Stories from Our Congregation

Strangers

In opening our hearts and minds to strangers, to the “other”, we discover our own humanity.

I’ve spent a lot of my life as an outsider, a stranger.

  • I grew up Jewish in a neighborhood of Catholics. I had a strong Jewish identity, but outside of my extended family, I didn’t have much Jewish community.
  • I grew up a fat kid surrounded by disapproval. I was in weight watchers at age 10, and then, and later, my worth was constantly measured by how much weight I had gained or lost. I never felt normal; I was always the outsider.
  • I came out as a lesbian at age 18, into a society who had never heard of Ellen DeGeneres or the L Word or marriage equality. I lived most of 3my adult life as an outsider, initially filled with secrecy and fear.

One of the central themes of the Torah is to love strangers, those outside of your group, as yourself. The Torah talks about 3 groups of people:

  • Ezrah: One who is a member of the group, and has been since the beginning
  • Nokhri: One who has joined the group
  • Ger: The “resident Alien” – the one who comes in contact with the group but is not a part of it.

For me, in my experience at PTS, I am not Ezrah, as I was not here at the beginning. Joining later, I would be Nokhri, someone who has joined the group. But when I first came to PTS I felt different, an outsider, not part of the group. I wasn’t sure if I would be welcomed. I hadn’t been a part of an active congregation for many years. I didn’t have a husband, and was divorced from my female partner. I had never become bat mitzvah as a child, but wanted that for my children. I had a gender non-conforming child. I wasn’t even sure I believed in God!

In a relatively short time I found myself welcomed with open arms. My children were named in temple by Rabbi Raiskin, of blessed memory, and attended religious school. I helped out with the Sholom Women’s web page. We all volunteered for Home and Hope. After consulting with Rabbi Feder about my reservations, I became a Bat Mitzvah together with with my mom and sister, followed by my children a few years later. The PTS community supported me through several medical crises, and some difficult family times. And last year I joined the Board of Trustees.

As I’ve come to know more about PTS I see the truth in the mission and core values that are the basis for the sacred space we’ve created here. I live more Jewishly through the support and education I’ve found here. I have strong connections to some of the people here, and I’ve felt caring and kindness from so many of you. I am not “Get”, the outsider, the stranger, anymore. Because of how I was treated, because of the empathy that developed as my fellow congregants got to know me and my family, I was not judged or mistreated as an outsider. Instead, I feel like Nokhri, like I have joined the group, like I am part of this community. I feel safe here, like this is a place for me and my whole family even though we don’t look like other families.

We are living in times that seem to have forgotten about this mitzvah, this commandment to have empathy for the stranger, the other, those different from us. It’s scary, and almost unbelievable for those of us who are proudly Jewish and live our lives Jewishly.

On this celebration of our new year, I am committed to teshuva, translated literally as “turning”. This means turning inward in self-evaluation, turning to look at my deeds of the past year, turning to my friends and family to ask for forgiveness. I hope that I, this congregation, and this country can evaluate ourselves based on how we treat the “other”, and commit ourselves in the coming year to empathy and compassion. In opening our hearts and minds to strangers, to the “other”, we discover our own humanity.