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Letting New Ideas Grow

Panel! L-R: April Baskin, Ruben Shimonov, Elad Nehorai, Marques Hollie, Erica Frankel, R' Isaiah Rothstein

I'm feeling inspired by the recent holiday of the Jewish New Year of the Trees, Tu B'Shvat, which coincided with Martin Luther King Day this year. We had a truly fantastic event that marked these two celebrations not just as a random scheduling coincidence, but as an opportunity to think deeply about environmental and racial justice as well as our place in the world and what we can do to bring strength and healing to our ourselves, our neighborhood and the wider community. I collaborated with Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein of Hazon, who facilitated a panel discussion with a group of rock stars including:

- April Baskin, the immediate past head of the Audacious Hospitality department at the Union for Reform Judaism;

- Erica Frankel, who works at the Office of Innovation at Hillel and started Based at Harlem with, as she put it, the technology of the dinner table;

- Marques Hollie, the founder of Go Down Moshe, exploring the common black-Jewish narrative of slavery and redemption through slave spirituals woven into the Passover Seder;

- Elad Nehorai, founder of Hevria, home for creative Jews; and

- Ruben Shimonov, the founder of the Sephardic-Mizrahi Q Network for LGBTQ Jews from Sephardi or other Mizrahi backgrounds.

For just a taste of the rich conversation that these inspiring people and their experiences brought to bear, check this out:

Following the panel, we experienced a Creative Fabrengen, a regular program of Hevria facilitated by Elad, where people share their creative works in an intimate setting built on principles of trust, mutual respect -- and no phones. We had amazing musical performances by singers/songwriters Karolina Rose, Emily Zimmer, and Mick Lewis, as well as transgender activist Hannah Simpson's speech to the NYC Women's March last weekend, and artist and therapist Henny Stern shared a powerful reading. Most importantly, we were in community with one another, one that was spontaneously constructed, yet hopefully long-lasting in the relationships that took root, and the spiritual and physical nourishment (yes, of course there was food!) that we gave one another.

All this heightened some of my ongoing thinking about what is important about building community, and in particular the type of community that FED wants to see in the world. This includes an emphasis on:

1) The arts in identity and self-expression, activism and broadcasting ideas, and in empathy. Music (also visual arts, dance, etc.), fosters a feeling of connection through a shared experience, which on an individual level can feel quite emotional, spiritual and raw. Yet collectively, it causes us to understand that we are part of something much larger than ourselves - together with others who have similar (or perhaps very different) visions and talents. And that is what makes us as a community something cogent and powerful.

2) That there really is power in having a multitude of voices, each unique in personal background, strengths and weaknesses, area of expertise, and life experiences. It's getting to know someone different from yourself that brings into focus your own perspective.

3) The importance of being together - not just doing, but being. Yes, there is much to do. But we also need to give space and time to creating relationships and meaning, just by being together.

FED is experimenting with and living out these ideas through our community. For (1), we have an upcoming JewSalsa performance on 2/25, featuring their signature klezmer-salsa mashups straight from Paris. For (2), we will continue to bring together voices, including through the 248 event on 2/7, where we will explore forward-thinking ideas to move us into the Jewish future. For (3), we have just launched a membership model - so now you can come be with us all the time.

What would you like to see in your community?

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