This June, my wife and I hit an Adulting Milestone: we asked for a dues adjustment to formally join a Jewish community. As my grandfather had promised, there are not many congregations that will turn away members who can’t pay, so after the anxiety of the initial email, the process for us was relatively painless. However, as we all already know, some Jews discount themselves from the community before even getting in the door, knowing that they will not be able to pay what is expected. Some say that asking for the adjustment is the lowest barrier possible, but when we zoom in on the act of actually asking we uncover a plethora of emotions from shame to guilt to fear.
This is just one illustration of a larger problem. In every Jewish community I’ve been in, there has been shame and secrecy around class, financial struggles, and the true financial cost of participation and “fitting in” in Jewish spaces. The shame, guilt, and fear that cause some to discount themselves is built up over a lifetime of exclusion. Some of the exclusion is subtle, like not quite fitting in with friends because of differences in how your families approach big financial purchases. Some the exclusion is less subtle, like being unable to attend events or trips. Worse still, the taboo around talking about one’s financial situation can mean that people won’t ask for help when they need it. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Learning and talking is the first step to fixing this problem, and I’m happy that Money Talks, our class discussion group that meets on Zoom the last Thursday of every month from 7pm-8pm, has a full range of topics coming up. Money Talks is open to everyone, and I hope you will come to our next meeting!
For those of us who have been excluded from Jewish communal life because of structural or financial barriers, who have personal stake in housing and economic justice issues, and who want to vision together a world where all people have access to Jewish spaces, we are forming a new group, just for us: Ometz Lev.
Ometz Lev means heart-courage. The name speaks to the boldness it takes for each of us to show up with the fullness of ourselves and our stories. As we can all attest to, it takes courage to show up to Jewish spaces, where there are often assumptions about the type of life one leads, and be honest about experiences of homelessness, worrying about making rent, or missing out on Jewish childhood experiences.
Ometz Lev fulfills JCUA’s goal of those most impacted leading our work toward a better world, but our gatherings are also the work itself. During our second Ometz Lev meeting, a Shabbat dinner, I was acutely aware of the ease and comfort I felt doing the Shabbat rituals with a group of people with whom I could be my full self. We are building a group that can hold the things that are painful in our lives with the joy and sweetness of being together and of building something new, something for all of us.
Our sages teach that every person is like a letter in the Torah; without each and every one of us showing up as our full selves, the story is incomplete. If you would like to join us for our next Shabbat dinner on August 18th, please get in contact with me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or with Jimmy Rothschild (email@example.com). We would love to have you with us and hear your stories.