to our Personnel Committee Chair. We held an open community dialogue session, Conversations that Matter: Temple Sinai: Our Diversity, Our Present and Our Future, to help us gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of "inclusivity" at Temple Sinai and to assist us in developing new ways to build community.
We have identified a number of areas for initiating change in our community, including
- creating anti-bias education workshops in our religious school;
- crafting inclusion guidelines for all of our print and marketing materials and conducting a comprehensive review of all of those materials;
- instituting regular diversity training for staff and lay leaders;
- creating additional community dialogue opportunities;
- partnering with our membership and welcoming committees to create more effective engagement strategies which take into account areas of potential alienation for traditionally marginalized members of our community;
- and more.
In the coming months we will transform our Diversity Think Tank into a standing Diversity Committee which will be tasked with bringing a program of inclusion into being.
Just opening the dialogue has been a powerful experience and critical first step in moving our community beyond a passive sense that we are sufficiently welcoming to all to a critical engagement with how to proactively connect with and make welcome those who experience barriers to their full participation in our Jewish community.