407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

Being Jewish involves a lot of thinking.  I think I first observed this in Hebrew School listening to my rabbi teach us.  I was confused because unlike school, it wasn’t about the answer but about the thought process.  It was the conversation and the different opinions, not the end result.  There was no clear, definitive answer.  It was always that this rabbi said one thing and another rabbi said something different.  Now discuss their reasonings.

As I got older, this type of learning became more interesting to me.  I will never forget my Auditing professor in college telling the class, “I’m not going to teach you to audit; I’m going to teach you to think.  Then you will know how to audit.”  We all sat there shaking our heads because after all, this was our Auditing class that we needed for our degree in Accounting.  Yet over the years, I have appreciated his wisdom more than any other I received in a college class.  That one statement has stuck with me for nearly 35 years.

This brings us to today, where I find myself thinking about the diversity of the Jewish community, not just in Orlando but around the world.  Our diverse Jewish community is what makes us strong, gives us different views of life, and pushes us to learn more and ask more questions—not seek definitive answers.  This Shabbat is our third annual Pride Shabbat, where we honor and recognize the LGBTQ+ Jewish community.   I am proud that we began Pride Shabbat in 2019 and have continued this wonderful tradition.  It reminds me of when Abraham, recently circumcised, welcomed the travelers and washed their feet in his tent, because that’s what we do.  We welcome everybody into our communal tent.  We are one people, diverse and unique, but one family.

On Sunday, October 17, I and ten others will embark on the Momentum Men’s Trip to Israel.  Together we will explore not just Israel, but also our Jewish identities, values, and connections.  We are all part of the Orlando Jewish community, yet each of us are at different points in our lives and represent different parts of the community.  Collectively, we are one diverse group, mirroring the beautiful variety of the greater Jewish world.

In the next few months, the results of the 2021 Orlando Jewish Community Study will be released and presented by The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.  Having reviewed the information in preparation for its communal release, I can share that it also highlights the diversity of our community.  As Jews, we are mishpacha, family—however, we are not homogenous.  We come from Orlando and to Orlando.  We are American and Israeli.  We are married, divorced, single, and more.  We have young children, college-aged children, adult children, and grandchildren.  We are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and “just Jewish.”  Our differences make us stronger; our similarities bind us together.  We are the Orlando Jewish community.

As we join together tonight for Pride Shabbat at City Hall and via Zoom, in your synagogues, chavurot, or with your families at home, I hope you realize that while you are unique, you are also part of something greater.  Yes, we are diverse and unique—and we are also one.

Shabbat Shalom,